Sunday in the park with Eleanor
Neil Estem's statue of Eleanor Roosevelt at the 72nd Street entrance to Riverside Park; Looking southeast towards Trump Place with the West Side Highway in the foreground. 3:15 PM. Photo: JH.

JH and the Digital and Oliver Dog hit Riverside Park on a beautiful and cool-ish yesterday afternoon. The first stop was the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt by sculptor Neil Estem which was installed on the site ten years ago this October. Mrs. Roosevelt appears to be relaxing, upright but leaning, almost sitting, with one hand on her chin as if contemplating West 72 Street to the east. The presence of Mrs. Roosevelt, even in bronze, evokes the question: what does she think of what she’s seeing of us?

Chappy and Melissa

Good News. Melissa Catherine Stanley and Alfred Hennen Morris were married this past Saturday (May 6) at the Brick Presbyterian Church on 92nd Street and Park Avenue. Mr. Morris is known to his friends and NYSD readers as “Chappy.”

Chappy was, heretofore, known as one of the most eligible (realistically speaking), perennial bachelors in New York, by which I mean he was well into his fifties, well-fixed with no apparent eye on the altar. Never without a goodlooking woman at his side, and yet ... he never popped the question (or if he did, it it went unfavored and unreported).

Chappy has always been a very popular fellow and for obvious reasons – he’s a very nice man. He’s also a sociological specimen of sorts (sorry, Chappy), in the sense that he’s an authentic Wasp -- such a Wasp that even his imitators don’t recognize it. The Astors had nothing on his antecedents.

He’s also a gentleman, a good friend, an even-tempered man, a poet, a cosmopolite with an obvious life long interest in pretty women, and independently wealthy. There were more than a few who long had their eye on him but finally gave up thinking there was no MRS in it for them. However, Chappy surprised everyone: after several years of dating, he married the last pretty woman he dated steadily.

Melissa Stanley Morris is about twenty or twenty-five years her husband’s junior, although if you knew her husband, you’d understand that he seems a lot younger than he is. It can probably be safely said that Chappy will be “a lot younger” for quite sometime. Congratulations to the happy couple are in order.

Last Thursday night there was a lot going on, as usual, in New York. I went down to Capitale, where an organization called Homes For the Homeless was feting its two founders, Leonard Stern and former New York City mayor, Ed Koch.

Leonard Stern and Ed Koch

Capitale is the beautiful former Bowery Saving Bank, designed by Stanford White and completed in 1895, now a nightclub and events venue at 130 Bowery. Younger New Yorkers may not even know that The Bowery was for many decades throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Skid Row -- the last stop for the stumble-bums, hobos, drug addicts and boozehounds where they could find shelter in what were called flophouses.

The Bowery is the oldest thoroughfare in the city, first used as a footpath by Native Americans before the Dutch who gave it its name, it extended all the way up island. As the city moved uptown by the mid-19th century, the area fell into poverty and disarray and became a dumping ground for the homeless, the mentally ill, alcoholics and drug addicts. That’s all changed now. The Bowery is seeing much better days once again, and there was no small irony in the choice of venue for Thursday night’s fundraiser.

The dinner was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Homes for the Homeless. It was the first official fund-raiser for the organization which began as an idea in the head of Leonard Stern back in the mid-1980s when New York City streets were inundated with homeless people. The cutbacks in federal funding closed all kinds of facilities which had long housed people in need (including the aforementioned groups found in the earlier days of the Bowery).

Leonard Stern was (and probably still is) one of the wealthiest men in the city. Heir to a fortune begun by his father who emigrated to this country earlier in the 20th century and built a business called Hartz Mountain, he built it into an even bigger business, followed by an even bigger business in real estate. Among his peers and colleagues he has a reputation for being a very tough businessman. A very smart friend of mine, also a businessman, once told me that Leonard Stern was the only man he ever knew who never let emotions get in the way of a business decision. Usually, my friend said, a person has one area that’s a “soft spot” that can affect some aspect of a business decision. But not Leonard Stern.

Thursday night, his daughter, who organized the evening, made a bemused reference to her father’s reputation, but it was to point out its irony, for Andrea knew there was much more to the man. Back in ’86 when things were looking very bad on the streets of New York, Leonard Stern was struck by the tragedy of the homeless people, and especially the children. The average homeless child in this country is 6 years old. Children, he reminded everyone on Thursday night, are truly vulnerable and have no control. They are our future.

The issue of homelessness is complex. Homeless families lack affordable housing but that is just part of a larger set of problems which includes inadequate education, domestic violence, poor employability, a general lack of community and personal support.

Motivated by his compassion, especially for the children, Stern went to the then Mayor Koch asking what could be done. The mayor was already over-challenged with the problem and had no specific antidote to offer except the assurance that the city would get behind anything he attempted.

In time Leonard Stern banded together with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and with an eventual outlay of $20 million which he personally provided, they first bought a former hospital which they made over into apartments for families. Since then, Homes for the Homeless has rehabilitated 540 units of multifamily “transitional housing.” These units known as American Family Inns are located in four buildings in different boroughs of New York and are referred to as Residential Training Centers.

Kids from the American Family Inns entertaining Thursday night's crowd at Capitale

Since its founding Homes for the Homeless, headed by Ralph Nunez, has found shelter and transitional housing for more than 29,000 families. And more than 51,000 children have been rescued from homeless life in the shelters and the streets. When referring to their success, The name – Residential Training Centers – is the key to the success of project. Families are provided with apartments but also with training and educational programs, daycare, schooling and summer camps for the children. The objective is to prepare families for eventual homes of their own and the self-reliance and training to provide for themselves.

Leonard Stern made no bones about it: it’s a huge problem
(there are as many as 500,000 families in shelters nationwide and 1.35 million homeless children each year). But every family that is rescued and set on the track of self-reliance and dignity is a vote for the future.

They raised $800,000 on Thursday night, their first public fund-raiser. No doubt it will motivate them to reach out to the public more to raise more to support the project of rescuing the community, our community.

Sitting there, listening and learning about this one man’s idea for assisting his fellows, his brethren, I was thinking about him and his wife Allison (whom he also met 20 years ago coincidentally). I’d known them to be very involved in domestic animal rescue and protection and wildlife conservation. I had not known of their efforts in the conservation of the family.

Conservation is the key word here, “conserve,” “conservative” and “conservator.” The Sterns’ activities in the community embody all of those words. For a long time because I’ve been invited to observe their projects and exposed to their objectives so I’ve known about their commitment to life. But Homes for the Homeless took it all one step further for me; a giant step. I left Capitale that night thinking of Lewis Cullman, whose book How to Make Money and How to Give it Away (reviewed in these pages) is a proponent of this kind of philanthropy: making a difference for some to make a difference for all. Therein lies nuggets of greatness of the human spirit. And shelter for the children. Leonard Stern personifies that, a reminder that we can and should expect more from ourselves.
Dick Nye and Nancy Silverman
John Barman and Stacy McLaughlin
Andrea Stern
Debra Black
Linda Lambert and Henry Silverman
Carl Bernstein and Ed Rollins
Shura Out and Allison Stern
Simon Stern Pelzman and Allison Stern
Johan Eliasch and Georgette Mosbacher
Muffie Potter Aston and friend
Ed Koch
Somers Farkas
Carl Bernstein, Francesca Stanfill, and Ron Weintraub
Dr. Sherrell Aston and Muffie Potter Aston
Peter and Jamee Gregory with Kim and Steve Benson
The table setting
Hilary Geary Ross
Marie Brenner and Ernest Pomerantz
Susie Hayes


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May 8, 2006, Volume VI, Number 79
Photographs by DPC/NYSD.com




 

© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com