New Neighborhood House leader building new ties

Andrew Belton creates food and farm hub, wants community input on future


The 150-year-old institution known as the Riverdale Neighborhood House is expanding its mission to directly provide food to the community through a new food and farm hub.

The initiative, which includes an urban garden and mutual-aid fridge, is the result of a survey the not-for-profit commissioned over the past year. It is one of many additions brought forward by new executive director Andrew Belton, who has lived in Riverdale for 18 years. He comes to the Neighborhood House from the professional services management world, where he was a partner for a consulting research firm.

“We did a survey recently that involved 500 residents,” Belton said. “One in five of those residents identified that they had issues getting enough food each week. So we would like to address that. We would love to be able to produce more food. There is a very large food insecurity need in the neighborhood.”

Belton joined the RNH in September 2022, replacing Marcia Santoni, who stepped down as executive director after two years to head up an arts access organization in the Bushwick and East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

When Belton was introduced as executive director, the RNH board gave him a rousing welcome.

“Andrew is our neighbor,” they said in a statement. “He and his family have been active members of the Riverdale community for the last 18 years. He is currently the board president of Riverdale Soccer Club and can often be found coaching kids soccer teams in Van Cortlandt Park or seen on his regular jogs through the neighborhood. “

Belton, originally from England, moved to Riverdale in 2003 with his wife, Holly.

“Holly and I were looking for a location to live within the New York City area, and Riverdale had such a great sense of community,” he said. “It became immediately apparent to us.”

Belton recalls that it didn’t take long for Riverdale to feel like a home to him and his family. He took time to coach his daughter’s soccer team.

At The Bridgespan Group, a leading U.S. nonprofit advising firm which works exclusively with philanthropists and nonprofits, Belton led Bridgespan’s global team for 16 years with a budget of $12 million and staff of 80. Prior to that role, he started and led Bridgespan’s New York office, working closely with many of the leading community organizations in the United States and New York, including Children’s Aid Society and JASA locally.

As executive director of RNH, Belton will oversee a team of 38 full-time and 80 part-time employees across three locations in Riverdale. This team provides an array of services and programs to community members of all ages, including Universal Pre-K, after-school enrichment, college prep, teen internships, community art and fitness classes, senior telephone reassurance, a community pool, an urban garden, and a community fridge.

“In my job prior to this, I spent a lot of time meeting with people who ran community organizations all over the U.S., and all over the world,” Belton said. “They were very good at identifying the needs of the people who are currently engaging with them, but they don’t actually reach out a lot of time beyond that.”

He credits his grandfather for having instilled a set of values in him about community, and the value of giving back as a young boy. From 2000 to 2020, Belton spent most of his time traveling for work. He described being on the road seven or eight times a year, and taking trips to places such as India and South Africa.

But once the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he was required to work from home. It was during this time Belton realized that he wasn’t tired and worn out all of the time from his busy work schedule.

“I kind of put two and two together,” he said. “Maybe I need to do a different type of job.”

He knew that whatever his next position was going to be, the values of giving back to a population or community still rang strong. After his daughter spent two years lifeguarding at the Neighborhood House’s pool, he began to feel as if a new executive director position offered at the campus would be a great fit for him.

“I believed that it would be an amazing opportunity to continue to serve the community.”

RNH’s future vision

At some point by the end of the year, the RNH is planning to engage community members in a strategic planning exercise that would allow those involved to brainstorm their thoughts regarding the five- and 10-year vision for the organization.

Belton and his fellow staff at the RNH want to take the initiative to reach out and provide a safe space for members of the community.

“One of the interesting things I think if you ask lots of the staff here how they would describe Neighborhood House, they say it’s kind of like a second home, it’s like my second family,” he said.






Riverdale Neighborhood House, Andrew Belton, farm, food, community, The Bridgespan Group