Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005

A Salute
to Volunteers

Henry Street Settlement volunteers help out with gardening, above, and with a children’s program, below.

Settlements still lend, and need, a helping hand

By Nancy Reardon

The settlement house tradition played a crucial role in urban social reform movements at the turn of the century, but here in New York City, these centers are much more than relics of the past. They continue their missions today, still reaching out to the community with evolved programs for children, seniors, the homeless and immigrants.

Historically, settlement houses offered services to immigrant families to help integrate them into American society. Today, many of the services are updated versions of the originals: tutoring, after-school and mentoring programs and recreational activities for children and seniors.

Settlement houses throughout Lower Manhattan say they are looking for volunteers with time to spare, an interest in helping and big hearts. Many of them are in constant need of extra help — even though some of them have 75 to 100 volunteers, it’s still not enough — and some programs simply wouldn’t exist without volunteers.

University Settlement on the Lower East Side needs tutors who can work at the Beacon School’s after-school program on weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons. The Beacon School, located on E. 12th St., is in most need of help because it stays open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., said Michael Zisser, executive director of University Settlement.

“A lot of the programs we have involve both professional staffers and volunteers in order to respond to a demand that goes way beyond what our funding allows us to do,” he said. “Volunteers become an integral part of the labor force and really expand our ability to provide the range of programs people are asking for.”

University Settlement also relies on volunteers to plan, organize and run events for its senior program during weekday afternoons and evenings and to provide extra support to its preschool programs.

Zisser said the center makes a strong effort to match volunteers to programs that reflect their interests. “The real challenge is to make sure we have something appropriate and useful for all volunteers,” he said. “We do a lot here to make volunteers part of our operations. They receive a lot of attention here and really become members of the staff.”

People interested in helping at University Settlement should contact Zisser at 212-674-9120.

The Henry Street Settlement, also on the Lower East Side, dates back to 1893 when social work pioneer Lillian Wald opened its doors. “We are particularly appreciative of volunteers because our founder was a volunteer,” said Catherine Cullen, chief administrator for operations. “We understand the power of personal sacrifice.”

Henry Street has 600 volunteers working in seven areas — the arts center, behavioral and health services, home care, senior services, shelter and supportive services, youth services and the workforce development center — but Cullen said it still needs more.

The Abrons Art Center needs people who can serve as ushers or ticket collectors for its three theaters to help offset production costs. The center is also looking for anyone with theatrical experience or costume design skills.

The youth program is looking for volunteers to run a baseball league this summer, or organize activities around other sports. “We try to make it fun for everyone, especially the volunteers, so everyone takes away something,” said Cullen. “We absolutely rely on volunteers to help us serve the community.”

The Henry Street Settlement has four gardens, which Cullen said could not be maintained without community involvement. “We can’t afford to hire landscapers or put the labor into turning the soil. But for people who love to garden and live in Manhattan apartments, it’s such a great opportunity.”

Anyone interested in joining the volunteer force at the Henry Street Settlement can fill out an application at its Web site, www.henrystreet.org.

Further Downtown, the Grand Street Settlement is looking for volunteers who can help organize activities throughout the year. The center maintains a list of interested people who are called upon when parties, fundraisers and seasonal activities take place.

The Grand Street Settlement also needs math and science tutors and volunteers for its summer day-camp program. The JUMP (Juniors Undertaking Manhattan Pleasures) program matches young professionals with children and teenagers to form mentoring relationships. Jennifer Walker, the volunteer coordinator, said this program is very popular and competitive because so many people want to get involved.

“It exposes kids to different parts of the city and they get to form relationships with the volunteers, many of whom have been around for five or six years,” she said. “They become friends and get to serve a real mentoring role in their lives.”

Even when JUMP is not in need of help, Grand Street has other opportunities for volunteers to form one-on-one relationships, said Walker. “All of our volunteers really become someone that young people can rely on, talk to and really look up to,” she said.

People interested in volunteer opportunities at Grand Street can contact Walker at 646-201-4207, ext. 207 or at jwalker@grandstreet.org.

Greenwich House in Greenwich Village calls on volunteers of a different kind. It urges young professionals to get involved as members of an advisory board to its board of directors. The advisory board has anywhere from 20 to 40 volunteers who plan and run fundraising events and large-scale projects.

This year, the group raised $115,000 toward Greenwich House’s Children’s Safety Project, which provides free counseling to abused children and their families, said Aileen Parker, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “Greenwich House couldn’t function without these volunteers,” she said.

People in the community with special interests or talents — such as crocheting, music or group reading — are encouraged to volunteer to plan programs for the senior center. Recently, a student from a culinary institute ran a cooking group, said Parker.

People interested in general volunteer opportunities at Greenwich House or the advisory board can contact Parker at 212-242-4140, ext. 229.

The Grade Grabbers Tutoring program at the 14th Street Sol Goldman Y, affiliated with the Educational Alliance, needs tutors who can help neighborhood children whose parents speak limited or no English.

“Our volunteers get to connect with the community on a much more personal level,” said Miryam Rosenzweig, the volunteer coordinator. “It’s almost a privilege to be able to meet and help so many different people.”

The center also runs the weekly Chabbat ORE program, which offers kosher meals every Saturday for homeless and isolated adults. Volunteers who can set up, serve and participate in the meals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. are needed.

People interested in either program can contact Rosenzweig at 212-780-0800, ext. 231 or at volunteer@edalliance.org.

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