Neighborhood house closes in on new exec director

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It’s not a matter of if, but when. It’s not months, but rather weeks — even days.

Riverdale Neighborhood House is on the verge of naming a new executive director just months after Dan Eudine stepped down. And Amanda Salzhauer couldn’t be more excited about the future of the 147-year-old institution.

“We are always trying to meet the needs of the community, and as you know, they are always ever-changing,” said Salzhauer, who leads the neighborhood house’s board of directors. “By being sort of confronted with this search, it’s giving us a chance to take stock to see what Riverdale Neighborhood House is doing, and even look at the things we aren’t doing that the community would like us to be doing.”

Eudine spent more than two decades leading Riverdale Neighborhood House through times of significant change. While always known for its various youth programs, the neighborhood house made significant strides to better serve senior citizens as well.

One such program that Salzhauer says has seen a lot of success is the neighborhood house’s telephone reassurance program. Volunteers make phone calls Monday through Friday to homebound elderly in the area, ensuring they are safe and that they have everything they need.

For those who aren’t homebound, there are senior swims in the summertime, and even inter-generational activities bringing both young and the not-so-young together.

“We are very much like a small-town organization,” Salzhauer said. “So many people here use our services, so many of our staff are neighbors, it’s not improbable that we would all run into each other in the supermarket or elsewhere in the community. We go to the same churches, same synagogues, whatever it may be. There are so many overlapping connections.”

Finding a successor to Eudine takes time, and making that possible is a retired accountant who has handled day-to-day management of Riverdale Neighborhood House since last fall — Ian Benjamin.

Stepping into the executive director’s office, Benjamin knows there’s always a ticking clock. But he’s perfectly fine with serving as the bridge from one executive director to the next.

“It was a well-oiled machine when Dan Eudine was running things, and that has continued since he’s left,” Benjamin said. “We have an excellent team running all the programs here, so I don’t really have to worry about much. I’m focused more on the here and now, and will leave any long-term planning to who steps in next.”

Although it’s the top paid job at community centers like Riverdale Neighborhood House, executive directors aren’t always the most visible. The work they do isn’t necessarily glamorous, but it’s important to keep non-profits like the one on Mosholu Avenue thriving.

“In a non-profit, there is just no room for error,” said Margaret Della, executive director of the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center on Kingsbridge Terrace. “It’s our job to get into the weeds and set strategy, leading fundraising, overseeing legal, and watching over all our financial obligations.”

A good chunk of funding for Riverdale Neighborhood House comes from private donors, but at KHCC, nearly 90 percent of its budget is from public funds, Della said. And while that might mean less emphasis on fundraising, it can create some of its own issues.

“When you’re working within the guidelines of government contracts, you’ll have your funding levels set for multiple years,” Della said.

That means contracts set up in 2014, for example, will keep paying out like it’s 2014, despite increase in expenses like through inflation or even in recent minimum wage hikes.

“When government contracts are slow to pay you, that really influences a non-profit on how you pay the bills,” Della said. “You have to pay your staff first, and then the vendors, and after that, you have some things you have to juggle.”

The board at Riverdale Neighborhood House hired a headhunting company to help find its next executive director, and the search committee is very close to making a final decision, Salzhauer said. It’s a process that is slow and deliberate by design, and it has to be, because who the board ultimately hires will impact not just the next few years, but the next 100.

“We want to have someone who understands the community, first and foremost.” Salzhauer said. “We also want someone to sort of have a combination of financial acumen and an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s vital for all non-profits, and we’re no different.”

When that executive director does arrive, there will be changes. But these are not changes anyone should worry about, Salzhauer said.

“Throughout the course of our history, we as a neighborhood house have been nimble and flexible, and created programs to meet the current needs and demands within the neighborhood,” the board president said.

“I think that one of the things that is very important to us to hear from people in the neighborhood. And our next executive director will be doing a lot of listening.”

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