A Real New York Story

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The Sunday crowd enjoying the 77th/79th Street Greenmarket on Columbus Avenue. Photo: JH.

Monday, March  4, 2024. A beautiful sunny day, yesterday in New York with temps hitting 70 degrees midday. And being Sunday, the neighbors (and their dogs) were out and about in the park and along the riverside, out for a nice walk with the babies, the dogs, the partners, relatives, friends, neighbors, and taking in some of the rays. You don’t know your neighbors but you know they are and we’re living here together, and on this day beautifully and peacefully.

The weatherman says it got up to 70 degrees at the top of the day for now, and it seemed to me buds on the trees outside my windows responded noticeably.


The cherries are starting to bloom.

Meanwhile back at the neighborhood. Late last week I met JH for a quick lunch last week at Eli’s Essentials — a convenient and popular location (midway) on 91st Street and Madison Avenue. Eli is a Zabar, the East Side version; the youngest of his generation and the most “modern” in terms of his business.

I got there first and seated myself at a dinette table inside a narrow passage outside the restaurant’s doors, smartly constructed to obstruct the weather. The passage was otherwise empty except for a woman seated in a corner with her back to me, on the phone, obviously waiting for someone to join her.

Shortly thereafter JH entered, and about to sit down, noticed her.

“Don’t you know who that is?” he said to me.

“No,” I said.

“I think that‘s Ruth Shuman from Publicolor…”

Ruth Shuman outside Eli’s Essentials.

Ruth Shuman? I hadn’t seen her face-to-face in years and ever changing New York. I’ve covered her work many times because Publicolor is one of the most effective organizations in helping young people in building stable and sensible lives for themselves. That is an enormous task that Ruth has reduced to the basics.

She focused on the neighborhoods who were lacking in stability and strength. Her objective is to assist young people build lives for themselves. She started it, as far as I know, almost thirty years ago with her projects organizing students here in New York to participate in painting/refreshing the walls in their old schoolhouses, drab from time and operation.

I recall when she first told me about it that I didn’t comprehend how getting students to join in on that task would improve their lives. Ruth did. And her students obviously did too.  Publicolor is one of the most important and constructive philanthropic organizations of all.

What it delivers to its participants young people just beginning their lives in the world  is self-sustaining stability. Publicolor is about purpose. Firstly freshening up the dreary and rundown environment of old public buildings, but mainly experiencing the pleasure of making the difference — obvious to everyone. Publicolor uniquely uses design for social change.

In the first years that I attended their fund-raising fun-raising painting events (called Stir Splatter + Roll) it brought in the adults — such as political public and philanthropic figures — but mainly it was a project of the students who volunteered. I could see how it affected the attitude of the students’ experience including fellowship with stability in the act of volunteering.

Naturally JH and I got into conversation at Eli’s with Ruth about Publicolor’s work these days.


Sitting down with Ruth to fill us in on Publicolor’s latest.

Ruth told us they recently doubled their presence in the NYC public schools with the expansion of Design Studio to a year-round program. “To ensure that our students get enough sleep (no one can sleep when they’re hungry, and students can’t focus in class when they’re tired AND hungry!), we are giving huge, healthy food packages weekly to the 85% whose families report food insecurity.

“Principals are raving about the huge increase in attendance due to the greater sense of safety and community that our programs create. This is vital at a time of alarming chronic absenteeism which is as high as 60% in low-income neighborhoods.

Plus we engage our students year-round. And despite being on the verge of dropping out during a time before they met us, 100% Publicolor students are matriculating on-time to the next grade, and 100% go on to college or a post-secondary accreditation program (5%). 76% of our students graduate college in 6 years vs 11% of their peers, and vs 60% nationwide(!).”

This last statistic includes the Ivy Leagues!  Thanks to their 3-day-a-week commitment to Pubilcolor, all of their students learn critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, all of which help them succeed in school, college, work, and life.


Pubicolor has seven programs, with the objectives of transforming their school’s environment, transforming public sites, teaching financial literacy, career skills, and job readiness training, and much more.

Ruth reminded us that Publicolor is having its annual Stir Splatter + Roll Gala on April 29th at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We’ll be there.

To learn more, click here.

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