Exclusive: East Side meets West Side in new human services partnership

New York City organizations, the Goddard Riverside and the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, join forces to help Manhattan’s most vulnerable.

Greg Morris, executive director of Isaacs Center and Roderick Jones, executive director of Goddard Riverside.

Greg Morris, executive director of Isaacs Center and Roderick Jones, executive director of Goddard Riverside. Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has gone on for over a year now, has exacerbated many issues, ranging from homelessness to food insecurity – but a new partnership is hoping to tackle these pressing matters. 

Goddard Riverside, an organization focused on providing programs and assistance to the residents of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit that offers services to low-income families on the East Side of Manhattan, have joined together to better address “the root causes of critical socio-economic issues facing Upper Manhattan,” according to a press release announcing the partnership. 

Greg Morris, the executive director of the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, spoke to NYN Media about the organization’s new partnership with Goddard Riverside and how it will enable both nonprofits to aid roughly 26,000 New Yorkers.

Can you tell me a little bit about how this partnership with Goddard Riverside came to be?

The Isaacs Center has over 50 years of history, on the East Side of Manhattan, and the Goddard Riverside has more than 100, on the West Side. What had happened was – and I think this is true, prior to the pandemic and then the pandemic magnified some of these issues – is that those of us in the human services sector, who are focused on meeting the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers and are doing so to ensure that folks are doing well and doing well over time, wanted to try to do that in an environment where we're not relying on city governments and city governments’ support, or relying on private foundations and other charitable contributions to make our way forward. 

I think we realized that to be able to do that, to have the depth of impact that we really want, we have to be able to have comprehensive services. We have to manage at a time when there are stresses and strains on budgets in our city. This city government, in particular, and our state government have not made a financial commitment, a significant commitment in the way that we think it should have, to human services. So this is a moment where we need to do more but we are challenged to be able to find the resources to do so. So that required us to think about what sustainability looks like, what our value is and what our impact can be. And in doing so, we at the Isaacs Center, started to think about this idea, “Can partnership sustain us financially or otherwise?”

Goddard was in a position where it was thinking about how it would continue to have maximum impact in its neighborhood and how it is that its role as a provider, in providing comprehensive services can continue to grow and create impact. It just so happens that the work that we do on the East Side and the work that they do on the West Side overlap. But there are also things that we do that Goddard does not and there are things that Goddard does that we do not. So the prospect of taking on and engaging and supporting Goddard's portfolio, specific to supportive housing, in addressing homelessness in the city becomes critical. Our investment in education, workforce development and food service becomes something that we bring to the table with Goddard. So there's a real opportunity for connection and integration to create that depth of service again, at a moment, where we cannot always rely on our government providers to ensure that the resources are available to be able to do impactful work. I think we saw the opportunity for connectivity and we were enthusiastic about coming together to ensure sustainability and deepen impact, and then the pandemic hits and it only becomes more critical that human service providers are coming together and figuring out pathways forward.

So this partnership will allow both organizations to serve an estimated 26,000 New Yorkers. Can you tell me about the kinds of programs that will be offered to them?

Between our two organizations, we're serving New Yorkers from under the age of five, all the way up to our older adults, over 100 years of age. And our portfolio (of services include) early childhood programs, early childhood education – we're talking about after school and youth programs – and workforce development for young adults. For vulnerable New Yorkers, for families, we have behavioral health services, supportive housing services, homeless outreach services and Meals on Wheels, in particular, addressing food insecurity and hunger needs. And there are older adult services as well, which include naturally occurring retirement communities. 

Coming together really does cut across all the key areas of what we think are really extraordinary challenges at the moment, as well as before the pandemic, during the pandemic and now during the city's recovery. Whether we’re addressing significant mental health needs or supporting older adults who are especially impacted by COVID. This is an opportunity to come together and cut across all of these critical areas at a moment where I think we can all agree, our city is challenged in ways we could never have imagined.

I know the partnership will be implementing a multi-generational model of service, can you explain how that will work?

What we're talking about is economic security. We're talking about economic independence. When we think about a family, we think multi-generational, a minimum of two generation approach. Although, because we're in older adult space as well, you could argue that it's three generations. 

For us, that means access to early learning, which means successful after school programs, partnerships with the Department of Education, which at the same time means that we have access to services for out of school youth or youth that have not found success in school. And we're supporting those young adults who are on a college pathway through an options program that Goddard provides – we've got that portfolio in place to support educational access for one generation. At the same time, we have access to resources related to housing, legal services and benefits programs for families so that they're able to find stability and that includes workforce development and job training components. 

And then I would just add that so many of us are thinking about the older adults who were hit the hardest by COVID. We've also got older adult services and not just traditional senior centers. We also operate naturally occurring retirement communities, which are really about trying to create a community where older New Yorkers are able to age in place, safely and comfortably. So what we're really talking about, is this three-generation, multi-generation pathway to stability and economic security.

New York recently got a new governor and New York City is about to get a brand new mayor. How are you hoping this new leadership will benefit the human services sector? And do you have any concerns?

Obviously, all of us in this particular moment are thinking about the next iteration of city government and this new iteration of state government. I just want to start by saying that in the human services sector, when the pandemic hit, we didn't stop doing the work. During the darkest days of the pandemic, it was our personnel who were ensuring access to food, it was our personnel who were supporting the mental health needs of New Yorkers. It was our teams that were trying to figure out how to create virtual platforms to engage with older adults and kids. We secured PPE, we ran a vaccination site with both of our organizations, we were doing everything we could think to do to keep us moving forward and to navigate what none of us could imagine. Oftentimes, we did that without tremendous guidance and support of the city government. We were having to navigate this as best we could. 

And so I just want to say, the human services sector did not close its doors during one of the most complicated moments of this pandemic and we're nowhere near the end of it. I say that because when we think about the new city government, when we think about our new state government, what we want to see for the very first time is our city and state government acknowledge the human services sector, as the vital institution that it is, if it serves and meets unique and significant community needs. The (human services sector) employs a significant percentage of New Yorkers, a lot of whom are majority Black and brown New Yorkers. And the reality is that this work is essential and should be respected as such. So what I'd like to see from the city and state is a commitment to ensuring that this sector, and I don't just mean the services that we're providing, but the people who are doing the work are resourced, and supported, and financially cared for in the way that they need to be.