Warner Oral History: Long Live the Nonprofits of 10591

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by Krista Madsen

While we are a vital part of a growing biotech belt in Westchester County, 10591 seems to thrive on the strength and number of its historic nonprofits. A group of local leaders met recently at the Warner Library for a Meet-the-Nonprofit-themed oral history session. Their passion and knowledge certainly speaks to their organizations’ successes and impacts.

(L-R:) Len Andrew, Clare Pierson, Sister Susan Gardella, Thomas Conklin, Pam Sclafani, and Richard Rose. —Photo by: Maureen Petry
(L-R:) Len Andrew, Clare Pierson, Sister Susan Gardella, Thomas Conklin, Pam Sclafani, and Richard Rose.
—Photo by: Maureen Petry

Clare Pierson, President, Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, narrated the history of this network of carriage roads and parkland, which also provides a fascinating window into the Rockefeller family. After Standard Oil moved to New York, John D., Sr. started purchasing what would amount to 3,000 acres including the present estate, Stone Barns, the area surrounding Phelps Hospital, and the former IBM property, soon to be Regeneron.

Rockefeller Sr. enjoyed, especially with his son, John, Jr., driving carriages and fancy horses, so they began creating a network of broken stone roads, actually moving the town of Eastview in the process. “An astonishing effort,” Pierson said. When Sr. retired to Florida, continuing the project became the passion of his son who wanted to grant everyone free access to the natural stress-relief he found here. The roads were finished around 1920 and have been open to the public ever since, all of it finally becoming state park land in 1986.

Len Andrew, 47 years here and board member for many an organization, offered wisdom on the numerous nonprofits and volunteer efforts that make this place so special. He recounted quick histories on many essential nonprofits from the Music Hall (saved from becoming a parking lot by a loan that would never get extended post-2008) to Kendal-on-Hudson (founded by a small group of Quakers). “Volunteering in this community has an amazing history,” Andrew said.

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Among our most generous gems is the Make-a-Wish Hudson Valley chapter, here for over 15 years at the border of Tarrytown and Irvington. Thomas Conklin, President and CEO, said the national organization has granted wishes to kids with life-threatening medical conditions since 1980. Here in the Hudson Valley, they have realized about 2,500 wishes and are currently working on 150 more.

The Institute of Applied Human Dynamics (IAHD) was founded in the Bronx in 1957 by physical therapist Dr. Jac Gootzeit, “at a time when there were not a lot of services for individuals with intellectually or developmental disabilities,” said Pam Sclafani, Director of Development and Community Engagement. By 2009 they moved to the former Marymount Campus where they are now expanding into more office space. “Our philosophy is one of inclusion and integration into the community,” Sclafani said, adding that many of the employees and clients live and work here.

Richard Rose, former President of the Historical Society serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, spoke of the nearly 130-year history of the organization aimed to “promote, protect and restore historical sites and historical information.” It is housed in the lovely Italianate house on Grove Street where “the joy is always discovering something you didn’t know.” Part of their mission is to save other local landmarks from demolition and inform the public, especially school children through various programs, about “the jewels and treaures all around them.” Like many local organizations, they too owe a debt to the Rockefellers with whom they traded properties in the 1950s, moving from what would become Philipsburg Manor to the former home of Jacob Odell, Tarrytown’s first mayor.

Sister Susan Gardella, Executive Director at the RSHM LIFE Center, described how in 1995 the LIFE Center grew out of a much larger and older organization, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM), which came to the U.S. in 1876 and opened at Marymount School in 1907. They founded the LIFE Center in the ‘90s to meet the perceived needs of a growing and underserved Spanish-speaking com munity here. With the goal of empowering people to work toward their own development, Gardella said, “We would love to be out of business because then no local need exists.” Former participants of their programming have gone on to become teachers, nurses, and to serve in the military and the Peace Corps as they are so eager “to give back to their adopted country.”

Looking forward, Pierson said the Preserve is always working to strike a balance between its two different ecosystems, maintaining the roads while keeping native plants thriving and invasive species at bay.

Conklin recounted a memorable wish they realized 10 years ago by helping a boy star as a Power Ranger in his own movie. He enjoyed driving around town in a red Lambourghini, fighting bad guys that local and state police assisted in transporting to jail, and walking the red carpet at his wrap party. “Unfortunately now he’s confined to a wheelchair but he’ll always be the Silver Ranger,” Conklin said. Make-a-Wish hopes to reach every eligible child in the region.

IAHD wants to make sure “those who can get a job, do,” Sclafani said. The individuals they work with also produce great art: They are having a fundraising IAHD Evening of Art, Wine and Jazz on Feb. 8 at the Briarcliff Manor.

Of course, there’s the burden of the nonprofit life all the leaders could speak to –fundraising. Sometimes reliable sources of monies dry up; “We know we live in a very precarious time,” said Conklin.

“We need a donor,” said Rose, for necessary repairs and programs at the Historical Society where “everything needs to be done.”

Stay tuned for the next Warner Oral History date and theme; until then, you can find all the archived sessions and articles online at soundcloud.com/warnerlibraryhistories. For more information on the upcoming IAHD Art, Wine and Jazz event contact: Pam Sclafani, psclafani@IAHDny.org, 914.220.4385.

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