When Carolyn walked through the door of the lone office in 1979, there was one other BronxWorks staff and a budget of $50,000, primarily focused on helping local seniors. Today, after 34 years as executive director, there are over 600 staff, a budget of $36 million, and over 20 offices around the Bronx – quite a few more doors to walk through!
As Carolyn’s BronxWorks family has grown in order to meet community needs, her own family has grown too. So as she prepares to retire, they wanted the youngest family members to see and learn more about the organization. Four of the grandchildren are now old enough to understand what BronxWorks does, so they and her two sons came for a visit from Massachusetts during winter break, along with her husband Jim. Carolyn says that “Jim has always been extremely patient and supportive,” fully appreciating the importance of her work. Their daughter Johnicka visited this year too, and they’ll have to catch up her one-year-old Nathan when he’s just a little bit older!
Carolyn got to know Johnicka through work, and the two became close before Johnicka was adopted as part of the family when her biological mother could no longer care for her. Johnicka participated in the youth development program, and she says “as BronxWorks grew, I grew with it. I would have been nowhere; I wouldn’t have graduated from high school, college, grad school if it weren’t for Carolyn and BronxWorks.” She notes that she’s seen both Carolyn and the organization evolve into addressing the needs of the Bronx in a “savvy, strategic way.”
The programs for homeless people made the biggest impact on the visiting grandkids. Hana, age 11, was very impressed at the success in helping get “homeless people off the street,” and that they even “go looking for them” which also was fascinating to her eight-year-old sister, Sora. Jordan, age 10, added that she really liked the idea of the drop-in center for homeless people, where “they can just go in if they need to, where it’s warm,” etc. Eight-year-old Shaun’s favorite parts were the ones that looked most fun – the senior center exercise room that’s also the seniors’ favorite and the activities in one of the preschool classes.
Carolyn’s younger son, Jimmy, was amazed at “how big BronxWorks has become,” remembering that the agency had just one office when he was a child. He notes that “the Bronx is so different than it was 20-25 years ago; now a much better place to live.” Growing up with BronxWorks such a part of his mom’s and their family’s life “influenced me a lot,” Jimmy reflects, noting that it definitely “impacted my decision to become a teacher and enter a service field.” Carolyn’s children have fond memories of spending time at BronxWorks while growing up, helping out with Thanksgiving dinners for example. Kamau, a doctor and medical director at a Boston community health center that serves a population similar to the Bronx also says there’s a “big connection between what I do and what my mother does.”
Hana summed up what they were all thinking. “I knew that she helped people… but I didn't really know there was so much that she does!” Jordan added that she was impressed that her grandmother had such a “big job” and that she didn’t realize “how many” different sites and programs Carolyn has a hand in managing.
The children gained insight into nonprofit management on their visit as well, with Hana’s astute inquiry of “how do you pay for it all?” realizing that clients aren’t able to pay for the services they receive. One program director explained it to her simply: people and organizations give us money so we can run these programs, and when we do a good job, we hope they’ll continue their support so we can keep on doing good work!
Jordan and Hana agreed that they would definitely like to pursue careers that focus on “helping people,” just as their grandmother has done at BronxWorks for the past 34 years.
To read Carolyn’s retirement notice and learn more about the evolution and impact of BronxWorks under her leadership, please see this piece from the New York Nonprofit Press. Questions or comments? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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