83 Community-based organizations in West Harlem awarded $2 million in grants

Kwabena Opong, New York

West Harlem Local Development Corporation (WHLDC) on Friday, March 21 awarded $2 million in grants to 83 community-based organizations as a measure advancing WHLDC’s objective of promoting economic opportunities and quality of life in West Harlem. The funds were disbursed among organizations in the areas of arts and culture, community facilities, education, environment, historic preservation, housing, and workforce and economic development in Community District 9.

Mr. Kofi Boateng, Executive Director of WHLDC traced the background of the awards to a meeting held in October 2012 where the board demanded $12 million. The average demand per organization was put at $350,000. Out of a total of $150 million, Columbia University has so far disbursed $6.5 million to WHDLC.

Mr. Boateng explained that his office made the decision to ensure that a good number of organizations obtained the money and the choice for this round of awards was based on the immediate needs of the community.  He added, “We decided to go wide versus deep and the result was 83 CBOs.” The hard work put in by the organizations in the community also informed the decision to spread out to more than to a few. Future grants would be based on how able organizations use the current grants. Mr. Boateng declared that within a week classes in finance sponsored by TD Bank would start to educate recipients on how to use the money profitably. He added, “The burden on us is not just to expend the money and close shop.” Positive results coming from this would determine the volume of the next grant. He stated that the deadline for application for the next cycle of disbursements is June.

Aziza, a representative of Deaf, Dance Jam Workshop, a beneficiary organization, in a chat with Amandla, said she was even more grateful for the recognition her organization has received from the grant. She added that the impact of the grant would go a long way to help Deaf, Dance Jam Workshop expand its activities in the community.  She explained that her organization received the award under the auspices of community education. “We service people with special needs. We teach the disabled population dance and theater and we are the only such organization in the community. Both adults and youths benefit from our services. In addition we do advocacy work, educating our students on their rights as citizens,” Aziza explained.

Mr. Boateng affirmed that the grant was among the programs initiated by Columbia University in the college’s expansion program. The university plans to spend $17 billion to develop academic and research facilities between 125 and 123 streets in Harlem. In 2009, Columbia University signed the community benefits agreement with District 9 and West Harlem Development Corporation (WHLDC) was formed to administer the funds with Mr. Boateng as its executive director. “I was hired to arrange the disbursement of the grant and hired a staff to work with the attorney general to ensure that the grant would be available,” he stated. He added that he had the “choice to work through existing non-profits versus building a big corporate organization.” He settled on collaborating with WHLDC and by implication, with the community-based organizations. Even before the grant awards, Mr. Boateng said his office in the summer of 2012 spent $700,000 to initiate a youth employment program to help the youth obtain jobs.

Regarding challenges his office encountering, the Ghana-born executive director said the major challenge was agreeing on what to do with the choices he had and the directions to go. The interested parties represent operational and racial diversity – housing, education, Arts and Culture, Environment, community facilities. Also represented are African American, White and Hispanic groups.  The choice of the 83 was therefore based on those challenges that WHLDC faced. The groups are required to work together and are given specific outcomes with job creation as one of the major requirements, Mr. Boateng said.

The $150 million would be allocated for the following areas:  $30 million for education; $76 million for benefits and could be used at the discretion of WHLDC; $20 million for in-kind services and $20 million for housing.

When asked about his varied background and how he could relate easily to his new environment, Mr. Boateng said his strengths lay in understanding, indentifying and finding solutions to problems that arise.  He added also that one has to bring passion and be honest to oneself. It is important to identify one’s constituents, communicate effectively and take oneself seriously, he added.

Posted by on Apr 12 2013. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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