Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ReServe At Work with New Alternatives For Children

“All children, including those who are chronically ill or physically challenged, have the right to live in safe, loving, and permanent family homes. [Our] mission is to provide innovative, high quality services in support of birth, foster, and adoptive families who are caring for children with special medical needs at home. Working primarily with children whose birth families live in poverty, NAC seeks to enable them to remain in, or return to, their homes whenever possible, or to be adopted by loving families when necessary.”
--from the New Alternatives for Children (NAC) mission statement

Former ReServist Steve Walton (pictured below, left) sits in his small, well-lit office. He is explaining the work he does with NAC.
“I came in to design the client tracking database we needed,” Steve says, “but never had.”

Chris Strnad (pictured here sitting beside Steve), NAC’s Director of Evaluation and Research, describes the impact Steve’s involvement has had on the lives of the children and families NAC assists:
“Prior to Steve coming, the agency had no integrated database that could track information centrally on all the families with whom we’re working—nor, crucially, the progression of families through the different programs we offer.”

NAC provides five major programs, including in-house medical and mental health clinics. Their offices fill three floors of a major building in midtown Manhattan.

“Last week our Executive Director called Steve up and said ‘Can you give me a list of all of our clients’ siblings, and where they are?’ It took him maybe 10 minutes. His work has changed how we are able to manage our programs, how we are able to target services. We’re just able to track information much more completely and much more quickly.

“Although it had its moments of technical achievement, my previous work,” as a freelance software designer, “was entirely business-oriented. One client for many years was a major advertising agency. Others did consulting work involving chemical companies and refineries. They had their moments technically, but it’s not quite the same as being able to contribute to the benefit of these kids and their families.

“And that’s a welcome opportunity for me too, because I have no kids of my own, and very little experience of being up close to kids. So this is really the best way for me to do something for them. And I’m very glad of it.”

Steve leans back in his chair and smiles. “And actually, for background music while you’re working, kids playing isn’t bad!”

Friday, December 7, 2007

ReServe at Sotheby's

Reception for “Above Ground,” a Report on NYC Aging Artists by The Research Center for Arts and Culture, Teachers College Columbia University
Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Steven Brezzo, Director of Sotheby’s Institute of Art, seemed to joke about the study’s title in his opening remarks. “I thought it was ironic—every New York artist I know of is aging!” But his intent was earnest, as he was quick to clarify: “This topic is of particular importance to all of us who live and make art in New York City.”

Attendee Carolyn Smith was surprised that the event was taking place at Sotheby’s. She didn’t know the story of what is arguably New York’s most famous art auction house.

“Sotheby’s! I thought this was a place to eat!” she laughed. “But they got something here for everyone.”

The title, it turned out, came from an interviewer asking a 97-year-old New York artist, “How are you today?”
To which the artist replied, “Well, I’m above ground.”

The title could be reflective of one of the study’s findings: that some of New York’s older artists can feel overlooked, like a community “underground.” In this light, its publication could be seen as an unearthing.

For the study, a broad sampling of NY artists was interviewed in Spanish, Chinese, or English. The results were published in all three languages as well.

Artist Resource Tables were set up in the reception area for artists in attendance. ReServe was among them.

Theodore S. Berger (Project Director of the Urban Arts Initiative, and Executive Director of New York Creates - and pictured, 2nd from top) said in his remarks, “I am proudly 67, and I’ve been working in the Arts Community for 35 years. I’ve been dreaming of a project like this since I was a much younger man. I retired in 2005 from over 30 years as Executive Director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and I am pleased to say I am still going strong—working, as my wife reminds me, more than full time now in my ‘Golden Years’.”

Joan Jeffri (Director of the Research Center for Arts and Culture, Teachers College Columbia University) explained that the survey found that “Artists are very egalitarian.

“Being an artist is a master identity that transcends race” and many other of forms of typical social stratification, including income, for all but the most wealthy artists.

NY artists Norman Messiah and Goldie Yorke (pictured, above) were among the attendees. Said Mr. Messiah, “I didn’t know what to expect.”

NY artist China Marks (pictured, below) was eager to discuss what set the arts community apart. After hearing Joan’s comments, she wrote on the comment board: The difference between aging artists and other aging populations of free-lancers, retirees, etc. is that artists must make art—that’s why we do it—it gives meaning + structure to our lives—other people don’t necessarily have that.

“Art makes us a different animal,” she explained afterwards. “I’m somebody who’s been a freak all my life. I could’ve been anything but I had to do this!”

Not all of the artists represented at the reception considered themselves professionals. Some were hobbyists, and happy to keep it that way. Painter Beverly Taylor said, “I just paint a little. People, landscaping, whatever. But I want to keep my paintings to myself. They’re like my children.”

In her comments, Joan Jeffri indicated that the research team was eager to extrapolate their findings onto the larger society, to see what trends might be gleaned. Their team recommended that “work” and “retirement” be redefined.
One of their most significant findings, according to Ms. Jeffri, was that “Artists don’t retire. No one ever talked about giving up. When they encounter problems, they change media, but they keep working.”

ReServe understands this about artists. We offer them paid, public, socially engaged opportunities to expand their work in new and unexpected ways.

NY artist Jeff Berman talks with Adeena Besdin, Director of Training and Education, Elders Share the Arts

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

ReServe At Work at the Red Hook Community Justice Center

(L to R) Amy Roza, Maureen O’Boyle, and James Brodick, Project Director at Red Hook Community Justice Center, Brooklyn NY

At Red Hook, a single judge hears neighborhood cases that under ordinary circumstances would go to three different courts—Civil, Family and Criminal. The goal is to offer a coordinated, rather than piecemeal, approach to people's problems. The Red Hook judge has an array of sanctions and services at his disposal, including community restitution projects, on-site educational workshops and GED classes, drug treatment and mental health counseling . . .

But the Red Hook story goes far beyond what happens in the courtroom. The courthouse is the hub for an array of unconventional programs that engage local residents in "doing justice." These include mediation, community service projects that put local volunteers to work repairing conditions of disorder and a Youth Court where teenagers resolve actual cases involving their peers.

The idea here is to engage the community in aggressive crime prevention, solving local problems before they even come to court.

--from the Red Hook Community Justice Center’s Web site

“We are both a community center and a courthouse!” says Maureen O’Boyle.

She sits at a table in a conference room at the Center, where she works as a Mentoring Internship Specialist and ReServist. She is flanked by Amy Roza, the Center’s Director of Youth and Family Services, and James Brodick, its Project Director.

Maureen grew up in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. The injustice of the racial discrimination she saw on television as a child and the response of the Civil Rights Movement inspired her. Like many young people at the time, she was moved the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

For Maureen, the struggles of the Civil Rights movement were, literally, close to home. “I lived 6 blocks from where Malcolm X died,” she says. “Even when I didn’t always agree” with every statement the radical black leader made, “I heard the message and understood why.

When Maureen came back into the workforce as a ReServist after her retirement, she was very selective in choosing what kind of work she wanted to do. She felt compelled to work for justice.

A distinction is often made between criminal justice—the way a society intervenes in the wake of a crime, and social justice—its fundamental support of human rights for all its citizens. The Center’s mission treats them as one.

James explains that the Center sees “arrest as a point of opportunity.” At this intersection, young people who are on the wrong path can be steered in the right direction. The focus is on crime prevention.

This photo of the walk to the Justice Center was taken a young participant in the Center’s Photo Project. You can see more photos by these aspiring artists at

The Center treats arrest as a situation where help is not just the “right thing to do,” but in fact socially mandated. This vision strengthens the connections between members of the community who are in trouble and those who are in a position to help.

“I see people from my community here all the time,” says Maureen. “Some come in through the front door, some come in through the back in handcuffs.” The Center makes sure that however they got there, they all get the help they need.