Nine Island Groups Will Share Public Purpose Funds

Written by Briana Warsing. Posted in Volume 37, Issue 6 - November 19, 2016

The Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance and the PS/IS 217 Parent Teacher Association are poised to become the two biggest recipients of public-purpose money from the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation this year – assuming the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) accepts the recommendations from the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA).

The RIRA Common Council voted November 8 to divvy up $100,000 in funds among nine Roosevelt Island organizations during a meeting that was, at times, contentious. The funds would help support groups focused on causes that include arts, children, the disabled, and seniors. But final say rests with RIOC, whose board will decide whether to accept the proposals.

The Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance (MST&DA) was granted $19,300 of their requested $35,000, while the PS/IS 217 PTA is in line to receive $18,000 of the $28,000 requested. The RIRA Public Purpose Committee, chaired by Southtown resident Dave Evans, also approved grants to: Island Kids ($10,400); the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association ($10,000); the Roosevelt Island Senior Association ($12,100); the Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association ($9,800); the Roosevelt Island Historical Society ($8,800); Life Frames ($6,200); and the Roosevelt Island Senior Center – Carter Burden Center for the Aging ($5,400).


Public-purpose funds (PPF) are intended as investments in the direct services of eligible entities – supporting programs and projects that enrich the Roosevelt Island community. Organization programming cannot solely benefit one individual or family at the expense of the Island community at large.

The application process is rigorous. Organizations were required to supply RIOC with proof of appropriate licenses and permits for provision of the services they perform, as well as IRS forms, budgets, staff lists, and many other documents.

Community Review

Once eligibility is established, the RIRA Public Purpose Fund committee reviews applications and makes recommendations for funding to the RIOC Board. RIRA, which isn’t allowed to apply for the funding itself, is tasked with balancing the community benefit of each PPF applicant with the funding available.

Community Scrutiny

This year the presentations were held on October 26 and 27 at Good Shepherd Community Center, hosted by RIOC and RIRA. Each group was given 30 minutes; 10 minutes to present, and 20 minutes for committee and community questions and comments.

The Carter Burden (CB) organization, for instance, was asked if it could cooperate with other groups on the Island, despite being in competition for funding.

Margaret H. Reiff, CB’s chief operating officer responded that, “We are not here to compete with RISA; we would like to figure out ways to work collaboratively. And we know we are always in competition for funding, whether it’s PPF grants or any other grants. We hope we can convey as to why giving funds to the Senior Center is good for the Island. It’s not for Carter Burden; it’s for the people who are here. It’s not seniors only, it’s the disabled population as well.”

Committee member Eva Bosbach also asked RISA how its group and CB complement each other, and whether their programming overlaps. RISA President Barbara Parker answered, “What we want to do as a stand-alone organization now is provide a specialty type of programming for specialty populations. I see us able to work with CB, but a lot of our programs will adhere to younger active adults, more specific programs.”

Bosbach followed up by noting that the operating budget for RISA, as stated in its application, is the same amount as it is seeking in PPF funds. Bosbach asked, “Does that mean that without the funds, you won’t be able to operate at all?”

Parker said, “No, what it means is, if we get a certain amount of monies to spearhead the programs, we will be seeking additional grant money from other sources. This is a vision that we have. No matter what, we will be able to do it. The public purpose funds will allow us to start.”

RISA also is seeking grant money from AARP, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the Arthritis Foundation, and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Parker said.

Other Groups

RIVAA, meanwhile, requested $44,000 – more than four times as much as it was granted – largely because of rental costs. “Our major expense every year is rent,” RIVAA President Tad Sudol said. “They are not small rents.”

MST&DA also is facing rental costs now (before the renovation of the cultural center last year, the group did not pay for the space), and said it wants to grow with the Island. Isa Claudio-Abdul, president of the MST&DA board, said last year’s PPF money allowed the group to expand by 30 percent, give more in terms of scholarships, and expand its community outreach.

Life Frames, a gardening program based in San Francisco, announced that the money it requested would help the group team up with Pay it Forward to give food to the needy. The organization currently has the capacity for 15 to 20 families. It would like to install a working compost bin, international gardens, pay its interns, and start a more earnest fundraising effort.

PS/IS 217 PTA President Erin Olavesen, Principal Mandana Beckman, and some middle-school students shared the podium for the PTA presentation. Olavesen said that, since she has been involved with the school, fundraising has doubled, and last year the school collected $75,000 in parent donations. With 612 families involved, the PTA is the largest Island organization, she said.

The PTA’s request is to fund the popular Salvadori program, which promotes urban green design for grades three and up. “One of the special things about Roosevelt Island is that the community really rallies behind a great idea,” Olavesen said.

At Island Kids, the goal is to serve Roosevelt Island by offering scholarships to those who might otherwise not be able to participate in its programs. In its presentation, the group alluded to a socio-economic divide on the Island and explained that the PPF money it received last year went toward scholarships for its popular summer camp. The organization said it can’t currently afford to offer scholarships for its afterschool program, but PPF money could change that.

When the public purpose committee presented its recommendations to the full RIRA board last week, discourse was occasionally heated. RIRA council member Joyce Short objected to CB’s grant of $5,400 (it requested $20,000), saying that it’s not an Island organization – and in fact, acts more like a vendor.

Newly elected Vice President Lynne Shinozaki said, “If we disqualify Carter Burden for those reasons, then we need to disqualify Life Frames, because they are not an Island-based organization. We have to treat these organizations fairly. What we need to address is the value that’s being brought to the community and whether they’re getting funding.”

CB’s relatively large budget also was an issue.

“They have an $8 million dollar operating budget,” said Sherie Helstien, the outgoing RIRA vice president. “Main Street Theatre, Island Kids – all of these groups go out searching for money. They have very slim budgets.”

Short then suggested that they vote to split up the CB grant among the other applicant organizations.

“How big is their endowment? Do they actually need these funds?” she asked.

Susana Del Campo Perea had doubts about the decision to award Life Frames any money. She said Roosevelt Island Explorers does much of what Life Frames does, but does it for free. She also pointed out that Life Frames gets its space for free.

After spending a lot of time on this, RIRA ultimately voted to ratify the grant choices the committee made. But it’s still not final.

As Evans explained, “The buck really stops with the RIOC Board; they make the final determinations.”

Tags: RIRA RIVAA RIOC Funding Briana Warsing RIHS MSTDA PS/IS 217 Island Kids A Living Library and Life Frames RIDA PTA Senior Center RISA

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