The UNH Blog

UNH Policy Analyst Andy Bowen Relates Past to Present

Monday, January 04, 2016

by Andy Bowen

I joined United Neighborhood Houses in October 2015 as a Policy Analyst, and the last few months have been an education in the complexities—and amazing opportunities—in creating a more just New York.

Before coming to UNH, I spent a few years as a researcher for the Organizing Department of the Ironworkers Union, and then a few years as an activist in the LGBT movement. At the Ironworkers, I helped workers prove that they had been ripped off by their bosses—and, of course, the workers and I would bring that evidence to government agencies, who would force the companies to pay their workers correctly.

In the LGBT movement, I advocated for policy changes that allowed transgender people to get health insurance coverage for trans-specific health care needs. I worked with schools to provide more welcoming environments for LGBT students. I urged housing programs to stop discriminating against transgender people.

At UNH, these different strands of my past advocacy have come together. UNH member agencies provide services for people from all walks of life, providing educational services, job training and placement, health care services, food, housing—the list goes on.

As to my own portfolio, I’m focusing on youth employment programs, including the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which provides summer jobs for people from 14 to 24, and also programs that provide education and employment services to youth who are out of work and out of school. UNH member agencies provide extensive youth employment services, and I’m trying to make sure those services are well-funded by the City and State of New York.

I’m working on advocacy related to community schools, which are schools that work with a community based organization (such as many UNH members) to provide both extensive educational programming and other services (legal, housing, and health services, mentorship, direct benefits enrollment, et cetera) children and their families need to learn and live comfortably.

How does this tie into my past? From the workers to the LGBT community members I learned from and advocated for, so many people needed deep connection to services. When I learned that one person needed, say, advocacy for their workplace rights, they also tended to need immigration and adult education services. Transgender people I worked with on housing and health care advocacy were also out of work, and in need of job preparation and placement. With organizations like UNH’s member agencies, community members can access a wide breadth of services to improve their lives in multiple ways, and can access services not just for themselves, but their children and grandparents, too. I wish those I knew in my former positions could access the incredible resource that is settlement houses.

At UNH I work with an amazing staff to ensure that our member agencies have the funding they need to deepen their connections to people in their communities and provide a panoply of services to people that need them. I have a responsibility to see that government funding is available and programs are constructed so people who need jobs can get connected to them and make living wages. Doing it right means that people in similar situations to LGBT people and immigrant workers, as well as so many others of all ages and backgrounds, have a settlement house where they can get what they need and improve their lives.  

Policy Analyst Nora Moran Settles In

Thursday, October 15, 2015

by Nora Moran, Policy Analyst, UNH

During my first few months at UNH, I have learned that settlement houses do incredible work to support New Yorkers of all ages, but especially older adults. I’ve been able to visit their senior centers and other programs and learn about the issues first hand from the best source—staff working on the front lines, and older adults themselves! At one senior center, I learned about the ways that staff incorporate mental health and wellness into its programs, since many members do not have access to mental health services. At another, I was able to see the great diversity among their members, including a woman in her 60s who was a regular participant in programs along with her father, who is in his 90s. Above all, I came away impressed by the dedication of settlement houses to support older adults as they age and remain a part of their neighborhoods.

Adults age 60 and over are the fastest growing age-group in New York City; it is estimated that New York will have just as many older adults as we do school-aged children by 2030. We have to resist the temptation to simply label this group “old,” since the diversity that our city is known for does not disappear when New Yorkers age. For example, nearly half of the older adult population in New York are immigrants. Some wish to continue working past retirement age; others are acting as parents again by raising grandchildren. In addition to this, more people living past age 85 than ever before. This all has implications for how we age and the types of supports needed to age well. Settlement houses are thinking about new ways to shape programs that recognize this diversity among older adults.

UNH is committed to advocating for programs that have supported older adults for many years as they age in place in their communities—including senior centers, case management programs, home delivered meals, and Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs). We must ensure that these tried and true programs continue to be funded to support those who currently need them—and to protect that opportunity for those who will in the future. In addition to this, we need to think about new ways to reach older adults in New York City and involve them in community life.  Meaningful employment and volunteer opportunities, comprehensive health and mental health services, and safe, affordable housing are all important ways to connect older adults to their communities.  We want to ensure that older adults have the ability not only to age in place and remain living in their homes, but that they have opportunities to contribute their skills and perspectives to improve their communities and neighborhoods.  

At UNH, I’ll be working on spreading this message to government officials and others to raise the profile of older adults in New York City. Through partnering with UNH’s member agencies and other advocacy partners, I hope to create a strong voice for older adults and the organizations that work with them. We must highlight both the strengths and needs of older adults, and also advocate for increased funding and policies to enable providers to meet the growing needs in their communities. I also will be working with UNH members to explore best practices and ways to support older adults through the settlement house model.  I look forward to partnering with UNH member agencies and other advocates on the work ahead!

Welcoming Susan Stamler as ED

Thursday, September 17, 2015

As you have most likely already heard, today we at UNH announced Susan Stamler will take over the role of Executive Director. I am thrilled by her selection and, as I move on to pursue another role in the human services field, it gives me great comfort to know UNH will be in excellent hands.

Susan’s long history of important work in the nonprofit sector makes her a great choice. She has worked for more than 35 years in non-profit advocacy with M+R Strategic Services, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Director of City Policy at UJA-Federation, Director of Planned Parenthood's Action Fund, Director of Outreach at the Alliance for Consumer Rights and was a founder of the New York AIDS Coalition.

Equally as important, Susan is a born and bred New Yorker, like me! Born in Queens, a graduate of CUNY’s Queens College, and a current Brooklyn resident, Susan knows our city and understands the needs of the residents and organizations who live within our five boroughs. Her two daughters attended NYC public schools, as did she, and she has a deep commitment to making life better for all New Yorkers.

In addition, Susan worked for ten years at UNH as Director of Policy & Advocacy, eight of those years with me. She is so smart and savvy and great to work with. Plus, her inside knowledge of the workings and strengths of our organization, as well as her deeply rooted connections to our member agencies, will serve her well in her new role.

I don’t plan to disappear, as UNH will always be deep in my heart. I look forward to offering Susan my support and continued friendship as she moves into her new role.

As Susan recently said, “For nearly 100 years, UNH has been appreciated and trusted by its members; valued by its partners; and respected by government, foundations and the media.” With her appointment to Executive Director I am confident that long history will continue far into the future.

-Nancy Wackstein

In Memoriam: Fred Scaglione

Monday, August 10, 2015

In Memoriam:  Fred Scaglione
by Gregory Brender, Co-Director of Policy & Advocacy

New York City’s non-profit human service providers, including the settlement houses and community centers that are United Neighborhood Houses member agencies, lost an ally and friend with the passing of Fred Scaglione last week. Fred founded, edited and wrote much of the New York Non-Profit Press – a  publication that was both a valued source of practical information on contracts and funding opportunities as well as our own National Enquirer telling the comings and goings of folks in the field. I never missed an issue.

Fred cared deeply about the people working in the field. He approached issues going beyond press releases and headlines by asking what it really took to implement high quality programs and what the on-ground experience was of the folks doing the work in communities throughout the City. On some issues such as the hurried expansion of summer programs in NYCHA facilities last summer, Fred was the first or only reporter to cover the challenges of implementation. 

Like many in the field, I loved being a source for Fred because he cared about how a policy change or budget action really impacted providers and the participants they served.  He got both how important the work of non-profits is and also the frustrations and difficulty of working in the field.

The work of non-profit human services providers is always important but it is very rarely glamorous. The hard work of human services staff doesn’t always make headlines. Fred reported every day on the work non-profit staff was doing and created a publication that acknowledges and serves the people serving New York City’s communities. We are grateful for all Fred has done to give voice to the non-profit field. 

Courtney gross, Ed litvak, and Fred Scaglione speak at UNH's 2011 Advocacy Panel

Spring Training with the Mets: A Dream Trip Come True

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
by Abby Addis, Development Associate

When Citi offered an all-expenses-paid trip for a UNH youth member to see the Mets at Spring Training, I was thrilled. They were kicking off the Citi Home Runs Program with a very special opportunity! The call came just two weeks before the game date and my job was to find a lucky participant. Who would be up for the adventure? Was there a life-long Mets fan out there who had always dreamed of such a trip?

I diligently emailed and called program directors at UNH’s member agencies. Soon, I heard through a contact at Cypress Hills that 14-year old Anthony Rodriguez would love to go and his father could attend with him. Anthony has been a Mets fan since he went to his first game at 3-years-old. Now he’s an honor roll freshman at Hillside Arts and Letters Academy in Jamaica, Queens. He also gives back to his community by volunteering with a counselor-in-training program and helping senior citizens through the Beacon Community Center.

The next step was submitting a brief bio about Anthony to Citi. In this blurb, Anthony talked about his volunteer work and how he helps kindergarteners by assisting them with homework, physical fitness activities, art projects, computer time and celebrating their birthdays. He also spoke about his passion for baseball. As a little league player, he’s held the positions of shortstop and center field. He explained that his dream is to be a Major League Baseball player and hopes to someday play for his favorite team. And when Citi read what an outstanding young man he was and that his little brother Nicholas was also a Mets enthusiast, they extended their offer to include him and their mother, Felicita.

For a baseball fan, what could be sweeter than going to your team’s Spring Training and bringing your family to share the experience? The Rodriguez family flew down to sunny Port St. Lucie, Florida and spent a fun-filled afternoon at Tradition Field. They watched the Mets play the St. Louis Cardinals and participated in a meet-and-greet with the players. The highlight of the trip, according to Anthony, was spending time with Mets outfielder and brand ambassador Curtis Granderson. “I found out what a humble human being he is,” said Anthony. “I have a different admiration for him as a player now.”

When I saw the pictures and heard about the trip, I knew everything went according to plan and that Anthony and his family had a fantastic vacation. For me, this was a great chance to facilitate an enriching experience for a UNH youth member. For Citi, it was a great way to solidify a fan for life and extend their generosity into our community. And for Anthony, this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip he won’t soon forget.

Cuts to Literacy Programs a Major Misstep

Monday, June 01, 2015

by Kevin Douglas
UNH Co-Director of Policy and Advocacy

As Mayor de Blasio, his administration, and City Council grapple with the tough decisions that must be made in a world of finite resources, it appears that adult literacy programming—a lifeline to thousands of New Yorkers with limited English skills and lacking workforce credentials as basic as a high school diploma—is once again poised to be slashed. That would be a mistake, and, fortunately, it’s not too late for City leaders to correct it. The final City budget agreement isn’t due for another month, and it would be wise for the Mayor and City Council consider the following.

Today New York is home to 1.7 million individuals over the age of 18 who lack English proficiency and/ or a high school diploma. Even assuming that all 5.5 million New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 are eligible to work—and they aren’t, given enrollment in college, family care responsibilities, disabilities and other barriers—that would mean nearly one-third of the City’s workforce does not have the skills to compete in the local economy, much less the global one. If the Mayor is to truly make strides toward his laudable goal of lifting 800,000 people out of poverty, it makes sense that he start by helping these New Yorkers gain the skills they need to obtain jobs that will allow them to support themselves and their families.

As part of the City’s newly minted workforce development plan known as Career Pathways, the administration has vowed to better knit the patchwork system of adult literacy classes into the broader workforce development system, with the goal of turning New Yorkers into viable candidates for openings in the job market. Yet surprisingly, not only does the Mayor’s Executive Budget not include a substantial reinvestment in these foundational  education programs—a prerequisite to the more commonly emphasized training courses and certifications—but it actually proposes to eliminates classes for thousands of immigrant New Yorkers currently enrolled in the City’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Designed to provide literacy and legal supports to help New Yorkers qualify for federal administrative relief, over 10,000 individuals of all backgrounds have rushed to DACA over the last two years. In redesigning the program this year, the Mayor’s budget proposes eliminating classes for over 4,100 students currently enrolled in the program, meaning that thousands of New Yorkers desperate to learn English, as they are so often implored to do, will have the rug yanked from under them.

If we want to live in a City where every adult who wants to learn English can, where every individual who knows they need to earn a high school diploma has a place they can start, where parents can communicate with their children’s teachers and where individuals can meaningfully engage with medical professionals and the police without a language barrier, investing in adult literacy programs should not be an afterthought, but a priority. Eliminating these educational opportunities should be unthinkable. Recent New York Times coverage of the exploitation of nail salon workers with limited English skills is just the latest example of why literacy classes are essential. There’s still time to get it right, and for the sake of the future of our City, which continues to be built by immigrants, the Mayor and City Council must provide an enduring solution.

Nancy Wackstein quoted in Summer Program rally story

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fariña hints at a deal on city’s summer programs

More than 100 parents, politicians and activists rallied Thursday on the steps of City Hall to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed cuts in summer programs for children.

Holding signs and wearing T-shirts with slogans like "Give it Back" and "Keep Your Promise," the group called on the mayor to restore the money.

"We have a mayor ... who has shown extraordinary commitment over the last year to children and families through his pre-K initiative, through his expansion of after school programs for middle-school students. So a cut to summer programs makes absolutely no sense and we call upon the mayor to right the wrong, to take this mistake off the table and make sure that up to 40,000 children have an option for summer camp," Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, said at the start of the rally.

The Campaign for Children, a coalition of social service groups that organized the protest, has railed against what advocates say was a last-minute decision to yank funding for summer programs that affect as many as 40,000 children.

Read the full article here

Responding to the "Leadership Gap"

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Today, among member agencies of United Neighborhood Houses, the umbrella association of 38 settlement houses and community centers in NYC, exactly half of our 37 Executive Directors are age 60 and over. Over the last 5 years, our small network has seen evidence of the much-discussed generational shift in leadership that has been predicted for the nonprofit human services field and in other industries as well. In 2013 alone, five Executive Directors from our system retired from their positions.  

Cause for alarm? I don’t think so. Over the last several years we have heard the siren song of worry as researchers and pundits predict that the generational shift in leadership as baby-boomers retire or semi-retire will lead to a leadership gap or worse. Predictions abound of rudderless ships, a shrunken or limited leadership supply chain, Gen Xers who don’t know how to stay in one place for more than a  couple of years and, worst of all, corporate émigrés who want to try their hand at “something meaningful” and want to step into these jobs. All reflecting a dire forecast that our sector cannot possibly survive without the baby boomers!

Wrong. And this comes from one of those baby boomers who, in fact, has plans to relinquish her leadership post this year.

I have full confidence that there is a supply of talented leaders who wait in the wings. I believe new leaders will help inject new energy and perhaps even new meaning into the work. Just as my generation – mainly folks who were in college in the late l960s and early l970s who became imbued with the spirit that we could “change the world” and “make a difference” through our participation in the explosive social movements of that era that forever changed our world view—anti-Vietnam war, equal rights for women, African-Americans, the LGBT community -  so too are there people now in their 30s, 40s & 50s who come with the same set of values and ideals as we had. And who might even be smarter about managing people and technology than we were. As quiet as it’s kept, we baby boomers really do not have the monopoly on compassion, commitment to social justice or very hard work.

I am convinced there is a new generation fully prepared to assume leadership roles in our sector, with the right and relevant experience, possibly better equipped than many boomers were when we took these positions. Moreover, not only do they have passion and a sense of mission, but they Tweet and Instagram too!  

What is my cause for optimism? Every day at UNH I meet people with incredible drive, great credentials and a tangible passion for social justice. Some of them work right beside me at UNH, and some come to see me because they are looking for help finding a job in our field. They want to do this work! And they are so impressive!

They are chomping at the bit to help nonprofits succeed and achieve their missions. I spend a lot of time counseling these new leaders against the entrepreneurial pull to start their own nonprofits, and instead join agencies like settlement houses which, despite their longevity and size, still provide incredible opportunities for people to innovate, to try new approaches, and to make a difference.

I am bullish about the future leadership of our sector. I hope the Boards of Directors who do the hiring of the next crop of Executive Directors in our system recognize that diversity in leadership – age, gender, race & ethnicity, sexual orientation – is a tremendous advantage for their organizations, and that they will come to see what I do: A glorious and exciting future for our field.

Nancy Wackstein
United Neighborhood Houses
Executive Director

Letter to the Editor:

Wednesday, March 04, 2015
To the Editor:

Howard Husock’s commentary on Leonard Nimoy’s background and education in a Boston settlement house in the l930s and 40s leaves readers with the incorrect impression that the era of flourishing settlement houses has ended.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In New York City today, there are 38 vibrant and dynamic nonprofits who identify as settlement houses and community centers.  They are in diverse neighborhoods throughout the City, continuing to serve immigrants, working families and older adults… and pretty much everyone else.  In fact many of them have been doing this community work for over 100 years and not only have survived, but have thrived.  They thrive because they continue to adapt to the needs of their neighborhoods as those communities themselves change.  Today, immigrants to New York City tend to be Asian and Latin American, rather than European as was the case when Leonard Nimoy was a boy.  But our agencies still provide the English classes, the job training and placement, the basic education, child care and other supports that allow immigrant families to integrate successfully into American life.   We are helping to bring up the next generation of American leaders and strivers, much as our colleagues did at an earlier time.  To paraphrase Mr. Nimoy’s most famous character:  settlement houses have lived long and prospered!   
Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses

Read the original article here. 

UNH Responds to Mayor's FY16 Preliminary Budget

Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Statement of Nancy Wackstein
On Mayor de Blasio's FY16 Preliminary Budget

There is much to applaud in the Mayor’s preliminary budget proposal announced yesterday and in the administration's work over the past year to fight inequality.  United Neighborhood Houses and its member agencies – New York City’s settlement houses and community centers – are nonetheless disappointed that this budget proposal shortchanges the needs of many of the City's lowest paid workers, those in the nonprofit workforce.   Nonprofit employees are the people who work day in and day out to teach our children, care for our homeless people, and aid our older adults.  As the City moves forward in addressing income inequality they must not continue to be left out.
The preliminary budget is the first of two budget proposals the Mayor submits.  We call on Mayor de Blasio to include meaningful wage and benefit increases for the nonprofit workforce when he releases his Executive Budget this spring.
The Mayor rightfully takes credit for settling 71% of the City's outstanding open labor contracts he inherited.  However, employees of nonprofit human services agencies working under City contracts see the progress the City has made in other sectors and continue to ask why they, too, are not deserving of wage increases, bonuses or retroactive pay that the City’s unionized municipal workforce has received.  Unfortunately, little has changed for most of the nonprofit workforce even as they carry out and make real many of the Mayor’s succesful initiatives and top priorities.  This contrast is particularly stark for staff in city contracted child care programs whose responsibilities and qualifications are on par with teachers in the public schools, but are often paid tens of thousands of dollars less.  Most of these workers -- teachers, classroom assistants and other staff -- are women of color who  have not received a pay increase since 2006.
UNH member agencies, under extraordinarily tight deadlines, were thrilled to participate in the Mayor’s exciting new initiatives last year: we launched new pre-K programs, we kept community centers open last summer in New York City Housing Authority developments, we opened dozens of new middle school afterschool programs.  Yet when it comes to fairness and equity for our underpaid workers, New York City remains, sadly, a tale of two workforces.  The City must use this year's budget to end these disparities.
UNH is pleased to continue to support Mayor de Blasio and his administration as they expand programs important to low and moderate income communities, as outlined in the preliminary budget.  We are particularly pleased to see a continued commitment to expanding Pre Kindergarten and after school and  investments  proposed for:
·        the summer youth employment program;
·        rental subsidies for homeless families and  homelessness prevention activities;
·        Increased and improved training for child welfare workers;
·        summer programming for elementary school students;
·        Increasing the NYC minimum wage to $13.13/hour
These investments are critical.  Equally critical is an investment in the workers who will carry out these new and expanded initiatives in the coming years.