Citizens Committee for NYC provides micro-grants to neighborhood groups to create parks and gardens

Aug 01, 2012

Mott Haven in the South Bronx is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, with unemployment at almost 30%. But a relatively modest amount of funding —under $2000—from Citizens Committee for NYC has helped create a community garden on Saint Ann’s Avenue that’s bringing neighbors together and helping revitalize the community.

The Padre Plaza community garden was initiated by Bronx resident Mike Young, whose daughter Jada gave him the idea of cleaning up an abandoned lot in their neighborhood. Young, who had carpentry skills, tools, and a work crew he could call in, did the initial work—clearing out trash, trimming trees, planting and fixing the brick walkways. But to really thrive, the spot needed more money and a core group of committed gardeners.

Padre Plaza was officially funded three years ago after Young read about the Citizens Committee for NYC in the newspaper. The Green Grants Program, the result of a public/private partnership between Citizens Committee and Bank of America, was created to provide micro-grants to local groups to “clean up and green up” their neighborhoods—supporting projects like growing fresh food, beautifying brown lots and boosting recycling efforts. The bank provides financial support to Citizens Committee, which in turn provides small grants to support the projects. In addition, and most important, bank volunteers work side by side with the neighborhood volunteers.

Citizens Committee for NYC was founded in 1975 by Newsweek editor Osborn Elliott and Senator Jacob Javits in the face of a citywide fiscal crisis. Their idea was to encourage New Yorkers to help fill the gaps left by the city’s cutbacks by tapping the potential of volunteer-led neighborhood groups.

Since then, Citizens Committee has supported thousands of community improvement projects in underserved neighborhoods across the five boroughs. From the Northeast Bronx to Staten Island’s North Shore, volunteers work on issues like park beautification, sidewalk cleanup, food justice and urban agriculture. Funding ranges from $500 to $3000, although grants can run as high as $15,000.In addition to funding, Citizens Committee offers skills-building workshops, and assistance with project planning. In 2012, they awarded over $600,000 in grants and supported more than 350 resident-led projects.

Peter H. Kostmayer has been at the helm of Citizens Committee since 2005. He says, “What’s impressive is that these are grassroots ideas. People want to clean up an abandoned lot, erase graffiti, teach their neighbors to recycle. I was at a project the other day where residents of Central Harlem tore down a building that had been a crack house and now it’s a community garden. The idea is to bring people together and help them to recognize that there are things they can do to control their own lives, to improve their neighborhoods and make this a better city.”

Bank of America has been an enthusiastic supporter of Citizens Committee since 2000. Connie Verducci, Bank of America’s Market Manager for New York City, says, “Citizens Committee gets it right. Their volunteer-led activities change communities block by block. People come out together, roll up their sleeves, put rakes and shovels in the ground —and make a big difference creating parks that are really everyone’s front yards. People who had never spoken before, who had never known they lived on the same block, come out and build a community garden together. And now they’re friends.”

Says Jada Young, “When you see the Bronx, you think it’s all buildings and cars and trains and that’s it. But when you come to the garden, you see there’s actually a peaceful place inside.” 

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