When I heard about the opening for the role of Preschool Director at the 14th Street Y and saw how the preschool is in the middle of this very vibrant and lively community center that serves the Lower East Side, I thought, “I want to put my hat in the ring and see if I can get a job working here!” Before coming to the 14th Street Y, I worked at a community center program at Montclair State University for 6.5 years. Even though we were part of this bigger community, we were on the edge of campus and we hardly ever saw anybody coming through. That sense of community was really important to me and I felt like it was unfulfilled.
I find that community here at the 14th Street Y. Part of the community is just walking through the door and being greeted by Denise, who was the security guard at the time. She was a very big part, for me, of being welcomed here and feeling like I was a part of things. We take our preschool kids swimming twice a week. One day, while the children were waiting for the elevator, they were singing their swim song. Denise has a delightful voice and loves singing, so she started singing as well. She started a call and response, singing and dancing with the children as they were singing and dancing along with her. To have people – whether they are security guards, teachers, or directors – who see every encounter as magical, is part of what makes this such a special place.
Within the first 3-4 weeks of working here, several people asked me out to lunch, and everyone just made me feel like I belonged. People are also welcoming like that to the families that come through the doors to be part of our preschool. Folks come here for so many different reasons. What I’ve discovered is that people usually come to the 14th Street Y with one agenda – it might be going to the gym, or it might be finding a quality preschool for their children – but as they become part of these activities, they discover that this is a special place: a place of the community and for the community.
A lot of what makes them stay and continue is the specialness of the connections they build with other members and the sense of community that develops. We have events with children who have graduated from our preschool and come back because this place still has meaning to them – and that’s for someone who is five years old. We have parents in our program who came to the 14Y as young children for swim programs! They still have a special connection to this place and want to share that with their children so they have that as part of their memory of this neighborhood. For those of us that are 25, or 50, or 75, that special sauce of this space grows on us. We want to continue our relationships here, with the people that come through the doors and are part of our classes.
Finding out about all of the art that happens in this building, that was also a major attraction for me. I think seeing all of the artists working here is what makes this center so special. Seeing the collaboration between LABA and our preschool is a very exciting moment. It’s important to me to help children see that they can be collaborators, along with understanding how art happens.
Jewish sensibilities are another important thread that is part of the fabric of our program. We see it on Fridays when children are celebrating Shabbat. One of our classrooms bakes challah every Friday together. The activity of making three strands of dough into beautiful bread on a weekly basis, creating this ritual – and for them, that is Shabbat. During the holiday of Sukkot, the children were so excited to think about different ways a sukkah could be constructed. Even when a holiday is over, the investigation continues. That is the real testament that we’re on the right track: if children want to understand and explore something, even after the moment in the calendar is over. That’s exciting for us to see.
Portraits of the 14th Street Y is a photography project by Bridget Badore that tells the stories behind the many faces of the 14th Street Y community, including members, staff, teachers, trainers, artists, caregivers, families, and local business owners. Each year, the unique stories of more than 20,000 New Yorkers is woven into the fabric that makes the 14th Street Y a Downtown home for all.
We’re also honoring the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah, which in Judaism is simply an act of justice and righteousness–the act of giving back to our community and those in need because it is the right thing to do.
Your generous support helps us provide programs at reduced rates to those in need. No matter what holiday you celebrate, we hope you’ll join us in the spirit of giving this year to help us keep our doors open to everyone in our beloved Downtown community.