How This One Nonprofit is Impacting NYC Through Programs for People of All Backgrounds
Commonpoint Queens is a Visit.org partner nonprofit organization that is dedicated to sustaining and enhancing the quality of individual, family, and communal life in Queens through services to people of all ages, ability levels, stages of life, and backgrounds. When companies book a do-good experience with them through Visit.org, 100% of revenue is invested in their community programs. Recently, we sat down with their CEO, Danielle Ellman to discuss the impact of their organization, and how companies can get involved.
How would you describe Commonpoint Queens to someone who hasn’t heard of your organization before?
We are a multifaceted community center — a social service organization that tries to meet the diverse evolving needs in our borough, Queens. We offer a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together to find or access opportunities in, and build connections to, the community at any moment in their life.
The goal of the organization is to provide services that support individuals and families. Whether you are someone who is starving and doesn’t know where your next meal is going to come from, someone who needs access to professional development, legal services, financial counseling, mental health services, and tax preparation assistance, a parent who needs a safe place for you kid to come, or someone who simply wants to learn a skill, such as playing a musical instrument — we are here to support you.
We want to meet the diverse and evolving needs of people in our borough. Initially, we were founded to support the local Jewish community. However, as the demographics of the community have evolved over 6 decades, we’ve extended our reach. Now, we have over 52 sites in Queens with our main hubs being the Sam Field Center in Little Neck and the Central Queens location in Forest Hills.
What makes Commonpoint Queens unique?
We serve people across the socioeconomic spectrum. This means we are able to serve somebody who is financially destitute, while also serving a family that is looking for high quality childcare and can pay $15,000 a year for it. This is a unique social proposition. A lot of the time, you’ll see social service agencies offer the essential help and support for those who need financial help, and then separately, you’ll see community centers offering the lifestyle programs that are paid for by the individuals and families who partake in them. We offer both.
That there is often a socioeconomic separation within community programs speaks to the reality of NYC’s diversity. Our borough is a diverse community with diverse needs and with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. So, Commonpoint Queens creates a place where people from various walks of life can come together to find services and interact with each other.
One example of this is community gardening. This program is where our early childhood students and families garden together. Not only do people from varying backgrounds work alongside each other, but the activity itself encourages reaching across socioeconomic lines. One of the cool service learning projects they do there is to take the seasoning that is grown, crush it, and make spice packets to give to community pantries. They do this because when someone is hungry, they’re not thinking, “Am I going to put spices on that?” The idea is that those in the community gardening program are helping to create pantries full of food that is not only nutritious, but delicious.
We are creating a community where people feel responsible for one another, which is the heart and soul of volunteerism.
What are some of the greatest needs you see in your community in Queens and how does your program respond to them?
Hunger. Every month we’re pushing out food to 2000 people in Queens through the digital pantry system. Volunteers can connect with and assist older adults in our community that are using the system for the first time. Or, they can help prepare food packages as the orders come in, seamlessly getting them out into the community.
Nutrition. We’ve made a conscious push since we’ve moved to the digital pantry system, to have as many healthy options as possible. That means a lot of fresh produce. We’ve started to create prepped packages centered around the vegetables on hand. These prepped packages are also helpful to seniors that have difficulty cutting their own food because of arthritis.
Access. We know there are community members, seniors in particular, who cannot access certain services. We’ve asked ourselves, How do we make this more accessible to them? Now, what we try to do is visit and connect with seniors who have stopped going to our center because of mobility issues, or isolated seniors whom we know are only in contact with us. So, the food delivery program also becomes a way to provide friendly visits for those experiencing isolation or loneliness.
After-school care. Every day we have 3000 kids in our care in after school. We offer one-on-one help with homework for kids struggling academically (especially those in low-income schools).
English for speakers of other languages. We see a lot of Afghan women who have come to this country and are struggling to learn English. We offer a program run by retired teachers. The program is both a way to have a conversation with each other, while also acting as a mentorship program that would help the migrant women get acclimated to the Queens community.
We work to have meaningful programs. For these to run successfully, we need reliable volunteers who understand that they are needed, that their work matters, and that their time is valued.
How can corporate teams volunteer or contribute to Commonpoint Queens?
The engagement of corporate teams who volunteer in our pantry is super amazing, if I do say so myself. Especially around holiday season, it is great to have a company come in, donate fresh produce, fresh poultry, and help us create a holiday package that goes towards a household struggling to meet their basic needs. Holidays usually tend to push these families over the edge, and that’s when donated food can have so much impact. Corporate teams that are willing to contribute funding and volunteer work create so much meaning this time of year.
Another way corporate teams can contribute is by inviting high-achieving, low-income, first generation students to join a summer internship program or to offer other professional training programs such as mock interviews. Many of these really talented kids have no idea how to access a job or internship. Where corporate volunteering comes in is in getting those kids ready to be on the same competitive landscape as others. This gives the kids real-world experience and feedback.
These programs can also be tailored to the company’s needs. Volunteering can happen over an extended period of time, or a couple hours one morning.
Commonpoint Queens offers many volunteer activities through Visit.org — from the youth professional development workshop and food pantry program mentioned above, to other services for children and adults alike. To book a corporate social responsibility experience, contact [email protected].
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Photos courtesy of Commonpoint Queens.