Neighborhood house gets $2M


They say good things come in twos — but great things come in 2 million. Especially when you’re talking about $2 million.

That means great things are coming to the Riverdale Neighborhood House after Yield Giving — a charity organization created by Amazon co-founder and billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott — awarded the Mosholu Avenue organization with $2 million.

It was the largest one-time gift ever to the neighborhood house, beating the previous record by a factor of six, according to executive director Andrew Belton. The neighborhood house was one of more than 6,000 who responded to an open call from Yield Giving last year, and ultimately was one of just 360 or so organizations across the country selected to receive what was originally supposed to be just $1 million.

Scott herself doesn’t usually seek press for donations like this, but said in a statement that “each of these 361 community-led non-profits was elevated by peer organizations … for their outstanding work advancing the voices and opportunities of individuals and families of meager or modest means.” It also highlighted groups that have “met with discrimination and other systemic obstacles.”

To qualify, nonprofits had to operate with annual budgets of no more than $5 million. The organizations in the top tier received $2 million, while those in the next received half that.

The Riverdale Neighborhood House was notified of its grant through an email — something Belton said was met with screams of joy and excitement.

“What an honor to be one of less than 5 percent of organizations that got picked,” he said. “I mean, like, real honor. “And (Scott)’s an amazing person. She gives you the money and says, ‘You spend it on what your community needs.’ She doesn’t say, ‘Here’s 20 restrictions I have on that spending.’

“She trusts the people who run nonprofits in the U.S.”

The fact that the neighborhood house even applied was a surprise to a number of staffers, like Karen Nazario in the financial department.

“I didn’t know that we were going after that great big opportunity,” she said. “But I think that this community is so magical that just adding to it with $2 million? That’s a lot of money that can do a lot of good in this community.”

The donation offers myriad opportunities for the organization’s 1.3-acre campus. The neighborhood house currently provides an early childhood center, a teen center, a community fridge, a garden, gym and pool. Leaders there haven’t yet decided how the money will be used, but do have several ideas already.

“One of the things that we will look at is the campus,” Belton said. “There’s lots of work that needs to be done. For example, the cracks in the asphalt. All the buildings need upgrades to their mechanical equipment. And we’d love to be able to expand the footprint of everything we can do.”

The Riverdale Neighborhood House was founded in 1872, and not only has maintained itself as a community resource, but has even contributed significantly to the area — from leading the efforts to create the Riverdale Library across the street, to the creation of what would become The Riverdale Press.

As a result, the money may be used to partially bring the campus and equipment more into the 21st century in terms of the look and feel. Although nothing is set in stone, administrators also will take community input into how the money should be spent.

Sabrina Hines hopes some of that money will go into her after-school program.

“We can definitely expand a little bit,” she said. “With all the kids and all the programs that we have, it does get a little tight here at RNH. So, to expand a little — give each program a little bit more room — it will be beneficial.”

Belton described the grant application process as very straightforward. The community-based applicants were asked about what their work entailed and the effect it had on community. They had to create not just text, but a video that was peer-reviewed by other applicants. Finally, Riverdale Neighborhood House was evaluated by an external panel.

Emma Pollack, the director of community engagement and development, worked on the writing and video portion of the grant. The video was tied around the idea of building community and bonds.

“What’s really amazing about this grant is that it is unrestricted,” Pollack said. “And that is a really rare thing to come by. So, it’s really allowing organizations to invest in their future, and sort of not be bound by a lot of the restrictions that come with grants.

“And I think the last thing on top that is interesting about (Yield Giving) is they focus on smaller nonprofits knowing that a large grant is going to make a transformational impact.”

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