Brooklyn’s Crown Heights Residents Direct $100,000 for Inclusive Public Spaces

New Website Documents Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Unique Resident-Led Grantmaking Program

Today, Brooklyn Community Foundation announces $100,000 in grants to five nonprofits that are expanding or advocating for inclusive public spaces for community gatherings in the borough’s Crown Heights neighborhood. The organizations receiving funding are Repair the World NYC, Haiti Cultural Exchange, 596 Acres, Bethany United Methodist Church, and New York Communities for Change.

The grants are made through the Foundation’s Neighborhood Strength initiative, a unique resident-led grantmaking model started in Crown Heights. The nine month process engages neighborhood stakeholders to identify local challenges and opportunities, determine the focus of the Foundation’s $100,000 investment, and select projects for funding through a competitive RFP. In this year’s cycle, the Foundation aimed to engage more resident voices in the process, while focusing on a single issue for long-term investment determined by residents: inclusive public spaces.

A new online report details the Neighborhood Strength process, including videos of residents discussing community challenges and opportunities for investment, as well as the funded projects. View the report at

“The Neighborhood Strength initiative embodies our belief that those who are closest to the challenges are closest to the solutions,” said Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO Cecilia Clarke. “Through this work in Crown Heights, we are developing a new model for how foundations partner with communities, by putting grantmaking decisions in the hands of residents—the real experts about our communities. This is not easy grantmaking, but it has the greatest potential to be long-lasting and transformational because all involved are deeply committed to the outcomes.”

Brooklyn Community Foundation began developing its Neighborhood Strength model in Crown Heights, where the Foundation has been headquartered since 2014. One of Brooklyn’s most historic and diverse neighborhoods with large Caribbean, African-American, and Jewish communities, today Crown Heights is experiencing widespread development, gentrification, and economic inequality. More than 27% of Crown Heights residents live below the federal poverty line, 1 in 3 residents are foreign-born, 1 in 4 residents moved to Crown Heights since 2010, and 33% of residents spend more than half of their income on rent—up from 25% of renters in 2000.

The Neighborhood Strength Process

The Foundation started its second year of Neighborhood Strength in Crown Heights in fall 2016. Over 130 stakeholders participated in three public visioning sessions to identify challenges and possible solutions, starting with the question: “What is your vision for Crown Heights?”

The Foundation next brought together a 17-person Crown Heights Advisory Council to review top concerns and solutions that emerged during the visioning sessions, and then select one key issue area for investment. The Council decided to support the creation or enhancement of inclusive public spaces that deepen community engagement, strengthen cross-cultural relationships, and provide more opportunities for residents to organize and gather to address local challenges and opportunities.

“What I found valuable was that the council consisted of residents that have a personal connection to Crown Heights. Therefore we were able to choose where funds are directed based on experience and knowledge of our neighborhood,” said Alisha Finlay, Crown Heights Advisory Council member and Acting Vice President, Union Street Block and Civic Association.

Grants: $100,000 to Promote Inclusive Public Spaces

In response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) this spring, the Crown Heights Advisory Council selected five projects for funding:

  • 596 Acres: $20,000 to support stewardship, preservation, and transformation of two neighborhood lots into community gardens. 596 Acres has helped transform 28 vacant lots in Brooklyn into community spaces since 2011. It provides land access advocacy for spaces that are ultimately transformed and maintained by volunteer neighbors and community partners as places to gather, grow food, and play.

    “We are so grateful to Brooklyn Community Foundation for giving us this opportunity to ensure Maple Street Community Garden and Prospect Place Community Garden become inclusive and lasting community institutions! Made and managed by and for those who live close by, these multipurpose places make room for residents to cultivate solidarity and grow neighborhood strength for years to come.” - Mara Dawn Kravitz, Director of Partnerships, 596 Acres
  • Bethany United Methodist Church (BUMC): $20,000 to support services, workshops, and cultural programming that engage residents around issues in the community. Founded over 150 years ago, BUMC’s vision is to be a hub of resources for Crown Heights, ensuring that its facilities are available as a community-building space.

    “Bethany United Methodist Church is excited about the possibilities of further integration with our community through the receipt of our grant from Brooklyn Community Foundation. Our aim is to make our space a resource of holistic communal activities that are relevant, cultural, educational and spiritual to the diverse community we are situated in.” - Rev. Narcisse Philips, Pastor, Bethany United Methodist Church
  • Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX): $10,000 to support local Haitian artists who will facilitate arts activities and programming in Westbrook Memorial Garden to bring community concerns to light. Funding will double the current time that the garden is open to the public and generate activity that will attract hundreds of new local residents to the space.

    "Brooklyn Community Foundation's support of Haiti Cultural Exchange's Lakou NOU program is a crucial contribution to resident and artist led collaboration that stewards Westbrook Memorial Garden as a shared space for all members of the Crown Heights community. This work not only fosters a sense of belonging and security for Haitian Americans in a neighborhood that they have called home for many generations, but also cultivates the kind of cross-cultural understanding that unites individuals of all backgrounds around mutual goals and values." - Régine M. Roumain, Executive Director, Haiti Cultural Exchange
  • New York Communities for Change (NYCC): $30,000 for supporting the inclusion of community voices to inform the development plan of the city-owned Bedford-Union Armory. With hundreds of members in Crown Heights and 13,000 in Brooklyn, NYCC has played an important role in resident-led organizing and advocacy campaigns in the neighborhood.

    "Through Brooklyn Community Foundation’s community space grant, we are engaging those most immediately affected by the gentrification crisis in the fight surrounding the Bedford Union Armory. By educating ourselves and our neighbors on our rights and the City’s process, we are already winning. Whatever the outcome at the Bedford-Armory, it will already be better than what the luxury developer has proposed: using our tax payer dollars to build unaffordable housing on our public land in Crown Heights." - Marie Pierre, Board Chair, New York Communities for Change
  • Repair the World NYC: $20,000 to support increased accessibility, programming and community partnerships that bring new and long-term residents together to meet community needs at its storefront space on Nostrand Avenue. Repair the World NYC has engaged more than 10,000 volunteers, hosted 380 community events and service projects, and partnered with over 20 nonprofit and community groups since 2015.

    "Thanks to this support from Brooklyn Community Foundation, Repair the World NYC will be able to offer our storefront event space to Crown Heights residents and organizations working to build community in the neighborhood. Non-profit organizations, religious institutions, social enterprises, and individuals who are planning events that will strengthen our wonderful community and address urgent community issues will now have an inclusive and flexible event space on Nostrand Ave." - Cindy Greenberg, Executive Director, Repair the World NYC

Learn more about the Neighborhood Strength initiative in this interactive digital report at


Media Contact: 

Liane Stegmaier, Director of Communications