Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson celebrated and encouraged scholars today at the Readying Emerging Leaders in Supportive Housing (RELISH) Program graduation ceremony held at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.
“My heart is full this morning because I am so happy to be here with you,” Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom told the graduates. “I am going to try to give you some wisdom, but what I am going to take is the energy, and the hope, and the inspiration that you are giving me as I go through my day… Being ready and prepared with the tools that you have — I am so proud of you. I feel like New York City is in good hands because of the work that you are doing.”
“The RELISH program, created for and by Black leaders in this field, has equipped all of you to excel as leaders in organizations where we know the workforce often does not mirror the communities in which we serve,” Borough President Gibson said. “Many of us are firsts in our fields – as leaders, as advocates, as role models. But while you may be the first, you should not be the last. You have been instrumental — and will be — in dismantling systemic racism and removing all the barriers to provide supportive housing for our neediest families.”
The 24-week RELISH certificate and mentorship program was created in 2022 by the Racial Equity in Supportive Housing Workgroup (RESH) – a volunteer affinity group made up of Black leaders at half a dozen nonprofit organizations. RESH formed in 2020 to design and implement tangible solutions to address racial inequities in the supportive housing sector.
Close to 70 percent of New York City’s homeless population is Black, and 80 percent of the workers providing care for that population are women of color. But Black individuals are underrepresented in the leadership ranks of the organizations that provide those services. RESH and RELISH aim to change that.
RELISH provides Black emerging leaders in nonprofit homeless and housing organizations with the management, leadership, and networking skills necessary for upward mobility. The program includes bi-weekly seminars and mentorship, giving scholars the management, leadership, and networking skills necessary to advance in their chosen fields.
“We know that the pathways for economic opportunity and mobility for Black and brown and Latin-A, and indigenous people are really inaccessible a lot of the time,” said Pascale Leone, Executive Director of The Supportive Housing Network of New York (The Network). “That is why we need programs like RELISH, equipping Black leaders with management and leadership skills, and with the networks necessary to really address some of the systemic barriers that serve as occupational segregation.”
Last year, 28 of 31 RELISH applicants — all sponsored by their respective employers — successfully completed this unique and important program. The results are already being felt, with six graduating scholars reporting promotions and salary increases ranging from $3,000 to $18,000 a year; several participants were promoted to vice president-level positions.
In its second year, the RELISH applicant pool grew to 50, of which 31 participants from 20 different organizations were admitted. As in the first cohort, each participant was paired with a mentor from one of 22 different agencies — up from 19 agencies in 2022.
“I have a lot of the skills that can let me get the job and go up against people going for the same position, so, humbly speaking, why not me?” said graduate Jonathan Castro, Senior Director of Jericho Project’s Veteran & Young Adult Supportive Housing Program and Horticulture Therapy Program. “What I learned was fundamental, and without RELISH I would not have been able to swallow this truth: It is not about what you know, it is about who you know; it is about the network that you build that provides a connection.”
“I am so happy to be among this group of learners and leaders,” said graduate Renee Blackwell, Program Director for the Williamsbridge Gardens Supportive Housing Program. “Meeting my colleagues in this industry, learning from voices in the field and the educators here at Hunter, I feel that I am armed with the tools that I need to be a change agent.”
About the Supportive Housing Network of New York
The Supportive Housing Network of New York is a nonprofit membership organization with offices in New York City and Albany. The Network represents over 200 nonprofits that develop and operate supportive housing. As the only supportive housing membership organization in the state, the Network serves as a voice for the provider community, which has created the largest, best-managed and most innovative supportive housing stock in the nation.
The Network, established in 1988, continues to expand alongside the rapid growth of supportive housing. It now includes almost every supportive housing provider in New York. It also includes over 80 affiliate and corporate partners. Thanks in part to the Network’s advocacy efforts, New York is now home to over 52,000 units of supportive housing.
To learn more, please visit here.