April: Essential Services
With our city currently facing unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to spotlight YPs on the front lines of the crisis: YPs working in health care, food banks, delivery services, emergency child care, government procurement, and/or other essential services that keep this city going. Congratulations to our April Spotlights of the Month, Nichole Guerra and Jorge Montalvo!
I am where I am today because of the generosity of people I’ll never know or meet. When I was in high school, I was invited to apply for what was called a “QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship.” Through this program, QuestBridge sought to connect high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds to four-year universities they wouldn’t be able to afford without deep financial assistance. I was “matched” to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where I majored in Public Policy and Law. It was through this program and internships at nonprofit advocacy groups that I discovered my passion for social justice. An internship turned into a job, which led to another job, and another, and so on. Without the generosity of the individuals who funded my scholarship, I would likely still be living in Ohio, where I was born and raised.
I believe pride is an emotion that should be felt about others and not necessarily about oneself. Instead of feeling “proud” of my accomplishments, I feel gratitude for all of the individuals and circumstances that led to those accomplishments. That said, I am most proud of my husband, who immigrated to the United States in his early twenties, learned a new language, got his doctorate, and is now conducting important research on rehabilitation techniques that improve the quality of life among people with spinal cord injuries. He is my rock and I cannot imagine getting anything done without his support and partnership.
I have never met anyone who wanted to pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising and development; most people end up “falling into” it and either love it or hate it. The general advice I would give is if you feel privileged to be able to connect people to social causes they care about, development might be for you.
I haven’t yet! I still call myself a “fake New Yorker” and probably will until I can exit a given subway station and know which way I’m supposed to walk without looking at Google Maps.
We’ve lost our volunteers, who we usually rely on to serve 1,000 hot meals a day. We’ve lost critical funding streams while seeing an unprecedented increase in demand for our services. We’ve had to alter our operations from a “cafeteria-style” hot lunch to a “grab-and-go” hot meal distribution with no lead time for planning or purchasing needed supplies. And like everyone else, we deal daily with anxiety about the health and livelihood of our staff, guests, and community members. Crisis response on its own is a full-time job, leaving other critical functions of the organization to be addressed in the evenings or on weekends. As an individual, my biggest challenge comes from the fact that we don’t have more hours in the day. As a member of a community serving people with multiple vulnerabilities and risk factors, our biggest challenge is ensuring the safety and well-being of people who don’t have homes where they can self-distance. I worry constantly about the physical and mental well-being of everyone who has come to rely on the soup kitchen for sustenance and community.
Many soup kitchens operate on a much smaller scale than Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen and have temporarily closed shop due to the crisis. More and more New Yorkers now come to our soup kitchen for a hot meal, often the only meal they receive on a given day. To ensure we are able to fill this gap in the weeks, or months, ahead, we launched an ambitious campaign, similar to what communities have done in the wake of Hurricane/disaster relief efforts. People who’d like to help can support the soup kitchen’s campaign in multiple ways:
- Donating to the campaign. Donations can be made here or by texting “FEEDNYC” to 44321.
- Sharing the campaign with people looking to help emergency relief food services.
- Creating your own personal or company campaign page here.
- Identifying/engaging corporate sponsors to fund the campaign
- Staying connected and sharing our posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Jorge I. Montalvo
From chemist to working on the NYC 2012 Olympic bid to diverse roles as a public servant and now a leader of a major health care company, I’ve had a non-traditional career path. I grew up in New York City, a child of two immigrants from Ecuador, who worked and continue to work extremely hard to provide for their children. At times we struggled and faced the hard realities of being judged for traits beyond the content of one’s character. Yet, it was this state and this city and their promise that afforded us an opportunity. It helped shape the person I am today. Professionally, my first non-science related job at the NYC 2012 Olympic bid opened the doors to a career in public service. From there, I was inspired to continue seeking opportunities where I could help New Yorkers.
I’m extremely proud of PAGNY’s physicians and allied health professionals. They are world-class and proving it with every appointment, every procedure, and every shift. They are mission-driven. They chose to work in New York City’s public hospitals, clinics and correctional health facilities out of a commitment that everyone have access to quality care, regardless of who they are, how they identify where they are from, who they love, or their ability to pay. In these difficult and frightening times, their compassion and devotion to patients and to those who seek help are an inspiration. I know they will continue to make us all proud throughout this crisis. And when it ends, they will have the thanks of every New Yorker, who will know what they have done, what they have sacrificed, and how hard they have fought for them. I’m honored to work for them and fight to keep them healthy and safe while they are doing that for all of us. I’m also proud of starting and leading the New York State Office for New Americans at a time of great need and in the face of government contraction. The work was personal. I remember sitting with my mother in English classes throughout my childhood as she tried to learn the language. I remember quizzing my parents on the civics questions in preparation for the exam to become U.S. citizens. I also remember seeing and feeling the discrimination that we had to endure at times. Doing something to try to help people like my parents and neighbors felt special. The friendships with the hundreds of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers to whom we provided direct, tangible services during the time I spearheaded the work will always feel like the capstone of the early part of my career. I will always be grateful to Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Secretary of State Cesar Perales, and all the not-for-profit advocates and service providers who gave me the opportunity to work alongside them to help New Yorkers.
I suggest that people try demonstrating to their colleagues that they have good judgment and are thoughtful. Those skills are not as common as you might think. They are highly valued and create the trust you need to eventually be afforded opportunities and personal confidence to show your full potential. I would also suggest being a good friend. It will make you more human and, I believe, help you to be a better decision maker. I’ve learned more about people and life from my interpersonal relationships than from books, podcasts, or classes. Admittedly, I struggle with that at times because I get caught up in my work. But, I keep trying.vLastly, try mapping out how all projects–big, small or however disconnected to real life it may feel–will impact people and how you believe they will react. Intellectually, the exercise is fun. Yet, the real power of the exercise is regularly putting yourself in different people’s shoes.
I had the privilege of being born in New York City. Yet, my family and friends would likely say I realized my true New York spirit as a toddler. I like running around a lot. That means climbing everything in a small apartment. The only place my mother could get me to be calm and sit would be on the subway, where she says I would stare out the windows above and below ground.
Today, there is no COVID-19 vaccine and no known ‘cure,’ which creates a lack of certainty in the work, daily and in its longevity. A major challenge we face is protecting our employees’ health while they help all of us. One way we have done this is by helping to implement a policy that prioritizes non-patient-facing assignments for our employees whom a COVID-19 infection would pose a higher health risk. With the surge of 911 calls and ER visits, our employees have also stepped up during their time off to field 311 calls to offer medical advice. There is also the unspoken toll this is taking on these frontline workers. We recognize this and are constantly trying to do what we can to boost morale. For example, we are providing access to mental health services and partnering with organizations to provide meals for our employees.
Stay informed from reliable, science-based sources. Stay calm. Take it seriously. Physically distance yourself from others, yet keep connected over social media, email, texts, Zoom happy hours, and even old school calling people. Clean your hands. Keep in mind so many of our fellow New Yorkers who have been physically and economically affected by the virus. And, if you feel so inclined, donate to the PAGNY Health and Research Foundation to bring food and other comforts to the frontline health care providers: https://www.pagny.org/donation/