Hudson Guild Honors Contributions to the Chelsea Community |

Hudson Guild Honors Contributions to the Chelsea Community

The Community & Residents Protection Working Group (CRP) was given the Dorothy Epstein Community Service Award for its effective advocacy. L to R, CRP member Andra Mooney, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (who presented the award), and the CRP’s Pat Cooke, Phyllis Waisman, Dorothy Francoeur, and Pamela Wolff. | Photo courtesy Hudson Guild

BY REBECCA FIORE | In the waning days of 2017, as others were busy debating who would get an Oscar or Golden Globe nod, Hudson Guild got an early jump on awards season by recognizing outstanding examples of community service. Those honored at the 61st Annual Dr. Elliott Celebration were a group of Chelsea residents who exposed the illegal practices of landlords and developers, a young woman from The Bronx who found a new purpose in Chelsea, and a former child piano prodigy who provided access to the arts for seniors in the community.

Located at 441 W. 26th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.), Hudson Guild is a multi-service community agency founded by Dr. John Lovejoy Elliott, whose mission was to provide education, work opportunities, and the most basic necessities to all those in need (visit for more info).

Arthur H. Aufses III, president of the Board of Trustees at the Hudson Guild and the event’s keynote speaker, noted that when Dr. Elliott was creating the organization in 1895, there was “no public assistance, no public housing and barely any public education. He collected nickels and dimes, sometimes quarters, which was [worth] a lot more in those days, to buy milk for children and their mothers.”

Dr. Elliott provided vocational training classes and then later found jobs for the students he trained. He was in support of government-funded housing, culture programs, democratic participation, and access to affordable healthcare.

Much of the organization’s funding comes from the federal government, including a program that educates more than 140 three- and four-year-olds daily, which Aufses said is in danger of being cut off.

“Unfortunately not everyone these days agrees with our belief in the power of the government to do good,” he said. “In fact, at the federal level we are seeing a systemic effort to dismantle government and to deprive our citizens of the most basic necessities the government can provide, including health care, food, and social security.”

Recently, the junior board members raised enough money to provide winter coats to every child in the Early Childhood Education program.

“If the government turns its back on us, we will do what Dr. Elliott did, we will collect nickels, dimes, and quarters so we can provide food and clothing,” Aufses said. “There’s a little Dr. Elliott in all of us, or else we wouldn’t be here. There’s a lot of Dr. Elliott in the honorees, who show each of us we can change a life, each of us can make this community better. Do more than honor — follow their lead.”

The Community & Residents Protection Working Group (CRP) won the Dorothy Epstein Community Service Award for their effective tenant advocacy, including work to alert the city, elected officials, and the media about the illegal and unethical practice of landlords and developers who make false claims to obtain permits, endangering the lives of many in the process.

Landlords, who have claimed buildings were unoccupied for construction permits issued by the Department of Buildings (DOB), use these renovations as a form of harassment to drive out rent-regulated residents.

CRP member Pamela Wolff traced the group’s origins back to when Chelsea residents — galvanized, noted other members, by the credentials and efforts of Council of Chelsea Block Associations president Bill Borock — became aware of buildings being cleared out in the neighborhood, as the property values increase. When they reviewed the submitted files of the permits, displayed on the doors as construction was going on, they noted false claims that the buildings were vacant.

“The DOB’s whole motto is ‘Safety First,’ and they just keep approving and issuing permits,” Wolff said in an interview with Chelsea Now at the Dec. 20 Hudson Guild event. “It’s a felony [to lie on the permit forms].”

The issue, which occurs citywide, has been getting more attention because of the CRP’s efforts to expose this practice. By joining forces with local elected officials, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal’s office came up with the idea for a tenant advocate office, as part of the DOB staff — someone to be the liaison between tenants and the DOB.

“The bottom line is, elected officials are legislators. They write laws, but it’s the enforcement of the laws, by the responsible agency, that will keep us safe,” Wolff said. “It’s not our job to learn the law — it’s DOB’s job not to issue the permits. We want Commissioner [Rick] Chandler to make his New Year’s resolution that he will never issue another permit with felony false occupancy certifications again.”

Additionally, the CRP, at a presentation attended by a DOB representative, suggested an electronic link between the DOB’s own internal Property Profile Vacancy status with the submitted certifications regarding occupancy. That way, there is less confusion and fraud happening.

The CRP said their requests have not been met. The DOB said it has not received any communication from CRP, but “we welcome their input and look forward to reviewing it.”

“It has been more successful building-by-building, but it’s too damaging to have to fight building-by-building,” Wolff said.

New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried presented the award to the CRP, echoing that this way of developing, with no regard for tenants, is a threat to housing across the city.

“CRP has done extraordinary work in alerting the community and elected officials of the horrendous things landlords are doing to destroy affordable homes in this community and drive people out,” Gottfried said.

In addition to the CRP, Kimberly Mercado won the Youth Service Award for her role as a teacher’s aide at the Guild.

The Hudson Guild provided Mercado with an opportunity to turn her life around, she said. After a personal tragedy that involved losing both her parents, Mercado was left on her own, sometimes even sleeping in stairwells.

Karen Marbury, director of Early Childhood Education (left), presented the Youth Service Award to Kimberly Mercado. | Photo courtesy Hudson Guild

Mercado isn’t a Chelsea native. In fact, she still lives in the Bronx, but she attended Landmark High School (351 W. 18th St.), where she was recruited to work in the infant program.

“I’d never changed a Pamper a day in my life,” she said, thinking back on her first days at the Guild.

Chelsea opened its arms to her, she said, fostering a sense of community she has never had before.

“I never felt safe in my community, in my neighborhood. Coming to Chelsea is amazing. You see a neighborhood that actually gets along,” she said in an interview with Chelsea Now. “You can know someone and recognize them every day and that means everything to me.”

She said the Guild radically changed her whole idea of what education means. She always thought she was going to work in a coffee shop, recalling how her failing grades in high school made college seem out of reach.

The 20-year-old was promoted to a full-time teacher’s aide position in the Early Childhood Education program, and just finished her first semester at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

“Getting to know a classroom, and the kids, really opened my eyes to how important it is to instill education in their lives,” she said. “To show them what life is really about. Some kids come from homes that are rough. I definitely want to give back to a community for those kids who are having a hard time at home, being verbally or physically abused. I want to help the system to get better.”

Lastly, Sondra “Sunny” Bianca Landin was presented with the Senior Service Award for her work on the Ticket Club Committee at the Guild. Because of her efforts, the ticket club brings in about $10,000 in contributions each year in support of the Adult Services program.

The 87-year-old Penn South resident said she has always admired the Hudson Guild.

Sondra “Sunny” Bianca Landin accepted the Senior Service Award from executive director of the Hudson Guild Ken Jockers (left) and State Senator Brad Hoylman (right). | Photo courtesy Hudson Guild

“The enrichment, the enhancement, the pleasure they have brought to so many people,” she told Chelsea Now. “We try to contribute in our small way by getting theater, ball games, and concert tickets.”

Landin has always been a part of the arts, working as a concert pianist and recording artist when she was a child, she said it’s “in her blood.” At nine years old she performed Mozart for the New York Philharmonic. Later, she would appear as a soloist for the orchestra.

“I started when I was four at the piano. I started when I was 40 getting interested in theater,” she said, noting it is never too late to become involved. Regarding her award, Landin said, “Not even one inch of me said, ‘Well it’s about time.’ I really feel as if I’ve been well-respected and approved of. This is just a feather in my cap.”