What is the goal of your organization?
Citizens Committee for New York City supports grassroots groups across the city working on community-building projects. Our goal is to enable small, volunteer-run and community-based groups to work on issues that are important to them. We think that people who live in their communities know the issues best, instead of larger service-provider organizations who may work in their neighborhoods; we also want to ensure that groups who do not have a 501c3 status [a 501(c) organization, also known colloquially as a 501(c), is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization in the United States] are able to get grants and raise money, because larger organizations and foundations often will not fund these small groups.
How does the Citizens Committee for NYC collaborate with the New York City Department of Parks?
We have a program called Love your Block, which awards grants of $1,000 to groups as well as connects them with City services from the departments of sanitation, transportation, and parks and recreation. In addition to this, we share Parks events and information with our networks, and they share our news and grants with theirs. We also connect groups to the resources that parks has, and we fund many groups working in their local parks.
How do you involve the local communities in your projects?
We give grants to groups who are already formed, so we do not have to do the organizing for the projects. To find these groups, we do outreach in neighborhoods, at community meetings, through facebook, and through word of mouth.
What is your method of work?
We have 4 people working on our grant program, who do the outreach, review, and administration of the grants. Our philosophy is that communities know what they need best, so when we are doing outreach or doing application review, we try to work in a way that listens to the community, doesn’t tell organizations or groups how to do their work or projects, and is flexible around the needs and abilities of small grassroots groups.
Have you some local partners (schools, no-profit organizations etc.)?
We work with other organizations to spread the word about our grants – they help us do outreach to their communities. We also work with local government, elected officials and community boards, to make announcements about our programs.
How do you promote the citizens’ empowerment?
We believe that volunteer-led, community-based grassroots groups are in the best position to create change in their neighborhood. When people take a community organizing workshop and realize that they can do a project in their neighborhood, they are empowered to start organizing. When a small group gets a grant, they are empowered to keep working in their community because they have received support for their work. By helping people to work in their own communities, we empower grassroots groups and citizens to take on issues that they see as important to them and their neighbors.
Can you tell us some projects that you realized?
We fund a lot of community gardens all over the city; we also fund arts programs to teach teenagers about activism and arts, theater classes where teenagers are re-writing and performing Shakespeare, park clean up projects, community oral history projects, and all types of other projects.
How do you finance your projects? Have all projects to be economic self-sustaining?
We raise money from foundations, small donors, and fundraising events. In general, projects do not become self-sustaining because they are such small projects that they aren’t generating any money. We have funded many groups year after year because they are doing great work, but aren’t making any money off of their work.
Have you some particular projects about public spaces regeneration in progress at this moment?
We have funded many community gardens that are working in vacant lots or in other un-used spaces. We are also working with a group that is trying to create a community vision for a long stretch of elevated train tracks in Queens, because the MTA (Transit Authority) owns it and is deciding what to do with it next; they are envisioning a park and other mixed community use for the space.
According to you, in a particular city like New York, is the shared care of public spaces a good solution for people integration?
I think that people feel more ownership over projects when they are involved in them from the beginning – so anytime a group of people can be at the leadership of a project working to revitalize spaces in their community, it works better than a larger organization or the city coming in to lead it. But, those people also need the resources and power to be able to influence and decide what happens to community space, so the government and larger organizations need to listen to them and their needs.
How much is the external communication important in your work?
We do a lot of external communication to tell communities about our grants – newsletters, social media, going to community meetings, etc.
Copyright photo Citizens Committee for NYC: www.citizensnyc.org
New York Chronicles: The City Parks Foundation