Will one of our awardees found the next Sears Roebuck, Macy’s or Nieman Marcus?
In preparing for a trip to Texas for my nephew’s wedding, my husband and I decided that we would visit the grave of my great-grandfather in San Antonio. Growing up, I knew only that his business “outfitted riders for the Sante Fe trail.” Recently, I learned that he had left Germany in the 1840s because of restrictions and conditions there that did not allow Jews to thrive. The only trade that they were allowed was leathercrafting.
Sure enough, in America, he was able to use that craft to found a very successful business:
L-Frank Saddlery that still exists today under a different name. It first became Straus-Frank and now Strafco and has moved from making saddles and collars for horses to distributing auto parts, tires and more. Many of the great department stores were similarly founded by Jews who came here as peddlers (having been restricted to the “rag business”) and parlayed their talents to founding most of the major department stores that we know.
Sadly, in America today, how many people are deprived of the opportunity to use their talents because they cannot scrape together the money to mount even the lowest rung of a ladder out of poverty? Hopefully, America is now awakening to systemic inequities that create barriers for talented people. The situation is not only a matter of injustice but should also be a matter of self-interest for all of us because our population growth is declining. We desperately need healthy adults – physically, mentally and socially. But babies whose families suffer the insults of poverty will not become the productive adults that we desperately need because they are stunted even while in the womb from the stresses and deprivations that afflict their parents.
Maybe one day government programs to help these families will be so plentiful that there will be no need for Friends. But, for now, you have helped over 300 women remove financial barriers that prevent them from earning enough to provide a healthful environment for their families. Women like Jannelys who came here from Venezuela in 2018 equipped with an engineering degree. She intended to spend time learning English and then go into engineering. But she became pregnant, could not work full time and took a job as a waitress until extreme nausea made even that impossible. After the baby’s birth, she and her partner tried to schedule alternating shifts to take care of the baby, but didn’t work either.
In Venezuela, she had operated a craft business and dreamed of doing that. But she had absolutely no money to pay for the equipment she needed. Her nurse told her about Heart’s Desire, “this awesome program.” Just $700 paid for the tools she needed. A year later she came back to us because the business was flourishing but with the baby’s expenses and the pandemic limiting her husband’s work hours, she had no money to license and brand it. Another $500 from us resolved that problem.
Imagine you’re a single mother. Your newborn baby Anna is taking her afternoon nap, so you decide it’s time for your first meal of the day. Your stomach reminds you it’s time for lunch, but your cabinets tell another story—the fridge is nearly empty, your shelves are bare.
How are you going to make it through another week?
Going to the food bank with a newborn is hard enough outside of a pandemic. The closest one is a bus ride away (and even on a slow day there’s a line out the door). Now, with over 1.5 million New Yorkers relying on food banks, you could be stuck waiting in line for hours. Forced to go home empty handed when your baby starts to get fussy.
Last March, new moms experiencing poverty were already struggling to provide for their families. When the crisis struck, hundreds of women—who were already financially stressed—were unable to buy diapers for their babies or put food on the table. Shelves were bare, prices soared. Some clients were sick and could not leave the house. And food pantries weren’t prepared for the increase in demand, either.
That’s where the Friends community stepped in. We could’ve never imagined the impact we’d have together.
Helping families survive the pandemic
With pandemic closures came distressing job losses. Women who received Heart’s Desire scholarships for their degrees and started a job in the beginning of March were now left without an income. Friends of NYC NFP shifted resources to meet urgent needs.
As NFP nurses scrambled to assess clients’ needs, the Friends community stepped up to support—ready to build a safety net for the families who needed it most. Femida Dharsee, RN and a former nurse supervisor for NYC’s Nurse-Family Partnership, said the pandemic brought so much uncertainty for the clients, but Friends stepped in when they needed it most:
“We weren’t equipped for what came,” she said, “but Friends of NYC NFP stepped in on time.”
Our generous community stepped up at such a critical time. Because of our supporters, over 400 families experiencing poverty were able to buy groceries and essentials for their families. Every dollar made a real impact on individual families across New York City.
Kickstarting financial stability for NYC families
As new and expectant moms, women in the NFP program are determined to sustain their family financially. Over 70 percent of NFP clients want to pursue higher education or certification programs, but they usually can’t afford the cost of tuition or books.
Nurses have a special relationship with the women in the NFP program, and they encourage their clients to apply for the Heart’s Desire Fund. “What Friends is helping do is targeting the right people who really need the help,” Femida says.
Femida says Friends is playing a huge part in launching women’s careers through the Heart’s Desire Fund: “There have been so many women who have been empowered to do what they want to do.”
Poverty starts to negatively impact brain development before a child is even born. Financial assistance empowers women in the NFP program to launch their careers and break the cycle of poverty for their children. Financial assistance also reduces stress and allows women to devote their emotional energy and attention to their children during the critical, earliest years.
Femida knows the impact of Friends is powerful, she says: “What we’re doing may not show; the difference we’re making on each individual. But just having clients graduate with that additional financial stability is powerful. That’s what makes us appreciate this fund so much. It has met a need that we were not otherwise able to fulfill.”
“We are making a difference in New York City, be it a drop at a time. But guess what? A lot of drops will make a spoonful or a cupful eventually.” — Femida Dharsee, Nurse Supervisor
Transforming the community together
Moms in the NFP program are creating a better future for their children—doing whatever it takes to provide for their families and become financially independent. With the support of NFP nurses and the Friends of NYC NFP community, moms are empowered to change the course of their children’s lives by taking just one step in the right direction. Like Femida says: “At the end of the day, we’re strengthening our community.”
Friends works side by side with NYC’s Nurse-Family Partnership to empower new moms experiencing poverty to create a better future for their children. Find out how you can get involved today.
Having a baby doesn’t mean you have to put your dreams aside.
With a Heart’s Desire grant, Jazmin Williams was empowered to grow her baking business and realize her dreams.
Putting her career on hold
Jazmin had a job as a trained chef. With years of experience in restaurants and catering halls, she had intended to return to her job after delivering her baby. But complications from a C-section derailed her plan.
Between her recovery, breastfeeding her newborn, and the expense of childcare, Jazmin needed to stay home with baby Kyler.
She started offering baked goods and savory meals to family and friends, and when they told her how much they loved the treats, Jazmin got the push she needed to start her own catering business.
Asking for support
What started with a handful of orders and making doughs from home by hand, evolved into a small business. “The community began supporting me,” Jazmin shares.
She knew she had so much more to offer, but couldn’t afford the supplies to grow her business. She turned to her NFP nurse: “I had a discussion with my nurse where I was discussing my passions and my goals and I did disclose to her that my ultimate goal was to start my own catering company to make delicious treats to share with people across the globe.”
Making ends meet for her family of three was difficult enough. Saving up for her own laptop and electric mixer would have taken at least a year, if not more. With her NFP nurse encouraging her, Jazmin applied for the Heart’s Desire Awards.
Seeing immediate business results
After being granted $900 through Heart’s Desire, Jazmin was able to double her production with an electric mixer.
“The mixer helped my business substantially because I was able to go from making two cakes per hour to four cakes per hour. It led to mass production and my orders being fulfilled faster.”
When Kyler was 8 months old, Jazmin went back to work full-time to fund her main goal of building a business. She shared her baked goods with coworkers and management offered her a contract to bake the cakes for their regular employee birthday celebrations
Since her cakes were ready to decorate as orders came in, she was able to maintain her nine-to-five job while building the business.
Working towards her goals
After she and her family relocated to Orlando, FL, Jazmin secured a job in loan servicing. She knows she’ll need a business loan for her business one day, and plans to learn everything she can about the industry so she’s more prepared when the time comes.
“For now, because I have secured a good position, I will continue to work here until I feel my business can support me and my family full-time.”
Jazmin is proud of how far her business has come since she had her baby. Without the help of Friends of NYC-NFP, she wouldn’t have been able to grow as quickly or feel as confident in her dream.
“I’m getting a little choked up here even thinking about it. I am extremely grateful. I did apply for multiple grants before. Putting the application in and getting approved for the Heart’s Desire Award…I don’t have any more words.”
Securing a better future
Working alongside new and expectant moms, NFP nurses help NYC moms identify their long-term career goals and brainstorm action steps together. Friends of NYC-NFP steps in to break financial obstacles and empower moms to advance their careers.
Gabby is a 25 year old mom with an 18-month-old daughter living in the Bronx. Inspired by her experience with NFP, she dreams of becoming a nurse one day, but she can’t do it on her own.
Finishing her nurse prerequisites
Gabby was working tirelessly to complete the prerequisite courses she needed for the nursing program at her college. But, when she gave birth in September 2019, she had to take a break from her education to care for her baby. Now that her daughter, Anita, is 18 months old, Gabby is ready to continue her education.
Applying to the Heart’s Desire Fund
Determination and perseverance weren’t going to be enough to cover the costs of going back to school. For Gabby, $900 and two textbooks stood in the way of starting her next course. On her own, she would’ve had to push back her start date until she could save the money.
Gabby was so excited to find out about Friends of NYC-NFP’s Heart’s Desire Awards from her nurse Nicole. Finally, she saw the next step on her path.
Being courageous for her daughter
After over a year of staying home with a baby, Gabby is worried going back to school will be a challenging transition. It’s one thing to care for a one-year-old; a whole other to balance attending virtual classes and studying.
“Even though school can make me nervous and at times anxious,” Gabby shared, “I enjoy being in school and hope to have the income in the future to continue my education and have a specialization in nursing.”
What NFP taught her about nursing
Like all NFP nurses, Nicole has been a significant part of Gabby’s support system throughout the pregnancy and her child’s early development. Nicole helped ease Gabby into parenthood by supporting her through the emotional, physical, and social challenges of becoming a new parent.
Even after over a year of working together, Gabby leans on Nicole for knowledge and guidance in caring for her baby and finds support and encouragement for returning to school.
Gabby is touched by how dedicated and caring Nicole has been throughout the NFP program: “When I have a meeting with Nicole over Zoom or phone call, I am reminded how amazing nurses can be by being so caring of their patients and dedicating their time to really check on them.”
That reminder inspired Gabby to work towards becoming a nurse one day. “Nicole has shown me what being a nurse is all about: truly being there for your patient, being compassionate to their needs, and providing the care they need.”
What the future holds
Gabby’s ultimate goal is to finish her Associate’s degree in nursing and move on to her four-year college. “What I truly desire is to have a profession and be able to increase my income and provide for myself and my daughter.”
Learn more about the Heart’s Desire Program and how you can help moms like Gabby.
When women work together, amazing things happen.
Christine Wasserstein is a retired psychotherapist and is a member of the national NFP’s Board of Directors. She has long been concerned about the effects of poverty on the emotional health of mothers and babies.
Susan Orkin shares Christine’s commitment to mothers and babies; she managed programs for vulnerable families for over 35 years and was an administrator for an NFP program in Pennsylvania.
Each of them recognized the power of promoting good outcomes for babies at the earliest moment possible. Spurred on by their mutual interest in the helping professions and NFP, they decided to work together to help mothers and babies in NYC.
We recently sat down to speak with our founders about the history of Friends of NYC-NFP and its intersection with Women’s History Month. Here’s a brief interview with Susan and Christine:
How did you meet?
CW: We met at Citizens’ Committee for Children’s Community Leadership Course in 2014.
SO: In exploring child advocacy organizations, I came across Citizens for Children of New York, which hosts an annual course for individuals interested in learning about key problem areas that confront low income populations and the agencies that address these challenges. Chris was one of the organizers of the course when I signed up. We became friends because of our mutual interest in Nurse Family Partnership.
What made you decide to partner and create Friends of NYC NFP?
SO: I had played a role in managing an NFP program just before I retired from a career managing social service programs. Chris had led me to the Community Advisory Board of NYC NFP and when I got there, I realized they had no mechanism for raising funds from individual donors. I thought that was leaving money on the table and I could do something about it (even though I’d never had fundraising experience and certainly never really thought through what the steps would be. It is good that I didn’t because I would have realized that I had no idea what it would take to be successful). I just figured that I would figure it out and I guess I did.
CW: I am on the national Board of Directors for Nurse-Family Partnership. I was delighted to meet Susan who had worked as an administrator in Pennsylvania for the NFP program there for a number of years. We shared a passion for wanting to help the moms in the NYC program in very tangible ways to become self-sufficient. To that end, we needed to reach out to our friends to fundraise, which required a non-profit status. A partnership was born…
NFP Board and nurses at a pre-pandemic event
What inspires you most about the moms we serve?
SO: I cannot get over the enormity of the struggles so many moms face and their courage and grit in the face of adversity.
CW: I am inspired by NFP moms’ interest, motivation, and passion to make their lives better for themselves and their children.
How does the work of Friends help women’s empowerment?
SO: So often clients talk about finally “being seen,” “more confident,” “more motivated than ever.” I’m inspired by stories like Camekia’s. Camekia is an NFP client who returned to school despite the adversity she had faced.
CW: The NFP mothers have pride in themselves for being better parents and supporting their families.
COVID-19 has set women back, according to one report by the National Women’s Law Center, 100% of the jobs lost in December were held by women. How have you seen COVID set women back and how can we recover?
SO: I have seen an enormous difference in how our son participates in raising his children vs my husband (and see it similarly among many couples we know). Yet despite this, the woman is still the backstop, organizer and educator, so yes all women have had an undue burden in this period—both stress and loss of jobs. I don’t know how we recover if corporations and public policy do not change. The child tax credit is an important start and continued pressure from women might help in the workplace but it might take quite a while.
CW: The incredible stress of poverty and child care are overwhelming. Recognition of that burden is being discussed, somewhat, in the media and in various levels of government. We, in the United States as opposed to Europe, are very far behind in the kind of support that families need to thrive. Day Care, nurseries, and community schools are very important.
Moving forward together
Breaking the cycle of poverty starts with empowering moms to advance their degrees, jumpstart their careers, and become the best moms they can be. We’re grateful to Susan and Christine for leading the way to a better future and recognizing Nurse-Family Partnership’s impact on first-time moms in NYC.
While Friends operates a set of important initiatives to assist clients and support nurses every day, we have the flexibility to respond to additional immediate needs. In 2020 this has been, of course, COVID-19. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we served as a crucial stopgap for NFP participants. Many of whom faced food insecurity, job loss, and furlough at greater rates due to the pandemic.
We supplied $90,000 worth of VISA gift cards to mothers suffering during the pandemic. We assisted over 400 clients who could not afford critical essentials for their babies (diapers, formula, cribs, etc.) as well as food and critical medications. Below, we share notes and stories from nurses and clients.
Having aged out of foster care, BL lived in a shelter for over 3 years. Just 3 months into obtaining her own apartment, she caught COVID-19. Because she was required to self-isolate, she lost her job and could not go to Public Assistance to complete a necessary recertification. She couldn’t afford basic needs for her baby or herself.
AB lost her job in January. To make matters worse, she experienced domestic violence and had to move out in February. Without the financial support that her partner had provided, she cannot pay for baby formula for her child.
“My husband and I have an 8-week-old baby girl. He was working but the employer closed and then he got very sick with COVID-19. It has been over a month and he is still showing symptoms and is out of work. I caught the virus two weeks later and our baby is now showing symptoms. We are terrified for her life. This has been one of the worst experiences of our lives, and it has been especially hard to cope with as new parents.”
“As undocumented individuals, we do not qualify for the stimulus check that the government has provided to many Americans. And without social security numbers, we face difficulty finding employment. We have filed our taxes since we were 18 years old, and still we will not receive any relief from the government. We have run out of money; our savings depleted during these last two months in quarantine. We need some help for food, on which we spend around $400.00 a month, and diapers which cost around $100.00 for a month’s supply. There are also our bills for Con-Edison ($150.00), phone ($163.00), cable and internet ($95.00), and of course, rent ($1875.00). We also need funds for my prenatal vitamins ($35.00). I must purchase them myself because the ones the doctor provided made me sick. I was not working the last two months of my pregnancy, but plan to go back to work when my baby turns six months old. D plans to go back as soon as there is an employment opportunity and the virus symptoms go away. Marisol, our nurse home-visitor, told us about the Heart’s Desire Emergency Response program and we would greatly appreciate it if you could help us in any way. Like many others, we are very uncertain about our future.”
“I want to say THANK YOU so much from the bottom of my heart for the gift card. It will go for essentials that I could not afford for my baby girl Joy. It is hard during this crazy time when my husband and I have both lost our jobs and when businesses are hiking up their prices. Words cannot describe my appreciation for this gift. It may not seem like a lot to some but to me this goes a long way and because of you my baby will be able to get the things she needs. Both my daughter and I are blessed to be a part of this AMAZING program.”
From nurse supervisors:
“The COVID-19 emergency has in no small way impacted our client’s lives, many have lost their jobs, while in some households, both clients and their significant others have been furloughed leaving already overwhelmed grandparents to provide financial support from limited resources. Thank you as you continue to provide avenues to our clients to meet emergency needs–including everything from diapers and food to medications and phone minutes–and your ongoing program to support their heart’s desires for better education and self-sufficiency. Our clients are overlooked by so many of the common social service programs.”
“You all are lifesavers! This pandemic has hit NYC really hard – our clients are experiencing delayed unemployment checks or stimulus payments, some clients are undocumented and can’t file for unemployment and most have no paid sick leave. Although there are food banks, and we certainly direct clients to them, they may be distant, have long lines, have limited supplies and are inaccessible to those who are sick.”
“I heard from a client yesterday who said that the emergency funds enabled her to buy lancets so she could test her blood sugar (she has diabetes). She normally makes money waiting tables and bartending. She is very resourceful, but I know that the extra money was not only critical for her health but relieved her budgetary stress.”
“One of my clients is 23 weeks pregnant, at risk for preterm labor, and will now be able to take an Uber to the hospital instead of walking. She had been advised not to walk as it triggers contractions, but until now she had no other transportation option. It’s a small mercy but it means a lot to our clients who are struggling right now.”