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NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Ron Ehrenreich

Written by Anna Rupert  • November 22, 2017


Editors Note: Anna is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan fun events that benefit the community. Anna graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in Spanish. She also works as a dance teacher and volunteers on the Mission of Miracles in El Salvador when she can. As part of Anna’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.






Cooperative Federal is a credit union owned, operated and run by its members. Coop Fed prides itself on serving people and communities that are underserved by the conventional financial institutions, with 94% of their clientele being low-income, and 64% being credit invisible. Ron Ehrenreich serves as their treasurer and CEO, as well as being one of the founders. Read on to find out more about this wonderful local financial institution and all their contributions to the community. 


Anna: How did you get involved with the Credit Union?

Ron: OK, well, going back to when I was not much older than you I was active in what we called then “The Movement,” and then as the activists settled into neighborhoods and communities around the country we were looking for ways to bring activism into our neighborhoods. A lot of people got involved with forming food co-ops, and I joined the food co-op here in 1976, and I helped to found the food co-op in Philadelphia when I was 21 but I was never involved in the food part. I helped to secure the building and get the backing for renting the building and so then what we were finding was people were doing that, that whole movement was having trouble getting capital. Nobody would lend to them.

Plus there were some other things going on at the same time, banks were leaving neighborhoods in urban areas, fleeing to the suburbs, plus they weren’t lending to people in the neighborhoods. Women were having trouble getting credit, particularly women who were single, separated, widowed, divorced, abandoned. At that time all the credit would be in the husband’s name. So, we even saw instances where the husband would die, leave the house to his wife but there was a mortgage on the house and she couldn’t get a mortgage to replace the mortgage that was in the husband’s name. It was ridiculous, plus the usual cast of characters who couldn’t get credit: people of color, people who were living on low income, the same kind of people who are shoved aside today. There was a big push to resist apartheid in South Africa, so there was a movement afoot then to divest money from South Africa and banks were being asked to divest money and nobody would–not a single bank in this area would. So we said, “well we could do that and we could address these other issues,” so we had a meeting, a meeting of activists, passed a hat, and we got $30 [laughs].

We were young and idealistic and we didn’t realize that you couldn’t start a financial institution with $30. (Now to be fair $30 then was more like $80 today, so if you had a meeting of low-income people and you passed the hat and got a few dollars here and five dollars there and you ended up with $80 it wouldn’t be so bad in terms of the purchasing power.) So we used that to organize a pledge campaign, we got pledges of a hundred thousand dollars, submitted our application to the national credit union administration, we got chartered. So I was on the organizing committee. We routinely set up a table outside the food co-op and at peace council events and wherever else we could and got these pledge cards signed, and then we tried to figure out what to do next. We had a series of meetings where we asked people what would you want us to lend for, and what would you want us not to lend for, so we ended up framing our lending policy then, and that stuff is still in place. I mean, we’ve elaborated on it and developed it since then but that really framed the basis of what we would lend for and what we would not lend for, and I think we had a vision of serving people who weren’t being served and trying to take into account the whole person not just a bit of them. We developed methodologies for evaluating people’s credit worthiness based on kind of alternative criteria that made sense, not just was easy for a banker, and we’ve done that since then, we’ve developed ways and methods of dealing fairly with people that the banks would just walk away from.

So anyway, that’s how I got involved, I was on the organizing committee, I was part of the board, and I became the second treasurer. As we got going more, the first treasurer said he couldn’t keep going with the work. I had bought the first personal computer in the area, and so I was able to do projections and an electronic spreadsheet was like the most miraculous thing. That helped me to become the treasurer and to work with the info that we had, we could only do projections quarterly because the computer didn’t have the brainpower to do it monthly. I had been trained at mainframes and card punching and all these obsolete things when I was in college. But I could not do the work that I do without a computer and I wouldn’t be any good at it if I had been born 20 years before,because I can’t do that stuff with my mind and paper. So anyway, I was on the board, became treasurer, and that’s how I got involved, and I’ve stuck it out.


A: The Credit Union’s 35th Anniversary was in October, what does that mean to you?

R: I think the most important thing for me is that we have kept faith with the vision of our members. I have tried to keep that vision ahead of us . . . My greatest fear is that somehow we would just become a nice credit union. We’re not just a nice credit union, we do what we do on a regular basis, year in and year out what others think is impossible. But, we have wonderful people who work at it and see what we achieve and fill part of it and make it happen. It doesn’t happen on its own.


A: What are some of the experiences that have most impacted you in your time working at the Credit Union?

R: In terms of the experiences, I think it’s step-by-step trying to do more, trying to achieve more, adapting technology, adapting when we didn’t have technology . . . We adopted to the technology that was available that we could afford and now we’re pretty much up to the state of the art technology for what we do and that’s great. And we had to update as we opened other offices, so this past year we’ve upgraded our entire network. Next year we’ll be replacing our core system that keeps track of all our members’ money and transactions.

And now our members have access to their accounts, obviously in the office, over the counter, but over the telephone, over their cellphones using an app, Web Teller, over the internet. They have home banking, mobile deposit capture, basically everything and we bring it to them affordably. We’ve done it differently than others. We take the costs, divide it up, try to break even, and we charge our members $3.00 a month. They don’t have to pay for any of those other services, the bill pay and anything like that. There’s a lot that goes on where we take the right road, we could have done something else but we’ve done something that’s fair and sometimes the members don’t realize (that).

I’m happy and content with the way we’ve done things. And it’s not to say there’s no room for improvement. We could always do things better. In fact, pretty much every week we figure out something we could do better. In terms of the other experiences that have impacted me, one of the most difficult was the crash. We reduced staffing by eleven people, and these people are friends, neighbors, but we had to do whatever was necessary to keep the credit union alive or else we all would be gone, everyone would be gone. That was very difficult but we did it and two thousand credit unions didn’t make it through the crash, so I’m glad that we did. It definitely hasn’t been easy since the crash with interest rates being so low. It’s always been uphill. I didn’t expect it to be uphill for 35 years, but it’s always been uphill, but particularly steep since the crash. We’re making it work and we’re doing our part and in part we’ve done more. We’ve been more mission-driven and I think that’s the right approach. During the crash we didn’t know if we were going to make it, but our idea was if we’re gonna go down, we’re gonna go down fighting. But we did make it and we were able to keep and motivate our people, our staffing by doing more, by achieving more. People that work here are not in it primarily for the money, they’re in it to change this corner of the world.


A: Over the 35 years it has been open, what positive neighborhood and community changes have you noticed as a result of the Credit Union’s community programming?

R: I think the biggest thing that we’ve done is to deploy capital into the community where we think it will do the most good. We have requests all the time from out of town landlords who want to buy something in the SU area and rent. We don’t do that, but over the last 35 years we’ve lent one hundred and thirty seven million dollars in this community. Pretty good for a $30 investment [laughs], but we’ve focused it on creating first time homebuyers, that’s the biggest chunk. We are primarily a mortgage lender, and I don’t know if we could do that in another community — the housing prices in Syracuse are very affordable, even for people on low and moderate income. So we’re able to create first-time homebuyers, which is the source of most inter-generational wealth in the United States.

We foster small business, small business startups and growth, and a type of small business that I would call self-employment. A lot of our small businesses would be better off having unionized manufacturing jobs but those jobs don’t exist, so if they have a skill, we can help them turn it into a business and be self-employed and support their families, and have the dignity of work.

Another thing that we aim for is people’s personal financial situation. We are a place of first opportunities and second chances, so we can help people get on the track or get back on the track. We do debt consolidation, help people establish credit, we have credit builder loans. We have over the last year developed an opportunity auto lending program for people who are getting jobs but don’t have transportation to get to their jobs. So we have figured out ways with some partners of mitigating some risk and making it possible for our members to get a quality, affordable vehicle and for us to mitigate and manage our risks in doing that. We have to pay attention to that.

In part, we have developed a methodology for lending to people who are under-resourced. When somebody loses their job it’s really not the best time to repossess their car and foreclose on their house. So we try to stick with our members through the hard times and we look to them to stick with us, and they do.


A: The Credit Union’s youth programs are receiving the proceeds from the Cooperative Federal 35th Anniversary Fundraiser and Gala. Are there expansions you are planning on making to these programs?

R: First of all, our priority is to sustain the programs that we have. We have received funding in the past to get these programs setup but once they’re setup there’s no funding that we’ve got. They’re an operating expense, and yet they’re important. Now we are looking at expanding youth programs, looking at the potential of running more youth financial education programs.


A: How do the In-School Savings Branches positively impact students’ financial futures in the long term?

R: Part of it is financial education, seeing them save and giving a place to cash their paycheck, we’ve even made a few loans for good purposes. We’ve done some loans for a lawn mower so someone could have a summer job, and that would earn more than enough money to pay back the lawnmower. Then the people who are actually involved in running the office in the high schools, if they do a reasonable job we offer them summer jobs here at the Credit Union. It’s a summer job at a financial institution, it’s something to put on your resume, and we write reference letters. It’s a way for a student to get a summer income and get something to help them either get a future job or get into college or whatever, and a couple students who did well at the summer job we have offered part time Saturday jobs at the Credit Union while they were at OCC.


A: What hopes do you have for the future of the Credit Union?

R: The hopes I have for the future is that the Credit Union will continue to grow, serve more people, reach a sustainable scale. We are a financial institution with just under 25 million in assets, that is teeny. At our current scale of operations, with the offices that we have we could probably break even with less angst and struggle if we were twice our size in assets. It’s always a struggle growing assets, but I would like to see us reach a sustainable size, serve more people, do more.

For example, over the last three years we have grown our business lending on an average of 36 or 37% per year. We’re geared up to do more. We’re hoping to find some more capital to lend and I hope that someday we’ll get into the fourth Syracuse high school, Corcoran. The most important thing is that we keep the faith and keep the vision — that we do what others view is impossible, that we serve the people. “Finance for the people,” that’s our motto and I think we’re trying to build a new society within the old one.


A: Around the office we have a running topic of food and our favorite restaurants so what is your favorite restaurant on the Northside?

R: New Century


A: What is your favorite thing to get there?

R: Pho Thai which is beef noodle soup.


To learn more about Cooperative Federal, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

A Visit to Isabella Lofts

Written by Rachel Nolte  • November 2, 2017


Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.


It was a fine fall day, the heat spell finally having been broken, and I was on my way to get a peek inside the much talked about Isabella Lofts. Steve Case, co-owner of 800 Block LLC, the firm that purchased the Assumption Campus on North Salina Street, came to meet me and show me around the building.

It is clear when you speak to Steve that he is passionate about this project and quite proud of their improvements to the building.  In the first apartment we saw, he eagerly pointed out the granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances, and the preservation of the original wood floors wherever possible.

One thing that was immediately evident was the excellent quality of lighting. The setup of each individual apartment was unique because of the nature of the converted building. Some living rooms or bedrooms were larger or smaller in different apartments. But in all of the spaces we looked at, the windows let in generous supplies of natural daylight.

The first few apartment rooms we looked at were straightforward, monochromatic, tasteful: a blank canvas for somebody to make their own.

As I wandered from room to room, I was consistently delighted with the varying vistas that the windows revealed to me. Steve showed me his favorite apartment on one of the higher stories of the building. From its windows, you can see all across Syracuse. Such a view would surely make the future inhabitant want to say “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom” to anybody fortunate enough to visit.

As a fan of historic architecture, I was especially fascinated by rooms that offered a close-up of the structure of the church itself.

My personal favorite rooms were the last few that we saw in the Nun’s Quarters. These were still in the process of being finished, so I did not get many pictures. I loved the architectural details in these rooms. For instance, the original ceilings were intact with their intricate patterns.

The wood paneling and trim was beautiful to behold. I found myself imagining vintage scenes from the space’s past life.

As Steve showed me around, we encountered several people working on the building, all of whom were happy to see Steve and chat for a moment. It was a pleasant tour and Steve even shared some insights with me on upcoming projects for the campus. Fortunately for Steve (but unfortunately for anyone interested in an affordable, conveniently located apartment) the apartments at this building will all be rented out soon! So if you were thinking about taking a look, my advice is to contact Steve (scase@acropolisdevelopment.com) right away.

Stay tuned for updates on this project and more!

NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Michael Speach Jr.

Written by Rachel Nolte  • October 26, 2017


Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.



Michael Speach Jr. is the manager of the Speach Family Candy Shoppe. Founded by an Italian immigrant, Michael Speach (Michele Spicciati) in 1920, the store has passed down through four generations of family. Today, the store hosts a diverse range of sweets & treats as well as other fun products & gifts. Read on to find out more about how the life behind the sweets and treats!


Q: Question: In what ways has the Speach Family Candy Shoppe changed over the years? In what ways does it remain true to its roots?

Michael: The business has changed in so many ways, it’s really hard to describe. Originally, it was something that he [Michele Spiacciati, Michael’s great grandfather] did outside of his home and that obviously progressed into more and more. He owned a lot of property so he was able to do different things in different pieces of property. So instead of having everything under one roof, he had a nut room, so all of his nuts were stored in one location, that’s where they packaged and roasted them; there was a chocolate room, then there was a hard candy room, and they were in different properties all over Syracuse, all over the Northside for the most part. So that was probably the first incarnation of the store.

He then actually started doing a little bit more with production, to the point where it got really busy. In the 1920s when he first started, they were ramping up business, but in the 30s, he actually had stuff printed out because he was selling so much. We’re talking, after the Great Depression. So, like, even during the Depression he was still selling product, and this is actually one of the original receipts. Back in the 70s, they had a family reunion so everyone got one of the original receipts, which is kind of cool.

So business started growing a little bit more, and I want to say one of my great uncles, either John or Joe, then ran the business in the interim for the family. My parents then took over in the 80s. When that happened, my parents found another storefront. So the store never actually really had a physical storefront. It was basically always in somebody’s house, but they were doing orders, or when my great grandfather did it, he had different buildings for different things he was making. In the 80s, my parents opened an actual storefront, retail storefront on Burnet Ave.  That was the first time it actually had a location that people could come in and shop.


Q: Has it always been on the Northside?

Michael: It was actually all over. The Northside is where it originated, on Burnet Ave…At one point, my great uncle had moved to Cortland, so it was actually down in Cortland for a little while, and I want to say after that it came back up here with my parents when they discovered a whole bunch of my great grandfather’s recipes and stuff. It moved around a little bit more since my parents ran it. We’ve been at this location now since 94, and I have no plans to move. We’ve kind of found our niche, we’ve found our thing.



Q: Do you have any products that are especially rooted in Italian tradition?

I have to say that we’ve stayed very true to the product and the quality.  A lot of the recipes were my great grandfather’s recipes. They’ve obviously just been translated into English so they’re much easier to understand, and converted down, ‘cause obviously he was making 50 pounds of a product, where now we’re making 10, 20 pounds, so we’ve had to modify the way we produce just because of the space we have and the number of products. One of the big things that has changed is the quantity of products. On this invoice, you can see, he’s got four products listed here, which are what he used to make, the clusters, the soft peanut bars, and the marshmallow clusters that he used to do. We’re now making thousands of products…Our marshmallow recipe is still the same recipe. Our peanut brittle is still the same recipe. And then, the actual chocolate—now my great grandfather worked from a bean. So like, he was the one who actually roasted—he worked with a bean, ground them down, mixed them into what is chocolate. Nowadays, unfortunately, we do not have the facility to do that. So we actually buy several products and mix them together to create our own blend.

This is my great aunt Rose [pictured in the photo above, Aunt Rose poses with Delivery Truck Number 3, featuring the original Speech logo] and my great aunt actually got to try our chocolate. My parents played around with the chocolate blend a little bit, but when I took over, I said, “I want this to be our chocolate. This is how it’s going to be.” So she got a chance to try it before she passed away and she said that’s as close as she’s ever tried to what her father made, so that was kind of a compliment and so that’s what we use as our chocolate throughout most of our products.



Q: With so many products, do you have any customer favorites that sell faster than others?

Michael: Yeah, people still do a lot of the traditional stuff. Our dark chocolate truffles are always gone. I have a woman who comes in. She stops me at the door before she even gets in the door, she’s like, “Dark truffles. You have any? Yes or not.” Our caramel has been really popular, you can see right now the sea salt vanilla caramels are almost out right now, so I have to refill that part of the shelf. We have some seasonal favorites, like we do a pumpkin pie fudge, so that will sell out pretty quickly now that we’re in fall.


Q: How did you come to manage Speach’s?

Michael: I went to school for theater. Growing up, I was involved with the candy store but I didn’t like it. My mom and my father were always very tired, and it’s very different when you’re a small business, when it comes to holiday time, when it comes to family get togethers and stuff like that, things are very very different. Our Christmas really didn’t happen til the day after Christmas because my parents were so exhausted that we literally wouldn’t enjoy the day. When my sisters and I got older, we were part of that. We’d come home on Christmas eve, after being here all day, exhausted, and I think most kids would wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning, and I don’t remember doing that because I was too exhausted. It changes a lot of things. So, I as an adult, did not want to have to do that. I said, that’s not how I want to be, I want to go and get a pay check, get paid every week. It’s a very different thing when you’re working for yourself. So I went into entertainment, I did theater and television/radio, and after doing that for several years and going to college, I kinda missed this a little bit. I missed the feeling of being proud of something, working really hard and then having someone compliment you, versus having someone yell at you even though you did twelve hours of—it’s a very different thing. So, I came home after a little stint in New York, and basically, my parents were at the point where my mom had taken on a full time position, ‘cause she was in her 50s and realized, I’ve put half my life into this business and there’s nothing left. They didn’t save up for retirement, they just kept putting money back into the business, back into the business. And it’s a good thing they did because it survived, but at the same time, now they’re in their 50s and they were thinking either about liquidating or selling the business. That’s when I kinda said, well, let me try for three years, and I’ll see what happens. I’ll give it three years, I’ll give it my all, and if we’re still going, I’ll keep it going. If we’re not, I won’t. But at least I gave it that, you know, the old family try I guess? So I did that and now it’s 10 years difference, because literally November 7th will be ten years that I’ve been running the business. We’re still going strong and there’s a lot of new stuff that’s coming up and some really great things that will happen for the business the next few months.


Q: Do you want to offer us a little sneak peak of that?

Michael: We’re actually going to be doing a lot of partnerships. I’m not going to name names or anything like that just yet, but there’s a lot of great collaboration that we’ve been doing, that we’ve been talking about, and it will probably happen before Christmas. In the past, we’ve done some great stuff. We’re doing some stuff with Recess Coffee, so we have the Recess Chocolates, we’re doing a collaboration with them so it’s their coffee and our chocolate put together. We’re working with Beak and Skiff on a product, the apple pie brittle, it actually has their apple cider in it. There’s a few maple producers that we actually produce maple products for them throughout the year. There’s three or four other little relationships that we’ve started that we’re in the talks of that in the next few weeks will actually come to fruition. So we’re excited about that.


Q: What advice would you to someone who is interested in starting a business? 

A:  Michael: I think the first thing is be open to collaborating. A lot of my success, especially over the last few years, has been me working with other businesses, and other local businesses, I think is the key. We did partner with fruit bouquets and 1-800 Flowers for doing the fruit arrangements, and that’s a great revenue stream for us because we really do very little as far as advertising. We just get orders sent to us and we fulfil the order and get it out and then we get paid by them at the end of the year. So it’s a great partnership, we’re doing something local, and it’s our product, our chocolate…Some people when you meet them are like, no, it’s all me or nothing. I’m like, okay, good luck with that for the next year because you probably won’t be in business twelve months from now. I’ve had to rely on some of my friends—I have friends who run businesses and I might not work for them, but they are great sound boards, like if I have a new idea or if I’m trying out something different, we’re able to work together. If I have a new product that I’m trying out, my friends Laura Serway and Cindy Seymour own Laci’s down the street, and I’ve brought product into the bar. The way Laura and Cindy are, they’re my friends, I’ll give it to them and they’re literally passing it out to their customers, being like, “Here, try this! What do you think?” I’m not trying to build my business from that, but they’re actually doing it for me. If you’re willing to collaborate, part of it is just making those friendships happen. Actually being open to it, versus being closed off and holding onto your secrets and holding onto your recipes. I do that too, but I don’t do that first off. You want to be pretty open and pretty responsive.


To learn more about the Speach Family Candy Shoppe, visit their website, follow them on Facebook and Instagram, and make sure to stop into the store at 2400 Lodi Street, fully decorated for Halloween!


NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Brandy Lee Fritzen

Written by Rachel Nolte  • October 19, 2017


Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.


You in Motion


Brandy Lee Fritzen is the owner of a recently opened a studio for movement & meditation called You In Motion. Located on North Salina Street (across from Assumption Church), You In Motion focuses on the mental health benefits of motion through yoga and dance. Read on to find out more about Brandy and her studio.


Question: Where are you from originally?

Brandy: I’m from here, Syracuse, NY.



Q: How long have you been interested in running your own studio?

Brandy:  I think that it’s something that I secretly had a desire to do, and I didn’t really know it until the opportunity presented itself.



Q: Do you want to speak a little bit more about what you mean by that?

Brandy: Well, I think that I always wanted to but I never thought that it would be real, or that it could really happen. When the opportunity presented itself, it was just events that were happening that I didn’t—I was getting tired of teaching elsewhere and that made me have the desire to have my own space. I happened to drive by the space that was available, and that would be the opportunity, is that the space was there, it was open, and it presented itself.



Q: How long have you been teaching?

Brandy: I’ve been teaching Nia [keeping reading for an explanation of Nia!] since 2007. I am a Nia white belt, there’s a series of belts you can get as you grow and learn more through the practice.



Q: What’s the highest ranking?

Brandy: Black belt, and the black belt is a trainer, so you can train the trainers. So I’ve taken the first belt, and I trained, and I taught for a little while, and then I took some time off. And then I decided that I want to continue teaching again because it’s something that I love doing and I needed it in my life. So, I decided to take my white belt again to revisit the foundation of Nia and what it is and the purpose and why I want to do it, instead of continuing to excel on to the other belts. Now that I’ve got that done, I can continue on.



Q: For those who don’t know what Nia is, can you explain that a little?

Brandy: Nia stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action and it is a dance-fitness, to say it plainly, that incorporates techniques from the healing arts, the dance arts, the martial arts. So all of these techniques intertwined into the choreography along with a set of 52 moves and it’s meant to stimulate the body and to find health through movement. So you’re stimulating all the body systems, like the musculatory system, the skeletal system, the limbic system, the circulatory system, and so on. The whole time you’re doing that, a class will last about an hour and fifteen minutes, depending on the instructor, the whole time you’re doing that, you don’t realize that you’re really cleansing your body and you’re opening up some tension and releasing—you’re opening up yourself in a lot more ways than just a physical way. I relate to it because I’m a really emotional person and I find a lot of emotion in the dance when I’m doing it. I find that exciting.



Q: What are the origins of Nia as a whole?

Brandy: Yes, Debby Rosas and Carlos Rosas, they were fitness instructors in the 1970s and in the 1980s, to be specific, in 81 when Nia was actually founded, they did research and studies on kinesthetics and body movements on what was most healthy and what was the most appropriate way to move your body to stay healthy without getting hurt. Because what they were finding was in their work, is that people were getting injured. Fitness was a really big thing, aerobics was a really big thing in the early 80s, but people were getting hurt. So they wanted to find a safe way to move your body. So this is how they incorporated Nia. They’re very close with all the instructors; it’s a growing community but it started as a very small, close knit community. Everybody who has gone through a Nia training is very close. It’s like a little family.



Q: Is it local to the area?

Brandy: It’s all over the world right now, Germany, Australia, it’s all over. Asia, all over those big continents. It started and originated where Debby and Carlos live, out west in Portland, Oregon.



Q: How did you get exposed to it?

Brandy: Okay, so, I was going through a life situation that was really traumatic. I mean, people have gone through worse things, I’m sure, but to me, in this moment, it was a very difficult time for me. I didn’t know where I was going with my life. And so my mom was taking this class, she had heard about it locally, she said, “Come and dance Nia class with me. You’ll feel a lot better.” So I went to a Nia class, my first class, with my teacher Pam La Blanch, of the Fit Biz—just saying, since we’re writing this all down, I’ll give her a little Kudos there—I love Pam, she’s an amazing, amazing woman—so I took my first class there and I loved it and I just fell in love with it. I don’t know why, but it was fantastic. The sensation that I got was one of the first principles of Nia, the joy of movement. I really felt that sensation—I felt joyful when I was dancing. It was a great outlet for me to express myself, my emotions, to build my confidence in a time that was trying for me.



Q: Your advertisements say “Gentle Yoga.” What kind of yoga is it?

Brandy: So having Nia certification opened up many doors. I found something new in my life that I loved. I started, what I thought would be my career in music therapy, which didn’t come through I guess, or didn’t happen—didn’t happen the way I thought it would. So I was really interested in therapies and healing and being a better person and helping people through that. With the instruction of Nia and being around that type of people all the time, I was introduced to Yoga Fit. Again, Yoga Fit was offering our community of Nia instructors—they offered Yoga Fit and I got the training for that and the certification. I started teaching yoga, and it seemed to just all go hand-in-hand.



Q: What is the target age range and ability for the yoga classes?

Brandy: Age range is for anybody. I do have a kids’ class on Saturdays, and that would be probably ages 3 to 6, depending on the attention level of the children and also for the older ones, if they’re 6, how tolerant they are of the younger ones. For the adult classes, any age, any ability. The class that I teach is really very relaxed and easy to do, so it’s very basic yoga, like yoga for the everyday busy person. Come and relax, stretch your body, breath in, breath out a little bit, and just feel good.



Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in starting a business? 

Brandy: Oh boy. I have a lot of advice! I was thinking, I could teach people probably how to start a business ‘cause I’ve done everything wrong probably. I came into this not knowing anything, just, like I said, it just happened, and I was like, “Yay, one day, just open a studio!” I have a lot of passion and I think that’s great and I need that for it, but there were a lot of things I didn’t know. So, first things first—and forgive me, all professional entrepreneurs out there! I think that, to have your finances in order, to know what everything is going to cost, and line that up first. Don’t just jump into it like I did. I mean, that’s great. It’s exciting to do that, but to—I had to take care of things while I was trying to start the business and it was too difficult. Things such as getting the electric bill in my name and transfer over. Everything was a surprise, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing! I thought, Oh I just call and change my name. But no, they need all kinds of stuff. They need application, they need the lease, they have a deposit and things like that. So I would definitely, number one, make a list of all the things you need to be productive and to keep the business running, and make sure you have that all in place first. So, with hindsight, I think that probably you would need a couple of months to prepare, just to open a business or start your business, you need some time to prepare. There’s so many other things, but that would be my number one. And then organizing your clients, getting some advertisements and marketing set and put in place, because if you’re doing that while you’re starting your business, it’s challenging. So do it ahead of time. You can call me for more advice later.


Q: Will there be a fee?

Brandy: Yes. (laughter)


Check out You In Motion studio’s calendar  for a complete schedule of classes and events. You can also contact Brandy directly at cnyinmotion@gmail.com

Introducing Northside Beauty at Apostrophe’S Art Gallery: “A celebration of artwork made by our New Americans on the Northside”

Written by Rachel Nolte  • October 4, 2017


Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.




Apostrophe’S (pronounced “Apostrophe S”) is an art gallery on the Northside of Syracuse that was founded by Holly Wilson and Allison Kirsch, two Syracuse University graduates. The gallery is located at 1100 Oak Street, across from one of the entrances to Schiller Park. The mission of the gallery is to “collaborate with creators to produce innovative exhibitions and events that share contemporary art with the growing Northside and the surrounding communities.” This mission is reflected in the name of the gallery: the apostrophe refers to the idea of inclusion.

In the two years that the gallery has been running, they have worked with various local artists, students, neighbors, and businesses. Apostrophe’S is a member of the Northside Business Partnership, the local business association for the Northside of Syracuse. Apostrophe’S also works with community organizations such as TrueNORTH and Friends of Schiller Park.

Currently, Apostrophe’S is partnering with NEHDA for an upcoming art show that will run from October 2nd until October 13th, 2017.  This show represents the culmination of a collaborative project between NEHDA, Apostrophe’S, North Side Learning Center, and New American Women’s Empowerment. This project is made possible with support of the County of Onondaga & CNY Arts through the Tier Three Project Support Grant Program.




Artworks in the show were made by Northside New Americans in response to the prompt, “What does the Northside mean to you?” Materials include paint, pen, pencil, and collage. The resulting artworks include a range of colors, styles, and techniques. Some chose to represent a specific person or a building, and others chose to represent the Northside through abstract shapes and textures.

There will be a reception for the Northside Beauty: Art Show on the first Friday of October, the 6th, from 5:00-7:00 PM. The show is free and open to the public, with refreshments and a live performance of African drumming to celebrate the diversity of Northside culture.

To learn more about Apostrohe’S, visit their website and like them on Facebook. Currently, the gallery  is looking for exhibition applicants. Interested? Contact Apostrophe’S via their website . If you want to get involved with this project or future community projects, please contact Rachel at Rachel (at) nehda.org for more information.



Baseball was Very Good to Me

Written by Joe Russo  • September 28, 2017

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”




Growing up on the old Northside in the 1950’s meant playing baseball almost every day in the summer. I lived on Mary Street directly across from North High School. The neighborhood was full of kids my age looking to get outside and play catch or shag fly balls. Even if we didn’t have enough kids to play a baseball game with the full complement of players we found a way to work in the imaginary man on second base. Which of course led to many heated discussions, for example was the imaginary man fast enough to make it home on a slow rolling ground ball to right field? It was a dispute we learned to resolve without adult supervision.

The games were organized by yelling at your friend’s house from the street. “Hey Tommy, tell your brother we’re starting a game at North.” “Yeah, yeah we know, go wake up Tony. He always sleeps late,” replied Tommy. And so the message was passed on from house to house no cell phones no instant messaging just an open window and some verbal jousting. Sometimes we even found a way to play baseball with kids we didn’t like, imagine that?

It’s the summer of 2017 and times have changed. I go to the Farmers Market every Saturday morning. I often find myself taking a detour through the old neighborhood. I am curious. I know the Northside has changed but just how has it changed. When I drive by my old house on Mary Street I can see that the old baseball fields at North High are no longer there. North High School has been torn down and a complex of homes for senior citizens exists in its place. A couple of Saturdays ago I was driving home from the Farmers Market on Park Street. As I approached Washington Square Park I noticed a group of kids playing an unorganized game of soccer. The park actually had a pair of official looking soccer goals. The group was a mix of teenagers and some who looked to be under ten years of age. Everyone was madly running up and down the field having a great time. Neither goal had a goalie. I suppose they could have had imaginary goalies. I wonder if the imaginary ones made any saves. Is this the new Northside? Has soccer replaced baseball? It is a new era. I find that I cannot truly understand the emerging world around me unless I can see this world through the eyes of our youth. They are growing and developing the Syracuse of the future.


“What’s For Dinner?”: Featuring Anna Rupert

Written by Rachel Nolte  • September 20, 2017


Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.






Anna works for NEHDA as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Her job duties include grant research, community outreach, and administrative support for the Northside Business Partnership.  We look forward to seeing what she accomplishes during her time with us. 


Question: Where are you from?

Anna: I was born in Syracuse, at St. Joe’s.


Q: So you haven’t strayed far. Do you like it here or do you eventually want to end up elsewhere?

A: I want to experience living in other places, definitely. I wouldn’t necessarily say, 100% I would never come back here and live. But I definitely don’t plan on being here forever and not living other places first. I like it here, I just don’t necessarily want to stay.


Q: What keeps you in the area?

A: My boyfriend and his job. I went to school here, because it was cheaper.


Q: What did you study?

A: I studied Spanish and I studied sociology.


Q: So how did you end up here at NEHDA?

A: Well, I wanted to do something a little bit more meaningful with my break in between college and grad school, and I wanted a break because I wanted some time to figure out what I want to go to grad school for. So I found AmeriCorps, my mom gave me a flyer. I applied for all of the jobs that they offered in Syracuse . .  Mike ended up calling me, and I came here and I kind of loved it, so I ended up staying.


Q: Do you have a sense of what you want to go to grad school for at this point?

A: I’m torn between law or public policy, and education.


Q: So how does that relate back to your undergraduate degree?

A: Spanish education. So I would teach Spanish and dance, or law and public policy. There’s a whole bunch of different ways that Spanish and Hispanic culture and things like that tie into law and public policy. Whether it’s advocating for the Hispanic community, or just needing to translate, stuff like that.


Q: What initially drew you to this area of advocacy?

A: Well, I started dancing Flamenco when I was probably 7—


Q: How did you get into that?

A: I was looking for a new studio because the one that I had been going to, the woman terrified me and kind of made me not want to dance anymore. So, I was looking to switch, but before I committed myself to a studio, I wanted to take a sample class and see how the studio’s vibe was and what their teaching style was like, what the atmosphere of the studio was, ‘cause I didn’t want to bounce right back into another place just like the one I had left. So I went to Guzmán’s out in Fayetteville and took a sample class and the class that they had running at the time was Flamenco. I just kind of kept going with it, and I never really stopped. So then I started taking Spanish and traveling to Spain and studying Flamenco there, and it just kind of evolved.


Q: What is your favorite thing about being here so far?

A: I really like going out into the community and meeting all of the community members. It’s really cool to be around people who really care about their neighborhood and have a strong sense of neighborhood community because growing up, my neighborhood had a very, very strong sense of neighborhood community, and I took that for granted, as like, “Everywhere is like this, and everybody has really great neighbors and knows all of their neighbors and their neighbors birthdays, and that’s just a normal thing. Everybody in the neighborhood is just like their family. Totally.” And then living other places, it just made no sense to me, that people that I went to college with didn’t know the names of any of their neighbors and my boyfriend didn’t know the name of the person who was living directly below him, and I was kind of shocked. So it’s really cool to be back around people who share that strong sense of neighborhood community.


Q: What do you see as being your biggest challenge you will face this year?

A: I would say being able to take all of the big ideas that people, including myself, have, and put them into something that’s actually realistic. Because, it’s very easy to get into this whole, “Yeah, this would be great if we could do this, and add this . . .” and create this really big, ideal world project, and then once you get down to trying to actually implement it, it can be very disheartening if you haven’t really thought about what’s actually realistic. For instance, yes, it would be fantastic if I could get public trashcans all over the Northside. That would be amazing. I would love to do that. But, is that actually realistic? Who’s going to maintain them? There’s a lot of other things that don’t necessarily come up at first, so I think it will be a challenge to keep that in mind and not try and catch a whale instead of a fish . . . I had a ballet teacher, growing up, one of my favorite teachers, who always said, “In an ideal world, this is what would happen.” She was usually referring to, “In an ideal world, you would all have perfect turn out, and be much more flexible than you actually are.” But, her point was just, “This would be ideal, but this is what you have, so work with what you have.” That’s a hard concept to grasp sometimes.


Q: What’s for dinner?

A: Leftover Chinese food from China Café in Armory Square.


Q: What did you get?

A: I . . . (pause) This order is for two people. Just keep that in mind. (Laughter) It’s gonna be a little scary. So, two orders of fried wantons, pork fried wantons, then a large pork lo mein, no vegetable, a large pork fried rice, no vegetable, two egg rolls, a small sweet and sour chicken, and a large General Tso’s chicken. Oh, and two things of white rice.


Q: Does your boyfriend not like vegetables?

A: No. He gets creeped out by the little corns.


“What’s For Dinner?”: Featuring Maggie Moore

Written by Rachel Nolte  • August 31, 2017


Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.



“I am most excited to work at NEHDA because of the people. Everyone here is so friendly and passionate about what they do. I feel privileged to serve my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA at NEHDA.” - Maggie Moore

“I am most excited to work at NEHDA because of the people. Everyone here is so friendly and passionate about what they do. I feel privileged to serve my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA at NEHDA.” – Maggie Moore


Maggie works for NEHDA and the NPC (Neighborhood Preservation Coalition) as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). She is a welcome new presence in the office and we look forward to seeing what she accomplishes during her time with us. 


Question: Where are you from?

Maggie: I was born in Vallejo, California, which is across the bay from San Francisco. I spent most of my time growing up in Cazenovia, New York, outside of Syracuse.


Q: What drew you to NEHDA?

M: I knew I wanted to do AmeriCorps and I knew I wanted to stay in Syracuse. So NEHDA just seemed like a great organization. I was especially interested in the work that you did helping different businesses and things like that (Side note: Throughout my VISTA year, I’ve done a lot of work with the Northside Business Partnership). I thought that was cool and different from some of the other AmeriCorps programs that I saw.


Q: What do you like about the area?

M: Well, I’m married so I wanted to live with my husband. We just got married, so I’m not sick of him yet (laughter). Maybe in a couple of years, I’ll move away for a program.


Q: What are you most excited about with your new position?

M: I’m mostly excited to learn more about advocacy with the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. I know I get to go to a few meetings in Albany with my site director, Mike [La Flair] and so I’m excited to see how those meetings go.


Q: For those who are not familiar with the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, could you tell me a little more about it?

M: Yeah. The Neighborhood Preservation Coalition (NPC) is based out of Albany, and then they have them all over. So, New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, and they even have rural NPCs. NEHDA is actually an NPC. They’re nonprofit organizations that do community development in a specific area. So for Syracuse, there’s some on the Northside of Syracuse, the Southside, the Westside, and the different neighborhoods. Ithaca has an NPC, Watertown has an NPC, so they’re different nonprofit organizations that fall under the community development umbrella. A lot of times, they do work with affordable housing.


Q: Do you have a strong interest in housing?

M: I think growing up in Syracuse, I always saw all the empty and boarded-up houses, and it’s really too bad, I know a lot of people need affordable housing. So when I interviewed with NEHDA it was cool to see—on their walls, they have pictures of houses that they have worked on or given money to work on. So it was cool to see that they care about the way that their community looks and that people have access to affordable housing. Then it makes your neighborhood look better, too.




Q: Do you have a favorite business on the Northside yet?

M: I don’t. I just had lunch at Mi Casita today and it was SO delicious and I’m stuffed. It was great.


Q: Speaking of food, What’s for Dinner??!

M: My vegan friends visited and inspired me to try cooking tofu.


Tofu Stir Fry:

– Pre-marinated and baked tofu, teriyaki flavored (“Tofubaked” is the brand!)

– yellow squash

– zucchini 

– red + green bell peppers

– red onion

– broccoli

– rice

Cook desired amount of rice.

Combine veggies in a frying pan with some oil, salt, pepper, and any spices your heart desires. Add a stir fry or teriyaki sauce. Cook veggies, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes and then add in chopped tofu. Cook another few minutes until veggies are tender and tofu is warm.

*Feel free to use any vegetables you have on hand, this just happens to be what I have in my fridge at the moment*

Top rice with tofu mixture and enjoy!


August 2013: “I suppose it is a matter of taste . . .”

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • August 17, 2017

If you have zucchini growing in your Northside garden, it’s time to do as Joe’s grandmothers did and cook up the delicate blossoms to share with loved ones (or, to savor all by yourself). We’re throwin’ it back to August 2015 when Joe was making omelets and reminiscing about the Northside gardens of his childhood.


The Zucchini Flower (originally published August 15, 2013)

by Joe Russo

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside”.

What would a backyard garden be without a few Zucchini plants? Famous for being productive and easy to grow, everybody likes Zucchini. In fact, the biggest problem most energetic gardeners have is they don’t have enough friends to take all the surplus zucchini. All the Northside moms and grandmothers traded zucchini recipes. Zucchini bread, fried zucchini, stuffed zucchini… how about zucchini with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese? The list goes on and on. Both my grandmothers had a special recipe they did not share with friends outside the family. It is a real delicacy.

I remember going into the backyard garden and watching either of my grandmothers carefully pick the biggest brightest zucchini flowers they could find. The flowers were delicate so they had to be handled with care. They made it clear that what they were about to prepare was very special.

The first step was to carefully clean the zucchini flowers. The second step was creating an egg batter. There are many variations and it seemed to depend on what herbs were in season. My grandmothers always used brown eggs. I suppose it is a matter of taste. Salt, a little minced garlic and whatever herbs seemed freshest that day were whisked into the egg batter. They would whip up the batter with one or two eggs depending on how many people wanted to eat. I always liked fresh chives chopped up with the garlic. I also like to add about 2 tablespoons of flour to the egg batter to give it a thicker consistency.

They did not deep fry the flowers but lightly sautéed them in olive oil. They cook very quickly so I would put only one or two at a time in the frying pan. When the oil was sufficiently hot the grandmothers dipped each flower in the batter coating as thoroughly as possible. Be careful to sauté the flowers for 2 minutes or less. I keep a few chopped chives and some minced garlic on the side and sprinkle them on each flower as they are cooking. Drain the sautéed flowers in a platter with paper towels for a moment or two. Make sure you eat them while they are still hot. No grandson can wait very long to taste one of these.

In recent years I have developed a Zucchini Flower Omelet, which is pictured below. My friends who did not have an Italian grandmother seem to prefer this more familiar style. Either way the taste is memorable.



NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Liz Wierbinski

Written by Rachel Nolte  • August 9, 2017



Editor’s Note: The Northside Business Partnership (NBP) is an association comprised of Northside businesses, property owners, and organizations. It serves as an advocate group for the Northside, strengthening the vitality of the business community by connecting, engaging, and promoting its members. NBP is administrated by NEHDA.






Liz is the Programs & Development Director for the YWCA Syracuse & Onondaga County. The YWCA is one of the newest NBP Members and is dedicated to “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” Read on to find out . . . 


YWCA collage


Q: Could you give me some of the history of the YWCA in Syracuse & Onondaga County?

Liz: So, I’m going to pull out my handy dandy note sheet, because I wasn’t exactly sure of the history—the YWCA has been around forever. I guess the first one, according to this, was in London, England and that was in 1855. The first one in the USA was in 1858, and then we were established here in Syracuse in 1892.


Q: Has it always been at this location?

Liz: No, I don’t know what the initial location was, but we moved here a number of years ago. Maybe five or six? We used to be over Downtown, on Washington Street, where the main offices were. Then we moved over here. This building actually used to be just the Girls Inc. building. Before Girls Inc. it was the Zanta Foundation, which was like a women’s club, I believe, and then Girls Inc. was here and then due to funding issues, the YWCA adopted Girls Inc. and so now Girls Inc. is a program of YWCA. It fits pretty seamlessly into our mission.


Q: So what exactly is Girl’s Inc. on its own?

Liz: Girls Inc. is also a national organization, like the YWCA, with local chapters in different regions. They do programing for young girls, teenage girls. Here, we do a lot of STEM programming for girls. So we’re the local chapter for Girls Inc. and the YWCA. But in kind of a unique situation, Girls Inc. in Syracuse is a program of the YWCA. There’s similar situations in other regions, too. I think there’s maybe 10 other YWCAs that have the same set up with Girls Inc. It’s a natural fit. Women’s empowerment and working with young girls—it’s more of a preventative aspect rather than sort of a reactive measure to fighting those systemic barriers.


Q: In nonprofits, the titles of various positions can sometimes seem confusing. Can you shed some light on what “Programs & Development Director” involves?

Liz: So my title is, I think, intentionally vague, because I do—like everybody that works in nonprofits, especially small nonprofits—everybody wears 10, 15 different hats. My title encompasses a few different things. I do program supervision, so I supervise the YWCA programs. I help with finding different pathways and strategies for making our programs better, training and developing staff, all that good stuff. I help with the grant writing, so I constantly am researching grants, trying to figure out, find things that fit our agency but also aid in our program development. We need the funds to be able to do what we do. That’s a big part of it. I do coordinate a lot of our events. Day of Commitment, Girls Summit, Spirit of American Women, Day of Commitment and Spirit of American Women are two annual fundraisers, so those are our two biggest events. I coordinate the organizational efforts for those events. And then, helping with social media and marketing efforts, so we actually just created an Instagram account a few months ago, which has been awesome. It’s fun. That’s the fun part of it, social media is its own kind of unique bubble. So it’s a little bit of everything, but it keeps me on my toes.


Q: So is social media one of your favorite parts of your job?

Liz: I do—yes. It’s one of my—it’s the fun part. There’s no deadline. It’s kind of a little break from the more serious parts of the job.


Q: Any other favorite parts?

Liz: Probably just—this is kind of a generic or vague answer, but just the people. Working in nonprofits, you meet so many different people and everybody—whether it be your coworkers or the people that are in your programs or the people that you meet at meetings, organizations that you collaborate with—I think people in the nonprofit world are great people. It’s easy to get caught up in the stressors of nonprofits, but when you keep it in the back of your mind to look past those stressors, and that everybody’s on the same playing field, everybody has the same goal, trying to do better for each other and the community, that keeps me going.


YWCA collage 2


Q: Are there any particular people you want to highlight?

Liz: Let’s see. Well geez, I don’t want to leave anybody out. I guess most recently, what’s sticking out in my mind, is the basketball program that I facilitated here at the YWCA, working with those young girls. They were ages 8 to 12 and I worked with them every Saturday for four months, and it was just awesome to see them grow as individuals, but also they all became friends. And they’re just awesome girls. Obviously there’s many more people but, right now that’s a big one.


Q: How did you get into this line of work?

Liz: Well, I’ve always been interested in human behavior and human dynamics. My background is in psychology but I didn’t want to be a psychologist or anything like that. I realized I’m way more into social justice and community level issues, so that’s when I decided to go into social work for grad school. I had always worked a lot in direct practice, one-on-one work with clients and individuals, but always with it in mind that I want to get more into community level programs, administrative type field, to still make an impact but a different kind of impact. So that was the reason that I took the AmeriCorps position that you’re in now (Side note: Liz used to be the AmeriCorps VISTA at NEHDA, where I now serve!), because it has that community organizing component to it, and neighborhood revitalization. It was cool to see social work from a bigger lens ’cause I had always seen it on the ground level, but to see how anything from a development effort, construction of a new building, a new program, can trickle all the way down to an individual impact, and to see how that happens was really fascinating to me. So when I got connected, through my AmeriCorps position to this job, that was something I had still in mind. So I started out as a case manager, but I was kind of going where I was needed, and I came over here to the main office and am doing more program-level work, which is really cool and I like it so far.


Q: If somebody is interested in getting involved with the YWCA, what would you recommend to do?  

A: Don’t go to the YMCA’s website. We still get calls like, “When are your open pool hours? When do you guys open up?” We’re like, “Ahh, we don’t have a pool.” There’s no affiliation between the YWCA and the YMCA. So, first, make sure you know where you’re going. But other than that, we’re always open to volunteers, always looking for—we take interns every semester, we have three or four interns right now for the summer. It’s through SU, OCC, we actually have an intern from a college in Vermont right now. She’s home for the summer and needed an internship. They get credit and it works out for us because they’re all really smart and motivated students and they help us tremendously.

Other ways to get involved, we’re taking donations for our women’s residents right now. I think we’re kind of over capacity for clothes right now because that’s what people are always getting rid of, and obviously we need clothes and we really appreciate that, but—other things that the women’s residence is in the market is for household items, toiletries, feminine hygiene products, even like home decor. They want to decorate their apartment, making it cozy and everything, but that stuff is a bit harder to find. So yeah, donations, volunteering. . . Just call our office. Also, subscribe to our email newsletter. We do a quarterly newsletter and we sent out one-time newsletters for specific events and programs.


The Spirit of American Women is one of the YWCA’s annual fundraiser’s. This year’s event is October 17th from 6-8PM at the Genesee Grand Hotel. The evening will be spent celebrating how far women have come and of all of the work that still remains to be done. There will be a presentation from a current Women’s Resident and from participants of Girls Inc. The event is part of the YWCA’s National Week Without Violence, a week of programming and events about eliminating violence against women. Tickets will be available on the YWCA website closer to the event. 

For more information about YWCA, follow them on Facebook and Instagram. To subscribe to the newsletter and  receive updates, contact Liz at lwierbinskiywca@centralny.twcbc.com.