So, why central Brooklyn you ask? To make sure we would be situated productively and compassionately in NYC, we started our site development adventures with some serious research. We focused on building two maps: one that showed us where millennial Jews were moving and the other that illustrated where there was great need for volunteer work. This is important because Repair the World tackles pressing local needs by mobilizing Jewish millennials to volunteer. We enable people to transform their neighborhoods, cities, and lives through meaningful service experiences. To do this properly, we have to understand the needs of the community as well as the demographics of the neighborhood. While there is clear need across many areas of NYC, we’ve found these two maps to intersect directly over Crown Heights and Bed Stuy.
According to UJA Federation of NY’s 2011 Jewish Community Study, 25% of single non-Orthodox young Jews already live in Brooklyn by 2011. As young Jews are getting priced out of places like Prospect Heights and Park Slope, many are moving east towards Crown Heights and Bed Stuy where neighborhoods are rapidly gentrifying and places are still relatively affordable. Yet, very little Jewish infrastructure exists to engage them on a regular basis. I know, because I live here. Creating some form of infrastructure in this area could establish a sense of community to serve as a catalyst for social change work in Crown Heights. It could also become an avenue for community members to explore other ways to be involved that resonate with them outside of volunteer work. We’re here to support their needs and inspire folks to get involved.
Not only can our volunteers make a huge impact here, it’s also really freakin’ cool. With tons of great community institutions like Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Museum nearby, the strong accessibility to public transportation, bars and restaurants galore, and a diversely rich community of both new and veteran existing residents, the ground is ripe for an organization like Repair the World to offer a real way for people folks to build community around meaningful and necessary volunteer work that can bridge the gap between new and long-time residents right in their own backyard.
Since beginning our work this year, we’ve engaged over 400 individuals in meaningful service projects like working at local soup kitchens and beautifying community spaces. We’ve also hosted a few social events like a bagel brunch before the People’s Climate March and an MLK Shabbat Supper in Crown Heights. As Fellows arrive in August, we expect our programming will grow immensely to offer even more opportunities for Jewish millennials to find community through social change work that will increase social capital needed to support community needs in central Brooklyn.
You might be asking yourself what kinds of community needs I’m talking about. To provide some perspective, the NYC 2006 Community Health Profile illustrates that central Brooklyn’s average poverty level (31%) is overall higher than in Brooklyn (25%) and all of NYC (21%). Many city-wide service organizations have designated central Brooklyn as an area of focus. New York Cares, one of our community partners, explains that, “While rich in history and culture, Central Brooklyn struggles with poverty, low educational achievement, and high crime rates. These issues are exacerbated by rapid gentrification as the city grows and evolves.” As neighborhood demographics rapidly shift, long-time residents are becoming displaced as rent prices begin to rise and commercial properties enter without regard for what may have already existed.
Just a few weeks ago, I had an incredible conversation with a delightful older woman at my local laundromat who chatted me up as we waited for our spinning cycles to finish twirling. She expressed her worry about leaving the neighborhood she’s called home for more than thirty years as her landlord was planning to significantly raise her rent without discussion. At the same time, she was thrilled to see the neighborhood becoming safer and more inviting as just ten years before many New Yorkers would have never stepped foot in the area. The mixture of high poverty rates and rapidly changing demographics brings a lot of complications to the area and is very much affecting the needs of its residents.
We’ve had so many interesting conversations about neighborhood change like the one above and now want to open it up to a wider audience. To get a taste of what we do, join us this Thursday, February 26 at 7:30pm at Berg’n (899 Bergen Street in Crown Heights) for Cocktails with a Conscience: What’s Your Brooklyn? to explore what community means as demographics in the area rapidly change. Hear from local community leaders and meet other like-minded New Yorkers who are passionate about social justice and ready to do something about it!
This post first appeared on the Repair the World NYC Tumblr. Sign up to follow the RTW NYC Tumblr here so you never miss a post!