Monday, April 14, 2008

ReServe At Work with Citizens Advice Bureau

In 1886, Stanton Coit founded America's first settlement house, the Neighborhood Guild (later renamed University Settlement) on New York City's Lower East Side, influenced by the founders and staff of London's Toynbee Hall and other British social activists who believed that students and people of wealth should "settle" in poverty-stricken neighborhoods both to provide services to help improve the daily quality of life, as well as to evaluate conditions and work for social reform.

From the late 1800s until the mid-1900s, settlement house staff resided in the same buildings in which neighborhood residents participated in programs and activities. Living in close proximity, settlement staff regarded the people who used the settlement as "neighbors," not "clients."

Many settlement staff today continue to live in the same neighborhoods as their settlement’s program participants. The shared sense of community still exists between settlement staff and the people who participate in settlement programs.

--from the Web site of United Neighborhood Houses, the umbrella organization for the settlement house system in New York City.

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is the largest Bronx-based “settlement house.” Their mission is to improve the economic and social well being of individuals, families and communities who are most in need.

Director of Development Ken Small: “Government contracts say you can do very specific, very finite things with the government's money.” In this regard, Ken says, “ReServe helps us fill some very critical internal needs.

“This is the stuff that oftentimes doesn't make the newspapers because it's not glitzy and it's not glamorous.

“But we need folk who have the ability to do this sort of stuff in order to sustain this organization so that we can do the programs, we can do the services,” without interruptions for the clients, especially when regular staff members must stop some work to comply with routine government audits, often with little or no notice.

ReServist Asher Yablon and General Counsel Eileen Torres on-site at CAB’s Morris Avenue office in the Bronx.

ReServists Luz Bettancourt and Asher Yablon both come from corporate backgrounds. And both of them were placed to support the work of Eileen Torres, CAB’s General Counsel. But their reasons for connecting with CAB through ReServe are very different.

Says Luz, “For me as a spirit, when I first came to this country I lived in the Bronx. And I'm very familiar with the Bronx.

“I used to work at Calvary Hospital [in the Bronx], which is an excellent institution, and I grew so much there for a very long time. Then when I needed a change, I went to Manhattan,” working as a high level administrative assistant. “But I always had that desire to help others.”

Her work as a Program Administrator in the Human Resources Department has reconnected her to that sense of purpose, and brings her back into community in the Bronx.

Asher’s motives were very straightforward: “My goal was simply just to keep my mind occupied. To be perfectly honest, I didn't really have a burning desire to work for a social service organization. I just was looking to feel that I'm accomplishing something.”

ReServe also has another kind of “success story” at CAB in Ken Kagel, a former tech executive who started at CAB as a ReServist and has moved into a regular staff position as Proxurement Director.

Human Resources Manager Jessica Smith-Houk explains that to bring a family from a situation of homelessness and acute need, “into even just stable housing and a stable family, a tremendous level of service is required.

“It's nice to have the ReServists come with experience and other things. The knowledge base may be coming from another place--the corporate world rather than the nonprofit sector---but the skills translate.”

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