Community Coalition Celebrates 10 Years

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by Charlene Weigel – 

Fifteen people gathered on a cold January morning for an unusual 10th anniversary celebration. It was 8:30 a.m. on the first Monday of the new year. Congratulations were toasted with coffee rather than champagne. The group spent a moment acknowledging their hard work and the importance of this milestone. Then the Community Coalition got down to business: sharing information and coordinating resources for underserved children and families in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.

Kids’ Club of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow founded the Community Coalition (C2) in December of 2009 as an open forum for local non-profits. Theresa Kilman, Erin Gathrid and other C2 founders realized that a number of organizations were about to run competing holiday food and clothing drives. “A group of Kids’ Club leaders made phone calls and asked to coordinate the effort,” said Kilman. “An initial one time meeting led to monthly gatherings. Ten years later, those phone calls have turned into a collaborative coalition that addresses and coordinates needs in the community.”

Sister Susan Gardella of the RSHM LIFE Center was at the table for that December 2009 meeting. “The LIFE Center had a small food pantry as did local churches,” said Sister Gardella. “None of us had the space or were meeting the need. The LIFE Center was able to share its experience to get a real solution in place.”

The Community Food Pantry of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown was created at that first C2 meeting, and now reduces hunger by feeding about 250 local families each month. The LIFE Center, in turn, was able to free up limited staff and volunteers to focus on its unique Learning Is For Everyone (LIFE) mission.

When non-profits coordinate, they leverage scarce resources, reduce redundancies and create a stronger voice for public policy advocacy. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it is uncommon to see such coordination in practice. Community planners cite turf issues, competition for grant funding, and lack of experience with collaborative leadership as barriers.

The organizations of the Community Coalition defy those odds. The fact that this collaboration spans two distinct villages is even more impressive. “I think, in part, this is because we share a school district and our children don’t see a border between the two villages,” said Rachelle Gebler, who headed C2 from 2015 to 2018 and is president of the Community Food Pantry. “They have the perspective that we are one village, and the connection of the younger generation is passed on to the older generation.”

That connection also strengthens the individual impact of C2 participants. Joan Levy is on the board of Kids’ Club and chairs C2 with Jennifer Liddy Green, President of Kids’ Club. Levy described a tradition among well-intentioned non-profits to distribute a frozen turkey during the holidays. A discussion at a Community Coalition meeting revealed that many families did not have the cooking equipment to deal with a frozen turkey. “Chicken is now the gift of choice,” said Levy.

When organizations share that type of deep community knowledge, everyone benefits. A typical C2 meeting is chaired by Green and Levy and includes representatives from the Rotary, Warner Library, the school district, Open Door, the Life Center, Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown government, and other health, religious, and civic non-profits. “Frankly, I think the talking that takes place at the end of the formal meeting is as important as what is on the agenda,” observed Green.

C2 circulates minutes, announcements and a community calendar to a group of about 180 members and organizations. Gebler summarized, “When any group can share a common goal, that effort pays out even greater rewards. C2 provides the space for us to work together for our community.”

The Community Coalition meets at 8:30 a.m. on the first Monday of every month during the school year at the James Galgano Senior Center, 55 Elm Street, Sleepy Hollow. If you would like to be added to the Community Coalition’s email list, please contact Jennifer Green at president@kidsclubtarrytown.org.

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