A letter from Cecilia Clarke, president and CEO of Brooklyn Community Foundation
It has been a little over a year since I joined Brooklyn Community Foundation as its second President and CEO, and what a year it’s been!
Since last September, the Foundation has been on a wonderful journey of exploration and transformation. And personally I have had the pleasure and privilege of constant learning about Brooklyn—a place I’ve called home for 25 years—and the role we can play as Brooklyn’s community foundation.
Brooklyn is completely unique—we know it, and so does the world. Our diversity, our history, our cultures, our sense of place, are unmatched.
We’re also unique in that we are the only borough with its own community foundation, and the borough with the highest population living in or near poverty—percentage-wise almost half of all residents; in raw numbers, close to 1.2 million people.
Over the past year, I’ve set out to understand a little better what that means for our communities, and to answer the question, “How can we help make Brooklyn more just and fair, now and into the future?”
At a Brooklyn Insights Roundtable in Bedford Stuyvesant, January 2014
One way we sought answers was by launching a fairly ambitious community engagement project—Brooklyn Insights—back in January.
Across the borough, we heard about wholly inspiring, often unseen, grassroots efforts chipping away at seemingly insurmountable barriers. We talked to local leaders and experts from all backgrounds about how we could support and sustain their success.
In Sunset Park, I sat in a meeting of residents at the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association conducted entirely in Mandarin; fortunately, I had one of our Community Fellows, Anthony Deng, a high school senior who moved to the U.S. just three years ago, translating for me—something he does for his whole family regularly. The participants spoke about their dependence on the local nonprofit for the most basic services, as well as their overall struggles with access to information about educational opportunities for their kids, and safe and affordable housing.
In Coney Island, I joined a town hall meeting hosted by HeartShare Human Services at Carey Gardens, one of the few NYCHA community centers still open. Over 60 children, adults, and seniors spoke openly—and in some cases painfully—about the struggles of young people, the violence and lack of opportunities they face daily, and their unwavering ambition to strengthen Coney Island and be role models for their families.
By the time we completed the process in June, we had spoken with over 950 people and gained a swift, but in-depth, lesson on the joys and challenges of life in Brooklyn.
At a Donor Event, June 2014
Building Assets and Capital for Brooklyn
As the Foundation enters its sixth year, we are working hard to increase our capacity to take on some of the challenges we heard about in Brooklyn Insights. Last spring, we received our first $1 million gift, and we have tripled our Donor Advised Fund assets.
In addition to Brooklyn Insights, we’ve met with over 250 donors and their friends through a series of small dinners and presentations. It’s clear from these events that Brooklyn knows it can and should be generous, and we are here to help.
To this end, we have developed multiple donor options including a trustworthy and easy-to-use Donor Advised Fund program. And we are helping to manage capital for donors as diverse as the Brooklyn Delegation of the City Council, a major housing developer, and a new women’s giving circle.
Please see our new 4-Ways-to-Give designed for donors of all levels. I encourage you to learn more andgive more to Brooklyn!
Leadership and Expertise
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I learned is the veritable bounty of expertise, insight, passion and courage represented in the multiple leaders we’ve met.
It’s our mission to mobilize this leadership and expertise to help build a just and fair Brooklyn. We are adding board members, growing our young leadership group Brooklyn Now, and establishing several strategic committees of advocates, young people, and donors to help guide our work going forward.
Above all, we have learned that our youth are the cornerstone of Brooklyn’s future and to this end we will be engaging young people as experts and leaders in propelling the Foundation’s vision.
In Fort Greene Park, November 2013
Last month–in another happy change–we moved to Crown Heights! We’re now even closer to our work by being in the heart of Brooklyn. Our 1000 Dean Street address reflects Brooklyn’s manufacturing history and its current culture of innovation and artisanal makers, but is in an area where the effects of rapidgentrification and community disruption are also keenly apparent.
While we can’t halt the forces of gentrification, we do hope to work with community groups around these issues. At the very least, our new conference room is available at no fee for community use, and a new “incubator space” is reserved for fledgling nonprofits and other community-based endeavors. Please visit: the door is literally open!
This month marks a renewed focus for Brooklyn Community Foundation. On Thursday, October 30th we will release the final report from Brooklyn Insights, as well as our new strategy.
I’m both inspired and humbled by the mission before us, but I know that if any place in the world is up for the task, it’s Brooklyn. I also know that crafting a new strategy will engender some disappointment as well as potential for mistakes–but I hope our recent efforts signal a sincere intention to work hand-in-hand with all of you to get it right.
After a year’s work, we now have a strong, clear vision steering us forward: a fair and just Brooklyn, built on dignity and respect, where all residents have the opportunity to participate and prosper.
Thank you for your partnership, your support, and your commitment in helping us realize this vision.
All the best,
President & CEO
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of BK Reader.