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Our Unsung First Responders

April 13, 2020

Strengthening-Human-Services-1024x1024Neighborhood nonprofit organizations serve as both safety nets and trampolines for millions of New Yorkers. They help low-income youth graduate from high school and go on to college, support newly-arrived immigrant families trying to adjust to life in a not-always welcoming country, and fire the imaginations of New Yorkers through the arts and culture, among other things.

Sadly, low-income residents of the city often struggle with other problems — including insufficient (or nonexistent) health care, persistent and structural racism and discrimination, unemployment, and unsafe, substandard housing — that put them at higher risk for infection.

Since the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., nonprofits have been on the front lines of the epidemic, their staff classified as "essential" workers. They run our senior centers, settlement houses, food banks, family shelters, domestic violence shelters, and supportive housing developments. The individuals who do this work do not make a lot of money. Many have no choice but to use mass transit to get to and from their jobs, putting their health and that of their families at risk.

The emergence and spread of the virus in the United States coincides with the spring special events season, when many nonprofits raise a significant percentage of their unrestricted revenues through walkathons, bike-a-thons, and other large gatherings. As straightened as their circumstances may be, these nonprofits are being called on to do more with less — in many cases, much more with a lot less. Which is why it's critically important that we all do our best over the coming weeks and months to support the efforts of these essential workers and organizations as they do their best to help us through this dark time and create a more equitable future for all New Yorkers.

Patricia_Swann_Michael_Seltzer_for_PhilanTopicPatricia Swann is a senior program officer at the New York Community Trust, where she has been responsible for over $118 million in grants in support of affordable housing, community development, civic engagement, and nonprofit capacity building projects over the past twenty years. Michael Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at Baruch College's Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at the City University of New York and director of the New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows program.

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