We have come to the end of our 25th anniversary year. There were no big parties or gatherings but I am so pleased to say the LIFE Center never ceased to be of service to our community here in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. We stayed true to our mission.
Learning Labs ended on a high-note. We were able to have our traditional end of school barbecue, though families weren’t invited this year. The kids were able to play and enjoy their friends in the park and later enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs and other snacks A few of our ‘graduates’ even stopped by to say hello. We had the opportunity to see the parents when they arrived to pick up their children and many stayed on to enjoy the park. We have been enrolling for next school year and I am happy to say we are at full capacity.
Summer Fun is in full swing. This year 60 children are enjoying swimming, trips, sports and other activities. Safety precautions must still be followed but this summer is much more relaxed. Trips and activities will provide not only learning opportunities but also provide social and emotional support for the children who are still struggling from the traumatic changes to their lives this past year.
As life slowly returns to normal please remember to stay safe!
Like many charitable organizations in the rivertowns, The Thursday Club typically relies on a spring gala, replete with dinner, dancing and both a silent and live auction, to raise money that is then donated to a local cause deemed worthy during the previous year. And like many, the group this year, its 100th anniversary, was forced to forego the fun and do its fundraising by mail.
Cautiously optimistic that they could raise maybe $30,000, the ladies of the Thursday Club astonished even themselves by raising $82,000.
The recipient of this year’s largesse is Sleepy Hollow’s RSHM LIFE Center and its founder and driving force, Sister Susan Gardella. In her letter to Sister Susan explaining the club’s choice of recipient, Thursday Club president Cathy Hansen of Irvington wrote:
“Members were enthusiastic about the LIFE Center’s commitment to helping their students navigate the new world of online learning and working with them to ensure they did not fall behind during a time of great stress and upheaval. The fact that the LIFE Center also consistently responds to needs of a whole family – distributing food and meals during the pandemic, arranging vaccine appointments, helping families figure out how to pay for rent and other necessities – makes the LIFE Center shine as a beacon of hope and caring.”
During the first months of the pandemic, the LIFE Center distributed 12,000 prepared meals and almost 15,000 pounds of groceries and produce to local families. In addition to launching a summer program for 37 children, the Center also started Learning Labs to support remote learning for grade school children. When school resumed full-time and in-person the LIFE Center pivoted once again and reconfigured their building space in order to accommodate all 72 of their students in the after-school program.
Since its founding in 1921, the Thursday Club has raised and donated over $2.6 million to area non-profits. The RSHM LIFE Center was also the recipient in 2016
It’s hard to believe that we will soon pass the one year mark of living through the Covid Pandemic. So many lives lost, so many lives changed. Here at the LIFE Center we are counting our blessings as we look back over the year.
We started with food distributions last March, moved into Summer Camp in July, and then to Learning Labs in September. Our Legal Office has remained open, working remotely, throughout the year. The ability to provide much needed food assistance through this year would not have been possible without the support of generous neighbors and our local Rotary Club.
The LIFE Center has remained open and staffed for 48 out of the last 52 weeks providing support for the people of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. Committed to remaining true to our mission to respond to people in need, we patiently await the next challenge as we move forward.
When the LIFE Center was founded 25 years ago our goal was to be of service to the community. These past 10 months have been a challenge we never could have imagined. The heroic efforts of our staff have enabled us to continue the LIFE Center mission to reach out to those in need.
The graph below will show you some of the things that have been accomplished so far.
August is usually down time here at the LIFE Center. Staff are on vacation and we have painting and repair work done. This year included much more. Making plans to continue our ‘Covid Pivot’ were in full swing. There were meetings with school administrators, local organizations, and county officials. All had one thing in mind, how can we reopen programs to help children get back to school and families get back to a more normal life.
It took a great deal of planning but we were able to open in September. Our After School Program was converted into innovative ‘Learning Labs’. The school district adopted a hybrid learning schedule consisting of in-person and on-line. Children would be split into two cohorts. The Learning Labs were started to help parents who cannot work from home and those who may not feel they have the ability to help their children with on-line learning. Children are here working in a classroom setting with staff who can assist with technical and learning issues. All CDC and State guidelines for safety are followed. The Learning Labs have the added advantage of allowing the children to remain in a classroom setting with their peers all week thus reducing the stress on-line learning has caused many children.
Since the children are on site for the entire school day plus the normal After School hours several programs needed to be temporarily paused; Parents & Tots, ESL, and Friday Night Fever. These program will resume when regular school schedules are back in place and some of the Covid distancing restrictions are lifted
July is SummerFun time here at the LIFE Center. Our 5 week camp is filled with trips to educational and fun spots in the tri-state area, swimming at Mariandale Center, games, sports and laughing children.
The Covid Pandemic put an end to our usual plans. We didn’t know if we could have a summer program and we anxiously awaited the updated CDC guidelines. Parents were hoping to begin working again, they were slowly getting calls about jobs but they needed a safe place for their children to spend the days. They also knew their children missed seeing their friends.
Finally the word came, summer programs could open if they followed strict guidelines. There would be smaller numbers, no trips, swimming was out and all would need to wear masks throughout the day. We studied the protocols for cleaning and safety we would need to follow and planned our next steps.
SummerFun 2020 was a great success. Everyone stayed safe and healthy and most importantly, everyone had fun!
Anniversary plans make way for providing food for families affected by shutdowns.
Though the New York State PAUSE put an end to large celebrations, Sleepy Hollow’s RSHM LIFE Center marked their 25th Anniversary on a scale no one could have imagined. Since March 26, over 12,000 meals were distributed and delivered to vulnerable families, along with 14,000 pounds of groceries and fresh produce, from the organization’s headquarters on Beekman Avenue.
The LIFE Center has been a trusted source of accurate information and assistance for low-income, immigrants since 1995, keeping them abreast of the changing immigration landscape and protecting the stability of families, focusing on the learning needs of the entire family. When New York State stay-at-home directives kept many parents from their place of employment, the LIFE Center switched gears and used their community connections to provide Life Center and other local families in need a resource for nutritious food.
Meals and produce boxes were provided by local restaurants including; J.P. Doyle’s, Tarry Tavern, Horsefeathers, Bridgeview Tavern, Grass Roots Kitchen, The Flavor Vault, Stone Barns Center, RiverMarket, Capri Pizza, Sunset Cove and Los Andes Bakery and funded by donations, with the assistance of the Rotary Club of the Tarrytowns.
“The Life Center staff has made a Herculean effort since March to make sure those hit hardest by this pandemic had food for their families, a task that is especially amazing considering the many new processes put in place, given providing food has not been the LIFE Center’s primary mission,” said Sleepy Hollow Village Trustee Rachelle Gebler. “This most recent service to the community crowns a 25 year span of providing a safe place for families and children to learn and grow and ultimately make better lives for themselves.”
Volunteers, staff and clients of RSHM LIFE Center managed an anniversary surprise for Executive Director Sr. Susan Gardella, inviting the LIFE Center community to send video greetings. Compiled by LIFE Center Assistant Director Andrea Carson, the video gave clients the opportunity to show their appreciation for the organization and staff.
In the video, Mrs. Rodriguez summarized the feelings of many of the LIFE Center families, “Thank you for opening your doors for me and my family when we first came from our country, trying to accomplish the American Dream. Because you were there for us, things were easier. Today I feel proud of my children for all of their accomplishments, but we didn’t do it alone. We did it because you were in our lives making things possible.” The video is available on the LIFE Center Facebook page.
The LIFE Center kicks off it’s Summer Fun Program this week, offering families the opportunity for safe, structured and supervised care for their children so parents can return to work. Instructors are modifying games and activities to build in distancing as well as other accommodations to meet New York State guidelines. Space week and Shark week will be among the themes for games, crafts and STEM activities for children in grades K – 5. Because months of online learning took its toll on academic achievement and English language fluency for many students, Summer Fun will have an enhanced focus on learning while still providing the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and renewing friendships safely.
“We had planned to gather our grant funders, donors, alumni, families, staff and volunteers to celebrate together on The LIFE Center’s 25th Anniversary June 5th,” explained Sr. Susan, who was one of the founding members of the organization in 1995 and has been Executive Director since 2001. “It is fitting that the activities of the day, instead, are geared to meet the current needs of our families, and focus on planning for summer camp to provide our children with structure, academic support, and fun.”
The LIFE Center relies on private funding to provide services to more than 1,100 people per year.
The first months of 2020 filled with excitement and promise.
As we move towards our 25th anniversary we are making plans for celebrations to mark the milestone. We are planning parties with reunions of past students, families and staff. We also think it is time to freshen up our logo and website and so the work on all of these things begins.
We give thanks for all that has been and look forward to many more years of service to the people of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.
From the Director
When we opened the LIFE Center it was with the hope we could be of service to the women and children of the community who were living in the shadows. The people with limited resources but a dream that their lives and especially the lives of their children could be better.
Twenty years have gone by since the doors of the LIFE Center first opened. It’s hard to believe but whenever one of our first ‘students’ stops in to say hello the reality hits. As we begin each new day we have so much to be grateful for. We continue to build upon the things that have worked well and we look for new ways to be of service.
The holiday season is so busy here. We have many special projects but all regular programming continues. It’s become quite a balancing act but our wonderful staff and faithful volunteers make it all seem easy.
We started by providing the makings of a festive dinner for 100 families, 90 of them thanks to a group called ‘Giving Thanksgiving’. Local high school students collect funds and put together packages for 90 families and deliver them right to our doorstep. This was the 9th year of the program which has been passed down from year to year. It’s a great help to us. The rest of the families were taken care of through donations of supermarket gift certificates.
Christmas is right behind and that means organizing our Holiday Boutique. The Boutique gives parents the opportunity and dignity of choosing and ‘buying’ gifts for their children. Nothing cost more than $5, most things are $1, and proceeds go directly to our children’s programs. For those who have had an especially hard year they are added to the ‘Adopt-a-Family’ list. We ask them to come up with a ‘Christmas Wish List’ and as best as we can those wishes are granted. Twenty families were ‘adopted’ this year.
Santa and his Elf came to visit all of the children’s programs. Since I know him personally he is able to take time out from his busy schedule to drop by and hear the children’s requests. He also reminds them that they must be good throughout the year.