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Rana Hilal for Spectator

Grant recipients and WHDC board members hold up a $1 million check.

The West Harlem Development Corporation awarded $1 million in grants to 27 neighborhood nonprofits on Thursday.

This round of grants is the second for the WHDC, which is responsible for distributing the $76 million in benefits that Columbia promised to West Harlem residents in the Community Benefits Agreement. It provided $2 million to 83 organizations in March.

In the grants awarded Thursday, the development corporation funded only 27 organizations out of the 81 that applied. The grants, which ranged from $48,000 to $13,302, went to arts, education, housing, and job development groups. 


Community leaders and grant recipients celebrated at the Our Children's Foundation on 125th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. 

“We recognize that funding for non-profits is becoming more and more difficult,” WHDC Executive Director Kofi Boateng said. “We've learned to do more with less.”

In an interview earlier this week, Boateng said the group awarded fewer grants during this cycle because it was looking to move towards a smaller number of targeted grants instead of a broad range.

“Our first grant cycle we were liberal, and the second round, we tightened it up quite a bit, and then next year will be a lot more strategic,” he said. 

Phyllis Berman and Leslie Robbins accepted $48,000 for the Riverside Language Program, Inc., which has provided classes in English language and literacy in Harlem for 35 years.

“It enables us to serve immigrants and refugees in this community,” Robbins said, especially new African immigrants in the neighborhood. 

“We're one of the few sites that Columbia sends work-study students to,” Berman said. Rebecca Kobrin, a history professor at Columbia, and Meredith Linn, an urban studies professor at Barnard, both take their students to the Riverside Language Program to teach them about immigrant issues in Manhattan, Berman said. 

Melanie Oram, SoA '04, and Randall Dottin, SoA '03, received $32,000 to finish a Harlem-based movie that they have been working on since 2004. 

“It's about a woman racing for a cure for a disease that killed her husband and threatens to take her son,” Oram said. She and Dottin are both based in Harlem, and the Columbia film program is where they first developed the project together.

They hope that the grant from the WHDC will allow them to finish the last push on their project, which has been stop-and-go since it started.

The event on Thursday night featured several organizations that received funding in last year's cycle. Harlem Seeds, a non-profit that teaches culinary skills to Harlem residents, provided healthy salads and sandwiches for dinner before the event, and the Mama Foundation for the Arts teen gospel choir performed two lively songs at the beginning of the evening, with several other musical performance group showcases dispersed throughout the event. Community leaders urged the winners to make the most of the grants.

“Please don't sit back and feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew,” Community Board 9 chair Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas told grant recipients before the ceremony, adding that if they called the board for help, “someone will bring a knife and fork and help you chop it up into tiny little pieces.”

“This represents what the best district in New York is doing,” Geoffrey Eaton, a representative for Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel, said. “While the government is shut down, West Harlem Development Corporation is open for business.”

Boateng criticized Columbia for what he said was a failure to meet requirements for minority, women, and local workers on the construction site.

“So far, we are not happy with the numbers that we are seeing in terms of local employment, but we are working right now with Columbia to make sure that we all get on the same page and improve the numbers,” he said.

The Empire State Development Corporation announced in February has been reviewing Columbia's hiring statistics since February. Boateng said the WHDC was committed to holding Columbia accountable.

Chris Meyer contributed reporting.  |  @ColumbiaSpec

West Harlem Development Corporation Grants nonprofits Manhattanville
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