Five years ago, Bishop Mitchell Taylor had a vision that many people thought was impossibly audacious. Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City presided over the realization of that dream.
Bishop Taylor established East River Development Alliance (ERDA) with the dream to transform the nation’s largest public housing communities in Long Island City from neighborhoods of poverty and despair to centers of promise, opportunity, and economic mobility. Bishop purposefully designed a package of programs to empower residents to find jobs, manage their finances, go to college, and strengthen their neighborhoods.
And today, at ERDA, just one subway stop from midtown Manhattan, we celebrated the achievement of the most audacious challenge of all: the opening of the ERDA Federal Credit Union that Bishop had envisioned as a key element of the model. The credit union was a challenge that most would consider utterly undoable, especially after the fall of 2008. Just to let you know how extraordinary this is, ERDA is one of only two new federal charters granted in 2009.
I say “we” because I serve on the board. ERDA and I found each other when I consulted to the board (through United Way of New York City) four years ago, then transitioned to volunteer, and ultimately to board member. Yes, ERDA is my passion!
At today’s joyous Credit Union opening, where we filled the street in front of the ERDA FCU storefront in spite of the rain, Bishop Taylor announced that “The establishment of this financial cooperative, owned by residents, makes resident empowerment and ownership real.” To loud cheers, Bishop Taylor added that “The opening of the ERDA FCU marks the next phase of ERDA’s work for change, and presents a model for every public housing neighborhood in New York City.”
ERDA’s partnerships with community organizers, tenant leaders, politicians, clergy, foundations, philanthropists, and corporations have been vital to the organization’s success. And Bishop’s relationships in the community are key to ERDA’s effectiveness. In the more than dozen times that I have walked through Queensbridge Houses with Bishop to introduce prospective board members or funders to the neighborhood, it’s a long, slow walk because of all the people who stop to talk with Bishop. People of all ages, including residents, police officers, tenant leaders, merchants, and fellow clergy. And when we return to the ERDA building where we hold our programs, it’s bursting with workshops and clients, whether it’s day, evening, or weekend.
An effective board has been essential. In the summer of 2007, we established the initial board structure and practices and recruited a number of board members, many of whom comprise a strong core today. We continue to enhance governing practices and also to identify and recruit outstanding new members, such as Bonnie Potter, President of The Lester Fund, just two months ago. My fellow board members, led by Board Chair Jeremy Selman, Development Director, GFI Capital, have nearly perfect attendance at board meetings, hosted by Board Secretary Nick Williams, Partner, Clifford Chance. Every board member participates in contributing and raising funds and at a steadily upward rate; new and very successful fundraisers and events are organized by Development Chair Courtney Plummer, Partner, Lehmann Maupin Gallery. Board meetings are substantive; the last one included a presentation and discussion with James Riccio, Director, Low-Wage Workers and Communities Policy Area, MDRC, who conducted original research for ERDA program development.
An expert and dedicated team truly powers an organization. As ERDA has grown, Bishop built his senior leadership by inviting ERDA board member Jeremy Reiss, then at the Community Service Society of New York, to serve as ERDA’s Vice President for Strategy, Organizing, and External Relations, as well as Barbara Zerzan to serve as V.P. of Programs. Both Reiss and Zerzan have deep backgrounds in anti-poverty, economic mobility, and workforce development. Carmen Simon is CEO of the Credit Union. And the ERDA staff is quality through and through.
Demonstrating their support for the ERDA Federal Credit Union, today’s speakers included Wall Street veteran and New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea; corporate funder and local employer Bill Taylor, Senior Vice President, Eastern U.S. Power, TransCanada; and leading government officials. Among ERDA’s many supporters, to name just a few, are the Robin Hood Foundation, United Way of New York, Consortium for Workers Education, New York City Council, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Clifford Chance, Bank of America, and New York Foundation.
ERDA shows how far a social enterprise can go when the leader truly understands the community he serves, has an audacious vision, and builds the partnerships, team, and support to achieve almost anything.
John Rhea, Chairman, New York City Housing Authority; Alice Korngold; Bishop Mitchell Taylor, Founder and President, ERDA