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Citzens Hero
• Aug 19, 2020

CitizensNYC has been building a better New York for almost a half a century

Dr. Rahsaan Harris sees "poetry" in the beginning of his tenure as new CEO of the Citizens Committee for New York City (CitizensNYC).

CitizensNYC was founded in 1975 during a crisis in New York. Sound familiar? The city was facing cutbacks and citywide poverty; thus, the organization was forged to give New Yorkers a tangible way to improve their neighborhoods and build community.

"It was an effort of U.S. Senator Jacob Javits and Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Osborn Elliott to bring New Yorkers together," Rahsaan says.

Rahsaan's first day as new CEO was March 16, which was almost the exact day NYC and other major cities enacted stay-at-home mandates and lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"My first day of work, my daughter was stuck at home, my wife was here working," he said. "Plus, my staff had only met me previously at an event, that really was the only time I ever saw them in person."

Despite the obstacles and efforts to build a culture through Zoom meetings and Slack conversations, Rahsaan says he feels like the organization is doing some of its best work, helping those most in need during this pandemic.

"When I came on, we were known for being able to respond to a crisis, it's in our history and DNA," he said. "It was at a point where folks were just fighting for their survival."

When COVID-19 hit, one of the first things CitizensNYC did was survey past grantees. The overwhelming response from the 1,000 respondents was that they needed five major services amid the pandemic: cash assistance, access to food, services for the elderly, and physical and mental health support.

They also adapted their grantee process to figure out where funding would best help grassroots organizations who could immediately act by delivering food to the elderly or perhaps hosting online mental health support groups immediately.

That's where institutions like TD Bank stepped in to help, supplying grants of up to $10,000 to those running food pantries, distributing surgical masks, arranging elderly check-ins, or designing other projects to meet their neighborhoods’ urgent needs amid COVID-19.

In all, TD donated $75,000 to CitizensNYC this year to provide operational support and fund more than 15 organizations like Crown Heights Keepers and Project Harmony, both which distribute food and produce to community members impacted by the pandemic.

In May, TD launched the Community Resilience Initiative to support organizations that meet the evolving needs of our communities at a very local level and as we look towards recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

There was perfect alignment between the community members that needed TD Bank's help the most amid the pandemic and the Vibrant Planet driver of the TD Ready Commitment, the Bank's platform to open doors to a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow.

This crisis collaboration between CitizensNYC and TD is just a continuation of a true partnership that's been in place since 2013, with TD funding over 150 projects to date.

"We are honored to work with Citizens Committee for NYC to help rebuild and improve our communities across all five boroughs," said Ralph Bumbaca, Commercial Market President, NYC. "We know that this year hit New Yorkers extremely hard, and we are proud to support the grass roots work of CitizensNYC to make our communities resilient for future generations and life better for all New Yorkers."

'Having really honest conversations'

CitizensNYC has a history of targeting their grants to organizations in the community that have been historically underserved. So, when COVID-19 hit, they used funding where it was needed most.

CitizensNYC helped a bike shop ran by a Panamanian immigrant and a wellness space owned by a black owner, Rahsaan said.

"We wanted to target the places employing residents, as unemployment numbers are rising due to COVID-19," Rahsaan said. "A lot of folks have been economically devastated for a very long time. And the data is clear. Lower income communities are affected disproportionately due to COVID-19."

"What's been nice about the reaction to the pandemic is support from places like TD has been swift because they're not getting caught up in ego or politics, it's just about helping those affected most," he continued.

Compounding social unrest from underserved communities and their allies was the murder of George Floyd in May.

Rahsaan believes this tragedy has forced communities from different walks of life to take a hard look inward as well as outward and have the tough conversations that will make this country and its people more unified.

"If you recognize your differences and embrace them, that's a road to a better society," he said. "There is division, but the United States was built on a dream of 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' It's not easy, but I think people are now doing the work."

In addition to financial support, CitizensNYC takes a holistic approach to those they support, regularly checking in, connecting local organizations to community leaders and even hosting Facebook Live and other social media presentations to raise their status and awareness.

TD once again shares the same values of stewardship and community growth.

The Bank promotes volunteering with CitizensNYC and its partners. In the past seven years alone, almost 250 TD colleagues have volunteered to help put some manpower behind the programs CitizensNYC funds, helping 87 neighborhoods in the New York area.

This includes building garden beds, volunteering to read and paint with school kids, constructing rainwater harvesting systems and more.

Want to learn more about COVID-19?
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