Carver Center CEO Anne Bradner
BY JANICE LLANES FABRY
The Carver Center has been serving Port Chester families since 1943 and the last year and a half was no different. Carver never closed its doors during the pandemic and its food pantry proved to be more vital than ever when a population that typically suffers from food insecurity became increasingly vulnerable.
“It has been a total privilege to do the work we’ve been doing this whole year,” said Chief Executive Officer Anne Bradner. “We wanted to be on the front lines, and we figured out how to build community despite the pandemic.”
A virtual fundraising event, “Here When Needed Most”, will be held on May 1 at 5:30 to ensure this essential support continues. It will honor lifetime board member John Condon and celebrate those supporters who help Carver fulfill its mission to serve, educate, and empower. The Zoom presentation will offer an overview of the Center’s program, as well as sponsorships and other donation opportunities.
“When the community stepped up last year, it meant the world and enabled us to serve the residents who really needed it,” said Bradner. “This virtual benefit is critical for us to continue to do the work we are doing.”
Carver responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by reinventing its modus operandi. Bradner, along with a skeletal crew of six or seven, remained at the Center the entire time to make the most pressing needs of the community were met. As she explained, it required “tremendous creativity, new management protocols, infrastructure changes, and lots of pivoting.”
Although the Center had to close its indoor self-choice market, it continued distributing pre-packaged food, meals, and other essentials from the playground behind the building. When safety protocols allowed, they brought the kitchen staff back and Carver was able to distribute healthy meals to Port Chester School District children through the Summer Food Service Program. In addition, it continued providing food for Head Start programs in preschool daycare facilities throughout the county.
Carver went from feeding 350 families to 1,400 families per month. As a result, it began collaborating with community partners to provide food and supplies, including Meals on Main Street by Caritas, Feeding Westchester, 914 Cares, St. Francis A.M.E. Zion Church, the Salvation Army, and the Town of Rye.
“The community is so lovely and so grateful. When a parent says, ‘Thank you, my child will eat today’ it makes our efforts so worthwhile,” admitted Bradner.
Additionally, establishing a much-needed virtual presence became imperative. Carver collaborated with STEM Alliance of Larchmont and Mamaroneck, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing K-12 STEM education and enrichment initiatives.
“Last spring, we knew our families were struggling. Schools were closed, families were home, and parents were losing their jobs,” explained Bradner. “The whole notion of digital equity became apparent and STEM Alliance helped us fill that void.”
As far as Carver Center’s heralded afterschool programs, Senior Director of School-Aged Children’s Programming Matt Casey and CAP JFK Program Director Fallen Jean-Baptiste created a successful virtual alternative. They reached out to the families most in need and devised a pilot program with 45 elementary school kids in third, fourth, and fifth grades. Volunteer facilitators for on-line presentations were acquired through Interns4Good, the brainchild of Rye Country Day senior Ellie Zimmerman.
“Matt and Fallen replicated the rhythm of the afterschool program in a virtual environment that turned out to be quite a learning experience for the kids, complete with dance breaks, virtual field trips, and movie nights. The kids loved it,” remarked Bradner.
The Teen Center was also on deck all year via Zoom as Bradner recognized the urgency of remaining in touch with this population. Teen Program Director Kelly Gordon-Minott, Teen Center Manager Tyler James, and STEAM Coordinator Emilio Vargas have been providing social-emotional, as well as academic support. Zoom Carver Scholars, too, continued helping those kids with aspirations of attending college navigate high school and prepare for the SAT.
A myriad of additional services, such as Carver’s citizenship class, have continued. Coordinator Fabiola Montoya shepherds immigrants interested in becoming American citizens through the naturalization process, providing access to transportation and immigration lawyers.
The aquatics program will make a splash when it resumes this summer. The pool is already open to the Port Chester High School swim team and Badger swim clubs.
“We are taking all we’ve learned this past year and applying it going forward, building a bridge to the future,” said Bradner. “Carver is small and mighty.
For Carver’s May 1st virtual event registration and donation opportunities, visit carvercenter.org or email Colleen Kane at firstname.lastname@example.org.