Robin Bernstein Resigns as Head of Educational Alliance

Robin Bernstein, Educational Alliance.

There’s big news tonight from the Educational Alliance, one of the Lower East Side’s largest and oldest non-profit organizations. Robin Bernstein is resigning as president and CEO, after 25 years with the social service agency.  In a lengthy letter distributed earlier this evening, she wrote, “it is with bittersweet emotions I have decided that I will step down… at the end of this calendar year.”

It’s a particularly sensitive time in the history of the 125-year old organization; its flagship building on East Broadway is undergoing a multi- million dollar gut renovation.  But Bernstein said, “I feel that the time is right for the organization, and also for me, to forge ahead into new and exciting endeavors.”  Noting that $59 million has been raised for the project, she added that the Educational Alliance’s determination “allowed us to take on ambitious challenges even in the most difficult times.” 

At Educational Alliance Preschool, Michelle Sarna Focuses on Community Building

Michelle Sarna with children at the Educational Alliance’s preschool.

Recently we caught up with Michelle Sarna, the new head of the Educational Alliance Preschool, to see how things are going after her first few months working on the Lower East Side.  The historic social service organization is undergoing a major transition, in part due to the gut-renovation of its flagship building at 197 East Broadway.   At the preschool, change is already in the air.

Sarna, who has advanced degrees in early childhood education and psychology, came to the Educational Alliance in September with a diverse background in public and private schools, college campuses, mental health clinics and synagogues.  She told us the goal in the next couple of years is to raise the profile of the preschool, fully integrating it into the community center that will be a focal point of the newly refurbished building.

Whittaker Senior Center Begins Offering Kosher Breakfast & Lunch Next Week

Educational Alliance – Whittaker Center.

The Educational Alliance is putting the word out that starting this coming Monday they’ll be serving kosher breakfast and lunch at the Whittaker Senior Center. Meals will be served weekdays at 8:30 a.m. and noon, at 232 East Broadway.  There’s a suggested $1 donation for breakfast and a $1.50 at lunch.  The center is open to people over the age of 60. Members can take advantage of  preventative health and wellness classes, exercise programs, dance, arts and culture classes, and special events. Programming options will be expanded next fall when the Manny Cantor Community Center opens.


A Belated, Yet Festive, Halloween at P.S. 142

We stopped by P.S. 142 Friday afternoon, where Halloween may have come late for more than 100 kids but it was no less festive.  Hurricane Sandy, of course, foiled “trick-or-treating” on the Lower East Side.  At P.S. 142, on Attorney Street, costumes were locked away before the storm hit.  But Karina Lynch-Graham of the Educational Alliance, which runs the after school program, had a brainstorm: why not hold a post-Halloween celebration not only for the kids int he program but also for their siblings. Have a look at some of the photos from the big event, which included all sorts of fun and games.

Friday Morning Call for Volunteers, Donations

Volunteers at Henry Street Settlement are organizing supplies this morning.

We’ve received many inquiries from folks wanting to volunteer their time and donate money and supplies. Here are a few requests for help that we have gathered; send details of other efforts to and we will keep the list going.

  • The Educational Alliance has been visiting seniors door to door, delivering water, food and information and will be at it again today, including hot meals. They can use donations of the following items: bottled water, blankets, gloves, canned kosher soup,  AA, D and 9-volt batteries, flashlights, lanterns, battery-powered radios, baby wipes and Russian language newspapers.  Items should be dropped off at their office at 232 E. Broadway between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. today. More details about the effort from their newsletter. They are also accepting financial donations here.
  • The Henry Street Settlement will also be focusing on visiting home-bound seniors today and needs help unloading a large amount of supplies delivered by FEMA yesterday. Just show up at their headquarters, 265 Henry St. any time today. More details on their Facebook page.
  • The Occupy NYC-backed effort, LES Recovers, is publishing a running list of needs on its website. They are seeking volunteers to knock on doors to distribute supplies and information at the following locations and times: GOLES, 171 Ave B between 10th & 11th St. Friday & Saturday, noon-6 p.m.; CAAAV, 46 Hester St. Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Smith Apartments, 46 Madison St. Friday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Michelle Sarna Named Director of Educational Alliance Preschool

Michelle Sarna

The Educational Alliance has announced the appointment of Dr. Michelle Sarna as director of its preschool.   In a press release distributed yesterday, President & CEO Robin Bernstein said, “We are thrilled to have Michelle join our team at a pivotal time in our history.”  The Educational Alliance’s flagship building at 197 East Broadway is undergoing a $45 million “gut renovation.”  Bernstein added, “her experience, background and enthusiasm are a great fit for the Alliance now and in the not-too-distant future when we open our brand new Lower East Side community center (in the fall of 2013).”

Sarna has a background in early childhood education and child psychology. She holds an M.A. in Education and a Ph.D. in School Psychology from Fordham University; she recently completed a fellowship at the Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization at New York University School of Law. Sarna has worked in both public and private schools, in mental health clinics, on college campuses, and in synagogues. She has five young children of her own.  “I am excited to join the Educational Alliance and help expand on the agency’s work to engage families from diverse backgrounds in our community,” Sarna said.

Click here for more information about the Educational Alliance’s preschool.

Kids Wage Art Battles at P.S. 142

Two youngsters art battle it out in P.S. 142’s auditorium.

The art world can be competitive, as the elementary school students in the Educational Alliance’s summer program at P.S. 142 will tell you. Today, about a dozen 4th-6th graders went head to head in an Art Battle tournament, the culmination of a visual arts project that began six weeks ago. In each round, two competitors were given five minutes to create a painting, and then their peers voted for whichever piece they judged better. Winners continued to battle on in the next round, vying for a chance to win a fitting prize: a set of art supplies.

Educational Alliance Holds Groundbreaking Ceremony

Earlier today, neighborhood dignitaries took part in a “groundbreaking” event at the Educational Alliance, which has just begun a $45 million gut renovation of its flagship building at 197 East Broadway.  Pictured above: (L-R) State Senator Daniel Squadron, Judy Rapfogel (Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s chief of staff), Richard Cantor (chair of the renovation capital project), Educational Alliance President & CEO Robin Bernstein, Board Chair Russell Makowsky and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney.  You’re looking at the brick breaking ceremony that concluded the day’s events. More to come later this week.


Art Students Drill Educational Alliance CEO on Renovation Plans

Since the summer, we have been following developments at the Educational Alliance art school, where students are up-in-arms about the historic Lower East Side institution’s renovation plans.  Tonight, some of those students gathered in the rain for a brief protest in front of the Educational Alliance’s headquarters, at 197 East Broadway.  They then proceeded up to the 5th floor studios, where the organization’s CEO, Robin Bernstein, fielded questions from 50-60 angry students.

More on Ed. Alliance’s Revamp, Art School Changes

Architectural rendering; the Educational Alliance's new community room.

Last month, the Educational Alliance announced it planned a top-to-bottom, multi-million dollar renovation of its flagship building at 197 East Broadway.   Today we have the first interview with Robin Bernstein, the organization’s longtime president and CEO, about the big project.

Now hanging in the lobby of the 122 year old building, there are several large blow-up drawings (including the one you see above) showing what the facility will look like when it’s completed in a couple of years. It’s an exciting moment for the Educational Alliance and for the community. There’s no doubt a face lift is long overdue.

But at the same time, the plans are already creating some controversy, especially among students and teachers of the agency’s venerable art school.  During our conversation, Bernstein shared new details about the project, addressed the concerns and talked about the thinking behind the overhaul, which has been in-the-works for several years.

Construction Zone: Educational Alliance

It looks like the Educational Alliance isn’t wasting any time getting started with the sweeping renovation project we reported about last week. Today a construction fence has gone up in front of the organization’s headquarters at 197 East Broadway.


Ed. Alliance Announces Renovation of Main Building

Educational Alliance, 197 East Broadway.

A big announcement from the Educational Alliance last night: the long awaited renovation of their historic building at 197 East Broadway is about to begin. The “gut renovation” is a 22-month project and will include “revitalized classrooms and new art studios, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and modern multi-purpose space” and will allow the institution to expand programming for all ages.

In a statement, Robin Bernstein, president and CEO, said:

“This is truly an exciting moment in the history of the Educational Alliance… We are thrilled about the potential of this renovation to create a reinvigorated space to better serve our diverse community. The renovated building will offer brand new facilities that match the high quality of our programming, and will help create a true sense of community among all of our neighbors.”

According to the statement, the renovation and details about temporary program locations will be confirmed in early October. The Fall semesters of the Art School, the Parenting Center and our Early Childhood education programs (Early Head Start, Head Start, the Preschool and Child Care) will not be affected by the renovation.

197 East Broadway has been the Educational Alliance’s home on the Lower East Side for 122 years. Never before has the organization embarked on a large scale building renovation of this magnitude.

More to come…


Educational Alliance Job Fair August 8th

The Educational Alliance is hosting a job fair August 8th for anyone interested in working in their youth development programs on the Lower East Side.

They’re looking for “professionals with expertise in teaching the arts (photography, drama, set design, dance instruction, music instruction, arts & crafts instruction) and health & wellness (martial arts, gymnastics/tumbling).”  They’re also looking for “youth mentors (group leaders) who will assist students with homework, ensure a safe learning environment and assist in the facilitation of youth development activities.”

Applicants need to have a minimum of two years experience working with children or teens in an after-school, day school, summer camp, or day care environment – and must be available 2:30pm – 6:00pm, Monday through Friday.
More information and applications (which must be filled out in advance) can be found on the Educational Alliance’s web site.


Educational Alliance Launches New Blog

We wanted to mention that our friends at the Educational Alliance recently launched a new neighborhood blog. It’s called Building Blocks and features a variety of stories about the people and programs that make up one of the Lower Side’s oldest and largest community organizations.  Quite a few neighborhood non-profits have been focusing on social media in the past couple of years. The Educational Alliance has been particularly active on twitter and Facebook. In recent months, we’ve been talking with quite a few community organizations about their plans to do expand their reach online. It’s great to see Edgies launching this new venture! Check it out.

Op/Ed: Saving After School Programs Critical to LES Kids

Robin Bernstein, Educational Alliance.

The following op/ed was submitted by Robin Bernstein, president and CEO of The Educational Alliance:

This year, Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Budget will leave 16,000 kids without after school programs, due to an alarming $23.4 million cut to maintain these crucial programs (known as Out of School Time or OST programs). If this measure is enacted in the budget to be adopted later this month, 150 programs citywide would close, depriving working class families of what has proven to be an essential support. This massive cut will impact numerous programs on the Lower East Side and would leave thousands of our youth without a safe place to go after school, and without an outlet for academic support, personal development and creativity – and without alternatives to the destructive activities such as gang violence and teen pregnancy.

As the President & CEO of the Educational Alliance, a community-based nonprofit organization here on the Lower East Side, I have seen first-hand the great impact that these vital programs have on our youth. Every day, 1,400 low-income youth learn and grow in our after school programs. Without restoration of these critical funds, we will need to close 5 out of our 8 programs and significantly reduce the number of youth served in the rest of the programs. Close to 900 kids will have nowhere to go after school and many of their parents will be compelled to quit their jobs to ensure their kids are supervised after school. Even furthermore, 90 people from our agency alone would lose their jobs.