The St. Nicks Alliance celebrated its 37th anniversary with its annual Awards and Benefit at the Wythe Hotel of Greenpoint on Tuesday evening, October 23rd. The organization, which has been serving our community since 1975, works for affordable housing, health care, economic development, workforce development, and youth education. Proceeds from the event will go toward the creation of a new School Settlement community center.
The event honored Steve Flax, the vice president of Community Development at M & T Bank, and Eddie Bautista, the executive director at the New York City Justice Alliance. Both have devoted the better part of their professional lives to serving the neighborhood. 25 years ago, Flax bought heating oil en masse at a bargain, then sold it at discount prices to affordable housing tenantslike those organized by St. Nicks Alliance. “I went to the Polish neighborhood, the Italians, the Latinos… and I worked directly with St. Nicks Alliance with all three of those [Greenpoint] communities. St. Nicks Alliance was part of all of them,” said Flax. “Meeting all those tenants taught me about my neighborhood, and about myself.” Bautista was recognized bettering our neighborhood’s air quality over the past 16 years by helping St. Nicks and other organizations usher in marine and rail waste removal to replace pollutant-heavy trucks.
Community leaders in attendance included State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilmember Diana Reyna. “St. Nicks is Brooklyn’s logo,” Reyna declared. “They’re interested in people, families, blocks. They believe it’s about stabilizing the community from the ground up. It’s about building infrastructure…because when you have that, you have success.”
The new community center will replace a School Settlement founded over 100 years ago at 120 Jackson Street, and the last remaining School Settlement in Brooklyn, according to Amie Gross, the new facility’s architect. In addition to 3000 square feet per level of the building, subterranean levels will provide a multipurpose gym and theatre space.
“Currently at the site, there’s a small stage, but there’s no lighting and no sound system.” said Lai-Wan Wong, the Youth and Education Director of St. Nicks Alliance. With funding, she hopes a more professional black box theatre will allow aspiring thespians to better hone their craft. Whatever the case may be, Lai-Wan says, a 3,000 square foot space devoted to youth athletics and recreation is a very hard thing to come by in the neighborhood.
Joe Robles, President of St. Nicks Alliance, thinks that’s a shame. “You know, I’m from Staten Island,” Robles said. “And when I think about what my own kids have… I mean, they’ve got great gyms, great parks… I see no reason why this neighborhood can’t have those things. We need a community center.”
Marissa Mota and Kari Luna, both 14, are members of the School Settlement Association Mad World Performers, a student drama and music troupe that presented Tuesday. The idea of a professional-level black box theatre thrills the high school freshmen. “If you’re a kid, looking to get into drama and don’t know where to go, this is it. If we had a place to go [everyday], a place to call our own…we’d be even closer,” said Luna.
After stealing the show with a highly energized cover of “Mad World” by Tears for Fears, Mad World Performers yielded the floor to State Senator Daniel Squadron of the 25th district.
“No one wants to follow a performance like that,” Squadron admitted. “Ultimately, that performance showed you why youth programs like this are so important for a community.”
Later, Squadron elaborated, “A community changes. But throughout all the changes here, St. Nicks has been a bedrock, doing the comprehensive work that’s needed. In a community that risks becoming fractured, an organization like St. Nicks Alliance serves as a psychological counterpoint.”
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