Giving Back

The Staten Island chapter of Literacy Inc. gives kids the tools they need to succeed.

Nonprofit organizations are an important part of a community’s fabric.

The nonprofits provide much needed services for those in need and a range of cultural programming for the entire borough to enjoy. These groups produce big initiatives on a small budget. Here, we highlight three organizations that are helping to make Staten Island a better place.

Literacy Inc.
A few years ago, when a mother in the Stapleton Houses tried to set up a public reading program for her children and their friends, she hit a dangerous roadblock.

“There were drug dealers dominating the lobby where they wanted to gather and the entire space smelled like urine,” explained Rosalind Diaz, associate director of the Staten Island chapter of Literacy Inc. (LINC), a nonprofit organization that provides a range of interconnected programming designed to mobilize existing resources in the neighborhood and deliver reading opportunities to children and their families.

“Together with the assistance of the NYPD and NYCHA we were able to turn the situation around,” Diaz continued. “Every week a custodian would make sure the floors were freshly mopped and police were present during our reading sessions so that no illegal activity was going on. This empowered the parents to take back their building and gave residents a clean, drug-free space where their children could learn. It’s a perfect example of why we do what we do.”

Founded in 1996 by Mimi Levin Leiber, an educator who recognized that there was an overwhelming number of children from low-income neighborhoods who were struggling in both school and in life, LINC’s mission is to provide reading opportunities to communities where they are lacking.

Currently operating in all five boroughs, the program is present in 10 neighborhoods, 33 schools and 25 public libraries. Over 15,000 children and 4,000 parents have participated and 48 different community partners have helped distribute 6,500 books. In Staten Island, the program is present in five schools and community partner Barnes & Noble provides books to help build a literacy-friendly environment in the home.

“The CCC (Citizens’ Committee for Children) gives us reports on our children’s literacy and education levels and the North Shore of Staten Island has the highest rate of IEPs in the borough,” Diaz said, explaining the document that is developed for public school children who are struggling in school or need specialized education services. “Our children are struggling and that’s the battle that LINC is fighting against.”

LINC’s free programs connect schools, homes and communities, ensuring that books are available and that children have access to reading and reading support.

“It has been proven that children who read more have a higher level of achievement,” Diaz said.

There are student-to-student “buddy” programs, parent workshops and interactive curriculums that are made to encourage early childhood reading at the age of 0 to 8.

“We’re in the libraries year round and in the parks in the summer,” Diaz said. “Parents tell us where they want to meet – a lobby, a laundromat, whatever space they choose – and we bring the materials. Through all of these different programs, we are seeing a lot of success.”

For Diaz, who grew up in Brownsville and worked in law enforcement as an officer for the New York City Housing Authority for 17 years, this program has a lot of personal meaning.

“I guess I always wanted to give back and make a difference because in both my personal and professional life I have seen so much,” Diaz said, detailing how after working for NYCHA she returned to school to earn a degree in counseling and started a second career in social work. “What I’ve learned from all of my experiences is there is a common denominator in this city: Children do not have the tools they need to succeed. Without proper reading skills their lives are taking a detrimental turn. The goal of LINC is to counteract that trend.”

For more information about LINC’s programming or to volunteer and donate books and services, visit www.lincnyc.org.

Art Bridge
Eleven different South Shore businesses were a lot more colorful last month thanks to a creative program installed by Art Bridge, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that has been empowering local artists to impact their communities for the past decade.

“We were very excited to display the 76 artworks of 31 different Staten Island artists,” noted Stephen Pierson, executive director of the group. “This has been a wonderful experience for the community and for all involved.”

Entitled “Arts on Amboy,” Pierson says the idea for the program was presented to Art Bridge by Councilman Joseph Borelli, who also funded the project.

“His office wanted a way to bring attention to local artists on the South Shore while at the same time finding a way to build some synergy between local artists and local businesses,” Pierson said. “There was a great reaction from all involved – local artists were thrilled to bring attention to their work and businesses enjoyed some increased traffic to their stores. We hope to make this an annual tradition every June.”

For Art Bridge, which is known for transforming outdoor public eyesores into works of art in all five boroughs, Arts on Amboy represented one of its few indoor installations.

“Our founding mission was to turn construction fencing into canvases for local artists,” Pierson said. “Rodney Durso, our founder, a career artist living in Manhattan, saw some scaffolding and thought he could beautify it. His idea grew into this wonderful nonprofit that promotes the work of New York City’s talented emerging artists.”

The group recently unveiled a huge exhibit at the Google building in Chelsea: Seven female artists transformed 700 feet of construction fencing into a work of art.

“It really is a beautiful project,” Pierson concluded.

To learn more about the mission of Art Bridge or to submit work for consideration, visit art-bridge.org.

SI Giving Circle
Evelyn Kormanik has been helping Staten Islanders in need for more than a decade.

After reading an article in Family Circle magazine about volunteerism she started a small social circle in her Oakwood home that gathered monthly for coffee, cake and community outreach.

“It was my New Year’s resolution to add something meaningful to my life,” revealed Kormanik, who at the time was recently retired, assisting the Staten Island Mental Health Society as a reading volunteer. “I’ve lived here for many years and recognized how blessed this borough is, but I also knew there were so many pockets of need.”

What started out as 24 friends and one small pistachio cake quickly doubled and outgrew Kormanik’s sunroom within a year. Today the group, which is called Staten Island Giving Circle, features over 700 people on their email list and has an official mission of assisting the borough’s underserved children, seniors, homeless and veterans. Their projects and initiatives are many: Birthday parties at homeless shelters for children who don’t have much cause for celebration, Adopt-a-Pantry programs that encourage businesses, organizations and independent donors to commit monetary contributions to one of the borough’s 40 food pantries.

Kormanik is currently trying to get a Weekend Food Backpack Initiative off the ground.

“It came to our attention that there are many children on Staten Island who are food deprived on weekends, holidays and snow days when the schools’ cafeterias are closed,” Kormanik declared. “This need really resonated with us and we put together a comprehensive plan to start chipping into this problem. Because it is so repeatable (every week), it is expensive. For a full school year, the cost runs to $5,000; we look for ideas to raise $500 at a time.”

The idea started slowly at the end of the 2019 school year with the group committing to 10 weekly backpacks. They purchased canvas totes and created a model with dry cereal, microwaveable soup cups, crackers, pudding, jello, granola bars, juice boxes/water and fresh fruit.

“Two portions of everything are packed in the bags and given to the same 10 students every Friday,” Kormanik said. “They bring back the empty totes on Mondays. We began this project in the middle of the school year and continued until the end of the term. Our intention is to cover the full school year beginning in September. We, of course, would like to expand the program to include more students, but we have to secure more monies first.”

Kormanik’s Giving Circle does a similar program for the homeless, providing a backpack full of toiletries and other necessary products. They also support “Showers of Blessings,” a mobile shower van that provides hot showers to the homeless.

There are no membership fees to belong to the Giving Circle and each program is completely voluntary. The group keeps nothing – each and every donation is given directly to local recipients or used to fund Giving Circle projects. In the past 10 years, the 501 C(3) organization has donated close to $100,000 to a variety of causes and charities – focusing a good portion of its support on Staten Island food pantries.

“We are a population of 460,000 and there are many, many people living on the fringe of hunger and homelessness,” Kormanik said.

For more information about the group or to donate goods and services, visit statenislandgivingcircle.org.