Local Heroes

Local Heroes
Manhattan Youth to Honor Downtown Education Supporters, Volunteers with Community Awards

Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Chair Tricia Joyce: “I was raised by a strong mother who was and is a great role model in this way. I hope to do the same for my daughters.”
Tonight (Thursday, April 11) Manhattan Youth will celebrate a slew of recent Downtown victories related to schools and education, when it confers its 2019 Community Awards on a lineup of local leaders.

“Communities are older than government, schools, or markets — our whole society is built on them,” observes Bob Townley, the founder and executive director of Manhattan Youth. “A vital community is absolutely necessary to raising educated, healthy and engaged kids. And tonight’s honorees have helped make our community great. Their commitment challenges each of us to find our own cause and get busy.”

Among the leaders being recognized tonight is Tricia Joyce, chair of the Youth and Education Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1). Ms. Joyce has been a zealous advocate for a broad array of issues related to local schools for more than a decade. But the most recent victories she helped bring to fruition involved Millennium High School, in the Financial District. A high performing school, Millennium is harder to get into than Yale University, according to a 2017 statistical analysis by the New York Times. This desirability has contributed to Millennium suffering from overcrowding for years. Ms. Joyce led a yearlong push to convince the Department of Education (DOE) to lease an additional floor in the building that Millennium occupies, a demand that the schools agency capitulated to in March.

At the same time, Ms. Joyce was spearheading a campaign to convince the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to install a speed bump on South William Street, outside of Millennium’s front door. This followed a 2017 incident in which a student was run over by a taxi and thrown to the ground, inflicting severe bruising, and causing multiple injuries to her mouth. DOT insisted that it had an ironclad policy of never authorizing speed bumps in the middle of a block, which is where the school’s entrance is located. In January, almost two years to the day after the student was run down, DOT relented and agreed to install the speed bump.

Mr. Townley observes that, “Tricia has taken on many issues with a solid base of knowledge and a busload of chutzpah. These two aspects of Tricia’s talents have helped parents on more issues than I can remember, from complicated DOE initiatives to the operation of the elevators in a school. She takes it all on as a soldier for our children.”

Ms. Joyce reflects that, “I was raised by a strong mother who was and is a great role model in this way. I hope to do the same for my daughters.” She recalls, “in the summer of 2008, we were notified that our twin daughters were going to be in one of eight kindergartens at P.S. 234. The explosive and deliberate residential development, post-9/11, had been done with almost no accompanying infrastructure — school seats included. I decided to go to a meeting of CB1’s Youth and Education meeting, to see what was going on. This led me to a meeting at which Scott Stringer, then the Borough President, explained the overcrowding crisis our neighborhood was facing. During the presentation, it became evident that we were facing what could be a catastrophe, as a result of more than 250 percent population growth in the Financial District alone.”
Manhattan Youth founder and executive director Bob Townley: “Communities are older than government, schools, or markets — our whole society is built on them. And a vital community is absolutely necessary to raising educated, healthy and engaged kids.”
“At that meeting,” she remembers, “I joined the P.S. 234 Overcrowding Committee. The Overcrowding Task Force had just formed as well, run by Sheldon Silver, and so I joined that. The issues were so big, and there were so few volunteers, that joining CB1 was the logical next step. It created a full circle of exposure that turned out to be effective when dealing with City government agencies. We needed help, and fast. A child only gets one chance at an elementary, then middle, and then high school education. Communities are built around schools — they always have been — and we were in danger of losing both.”

Also slated to be honored this evening are the husband-and-wife team of Buxton and Lisa Midyette, parents at P.S. 150 who helped organize and lead campaigns that saved the school twice. The first near-death experience came in 2013, when the DOE decided to shut down the school the following year, and fold it into a new school in Chelsea. After a grassroots mobilization that included parents, children, and elected officials, the DOE backed down.
But in 2018, they attempted to shutter the school once again, with a plan that would have moved it temporarily to the Peck Slip School, and then migrated its students once again, to a new building now under construction in the Financial District. An even more vociferous campaign was launched, which included (among other tactics) children sending thousands of handwritten postcards to stockholders in the company that owns the building occupied by P.S. 150. Once again, DOE gave the school a reprieve.

“Even in situations where the differences are great,” Mr. Midyette notes, “there still are opportunities for constructive engagement to bridge differences and find solutions. While the developer owned the building, they did not own the community. So it was our responsibility as stakeholders to make our community’s needs known.”

“In this second, successful effort to save P.S. 150,” he adds, “the impact of community working together with elected officials was on full display. It was a classic demonstration that even well-financed, powerful interests can be reached and influenced.”

Ms. Midyette observes, “I thought it was important to show our kids that you should fight for what you believe in, no matter whether you win or lose. I wanted to show them that, ‘honey works better than vinegar’ — that you can achieve your goals better by having empathy, being kind, polite and rational, instead of angry and disruptive. This was a great example of how elected officials and community groups support the members of their community. We knew we could count on them. But having a strategy and some organization and planning were definitely helpful too.”

The most recent push to save P.S. 150 was spearheaded by Anshal Purohitand Jonah Benton, both parents at the school. (Ms. Purohit is the co-president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, and Mr. Benton serves as its Treasurer.) Both will also receive awards at tonight’s ceremony.

Additional recognition will go to Mona Lombardi, a longtime Manhattan Youth employee who plans to retire, after helping to enrich the lives of generations of local children. “Mona was the fifth person to join our staff,” Mr. Townley recalls. We now have almost 900. She was our administrator more than 25 years ago. Without Mona, we would have had tremendous growing pains. Besides her everyday work, she housed us after September 11, 2001 at her loft. During that time of turmoil, when parents counted on Manhattan Youth to deliver services, Mona was right there to put plans into action. One of the kindest individuals you will meet, she administered our financial assistance program, as well as our accounts receivable. I am crying as I say good-bye to a dear friend and colleague.”

This evening’s spotlight will also be shared by 27 participants in Manhattan Youth’s Teens in Community Service program, who volunteer time to help with everything from swim programs, to summer camps for middle-school students, to staffing the Downtown Community Center.

“The teen volunteers do everything from staff the front desk to help run the Friday Night drop-off program, which lets kids participate in crafts and activities,” says Wendy Chapman, a Manhattan Youth board member who helped organize tonight’s awards ceremony. “They are so humble and selfless that none of them expect to be recognized, but they are deeply honored when it happens.”

The 2019 Manhattan Youth Community Awards will be held at the Downtown Community Center (120 Warren Street, near the corner of West Street) tonight, starting with an Honoree Reception at 6:30 pm, followed by the Community Awards Presentation at 7:00 pm. Light refreshments will be served. Tickets are priced at $10 in advance (via EventBrite.com), or $15 at the door. All funds raised will be used to support Manhattan Youth’s Scholarship Fund.

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