Thank You for an Amazing 16 Years!

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Hello CVH Extended Family,

After almost 16 years at Community Voices Heard (CVH), I have decided that it’s time to pass the torch and allow for new leadership at the organization….and a new chapter in my own life as well. 

I am thrilled about the Board’s selection of Afua Atta-Mensah as CVH’s new Executive Director.  She has been a tremendous asset to the organization over the years in her work as an ally and on the Board of Directors.  She knows and loves CVH as much as the rest of us and I cannot think of a more capable woman to take over my role at CVH.  I am thrilled to be able to welcome a qualified and talented woman of color to the role, and I know that CVH founder Gail Aska is looking down from heaven proud of our transition and growth.

While it will be challenging for me step aside - given how deeply I am invested in CVH and how much CVH is a part of me - I am also excited about the new energy and possibilities that a shift in leadership can provide for CVH.  The organization is in a great position for a transition right now - with strong leaders, an invested Board, an impressive staff, great partners, and solid finances - and I feel confident in what the future holds.  With the terrific team that is in place, I know that CVH will continue to grow stronger and more powerful in this next phase!

I am immensely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together during my time at Community Voices Heard:

  • Becoming a Multi-Issue Organization: After our 2004 strategic planning process, we moved beyond our welfare organizing origin to also take on issues around good jobs & access to them, truly affordable low-income housing, participatory democracy, and sustainable & resilient communities.
  • Expanding Across the State: In addition to becoming multi-issue, we also evolved beyond New York City to be multi-chapter.  We now have countywide organizing projects in Westchester, Orange, and Dutchess counties (and new activity budding up in Rockland!) and offices in Yonkers, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie.
  • Building Black & Brown Unity: Our membership has been expanding recently to include a strong immigrant base in the Hudson Valley.  We are getting back to our roots as a bi-lingual, multi-cultural organization that brings together African-Americans and Latino/as in a powerful force for change….and are preparing to embrace even more constituencies and languages in the future.
  • Producing Innovative Grassroots-Driven Research: CVH has produced numerous well-respected reports that lifted up new voices and perspectives on welfare programs, workforce programs, public housing, and community development.
  • Establishing an Affiliated 501(c)4: In 2010, CVH Power Inc. was incorporated as an affiliated 501(c)4 allowing for more powerful direct work around legislative issues and electoral campaigns.
  • Ending Unpaid WEP in NYC: Our signature campaign to end unpaid work mandates on welfare recipients is almost complete.  Only a few hundred WEP slots remain in NYC - down from 40,000 at the peak - and these, too, are set to be phased out by year-end.
  • Solidifying the Largest Public Sector Jobs Program in the Country: The Parks Opportunity Program (POP) that we won back in 2001 with DC37 has remained in place since, offering paid Transitional Job opportunities for nearly 3,000 welfare recipients annually.  There is also now a commitment to phase in pay for these workers to $15/ hourly, and to expand it to new agencies this year.
  • Emerging as a Public Housing Powerhouse: Our public housing organizing in NYC has not only been successful in bringing millions of dollars into NYCHA to help preserve and improve this critical housing stock, but CVH is also now seen as one of the premiere voices for public housing in the City and State.
  • Launching Participatory Budgeting in NYC: Starting out with 4 Council Members and $4 million, CVH helped to kick-start a new way of governing and giving power to people with Participatory Budgeting NYC (real money, real projects real decisions).  Now, only 6 cycles later, there are 31 participating council districts wherein people decide on how to spend upwards of $35 million.
  • Rethinking Governance & Planning: In addition to Participatory Budgeting, we recently chartered new territory in partnering with elected official allies to produce the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan and advocate for bottom-up participatory planning as opposed to traditional top-down planning.  We’re setting a new standard in NYC.
  • Embracing Immigrant Justice: CVH is excited about our new efforts to support and build around the the fight for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.  While this righteous push was thwarted some years ago, we’re convinced that our growing immigrant base in the Hudson Valley is going to be at the lead of securing this victory in the near future.

There is definitely a lot to be proud of...and still so much more to do.  Thankfully, CVH has never been about one person.  It’s about a vision and a collective, and there is an amazing community of people that are part of CVH that will continue moving this work forward.

I thank you all for allowing me to be a part of the CVH family over these past 16 years, and for continuing your commitment to carrying forth CVH’s vision and leadership moving forward.

With tremendous love, respect and solidarity,

Sondra

P.S.  I’ll continue in my role at CVH through August.  Please stop by and visit before I move on!  After that, you can reach me via my personal email at sondragayle@gmail.com.