Lending a helping hand

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A lost glove along the fence of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Thursday, April 14, 2022. Another bright, sunny day, yesterday in New York, and with temps in the low 70s. And the first day that I noticed an air of green amongst the trees beginning to bloom. And with yesterdays’ Brooklyn subway terrorist giving himself up to police (he called in!), a great relief for New Yorkers.

This week has also seen a busy turn in events on the social calendar. This past Monday, Literacy Partners, New York’s premiere education nonprofit, held its first in-person gala at Cipriani Wall Street, the first in two years.

Carol Jenkins had a passion for helping others, especially children.

Created almost 30 years ago by a group in the mid-1980s by a group of people who became aware of the growing problem of adult literacy. Carol Jenkins, a television journalist and women’s rights advocate, had done a multi-part news report on the crisis. When Liz Smith saw it, astonished, she visited the program.

She recalled afterwards, “I was so impressed by what these few people were trying to do” (teach adults to read) — “A young man got up at the end, and he looked like a Madison Avenue Harvard Yale graduate and he said ‘I can’t read – and I have a wonderful job and I make my wife read to me at night all of my papers and things.” And Liz thought to herself, “we could teach this guy to read.”

Most of us tend to believe that everyone can read, as we learned early in life, in school. This is possible but more often than we might imagine, not true, for many reasons. So Liz by her heartfelt and generous nature joined in. For she believed “The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you can only do a little … Do what you can.”

The dynamic trio  — Arnold, Liz, and Parker — all dearly missed.

That was the beginning of a quarter century of devotion by Liz in a personal commitment to help New Yorkers through the powers of literacy education. Joining her and the organization were Parker Ladd, a book publishing executive, and his partner in life, fashion designer Arnold Scaasi. The trio, with their connections, associates and ability to organize and get the word out started holding annual fund-raising events, and drawing hundreds of guests to learn about Literacy Partners.

Each fund-raising event was a dinner, with readings held before  in theaters (for a large audience), and including a “name” who would also join in the “readings” as well as two or three “students” each of whom would read their own hand-written report of their experience learning to read. It is always a personal story of bravery and experiencing the growth of one’s personal abilities in learning. And. as they say on Broadway: it was a hit.

Liz dancing for the joy of literacy in Shubert Alley — immortalized by Harry Benson.

Today Literacy Partners has grown with an audience that begins with children. The powerful annual event, dubbed An Evening of Readings, took place at Cipriani Wall Street this past Monday, and drew a Who’s Who of the literary, publishing, and media worlds including the evening’s emcee Cynthia McFadden, who is the Senior Legal and Investigative Correspondent at NBC News.

Perri Pelz Cynthia McFadden

The honorees (who obviously can read) were: Dana Canedy (Senior Vice President & Publisher, Simon & Schuster); Zibby Owens (Author, Publisher, CEO & Host of Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books Podcast); and Champion of Literacy Award  Marie Brenner (Author & Writer-at-Large, Vanity Fair).

Additionally, Ta-Nehisi Coates (The New York Times Best-Selling Author and Journalist); and Lizzie Award recipients and Mary Wells Lawrence (Advertising Executive, Author and Women’s Advocate) accepted their awards remotely.

Other VIPs on hand included Lesley Stahl, Harry Smith, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Sheila Nevins, Mahogany L. Brown, Leila Mottley, Sophia Chang, Joni Evans, Perri Peltz, Cynthia Cannell, and Louise Grunwald.

Event Co-Chairs of the evening were Alice Berman, Lea Carpenter, Alison Ehrlich, Elyssa Friedland, Katharei, Alison Ehrlich, Elyssa Friedland, Katharine Raymond Hinton and Les Hinton, Isabelle Krishana, Rina and Sebastian Niles, Danielle Ganek, Deborah Goodrich Royce, Mike and Kemp Steib, Jennifer Wallace and Anthony Tassi, CEO of Literacy Partners.

Literacy Partners CEO Anthony Tassi welcoming guests.
L. to r.: Honoree Marie Brenner; Student reader Sophia Nichson.
Ta-Nehisi Coates accepting his award.

Today, Literacy Partners has provided critical literacy services to more than 25,000 New York City adults and their families since its inception 49 years ago. The organization now takes a dual-generation approach to education, focusing on parents of young children.

With free online and in-person classes, parents can improve their reading, writing, and English skills while learning more about child development to boost their children’s early learning and school readiness. Literacy Partners is raising money to expand its high-quality, community-based literacy programs that empower adults to reach their full potential as individuals, parents, and citizens, and that helps advance racial and social justice for the communities they serve.

L. to r.: Bob Perkins and Joni Evans; Leila Mottley and Lucy Carson.
L. to r.: Dana Canedy with her son Jordan; Herb and Susan Bard.
Roxanne Donovan, Timothy Ehrlich, Alison Ehrlich, and Leslie Harwood.
L. to r.: Ann Jacobs; Laura Coates and Mindy Marques.
Joe Veltre and Robin Epstein.
L. to r.: Kyle and Zibby Owens; Andrea Joyce and Harry Smith.
Azadeh Khalili, Deborah Bernstein, Harvey Hecht, and Literacy Partners CEO Anthony Tassi.
L. to r.: Sophia Chang; Maria Feliciano and Lynn Clark.
Elaine Kim, Ianthe Dugan, Caitlin Cooper, and Echo Serenie.
L. to r.: Jive Poetic and Mahogany Brown; Katharine Raymond Hinton and Les Hinton.
Lesley Stahl, Cynthia McFadden, and friends.
Barbara Taylor Bradford and friends.

Also on Monday night was the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club President’s Dinner where the nation’s design industry elite gathered to honor Benjamin Moore and design legend Bunny Williams. This year’s event attendees helped to raise just over $1.2 million to fund essential afterschool programs to more than 10,000 young people at ten locations throughout the Bronx.

Held at New York’s Cipriani 42nd Street, the black-tie event was chaired by celebrated designers Jamie Drake and Corey Damen Jenkins. The event was vice chaired by designers Sasha Bikoff, Alessandra Branca, Jesse Carrier, Mara MillerAlexa HamptonYoung Huh and Andrew Torrey.

Corey Damen Jenkins, James Druckman, Bunny Williams, Jamie Drake, Sasha Bikoff, Andrew Torrey, and Daniel Quintero.

Bunny Williams was presented with her Award by Schumacher Creative Director Dara Caponigro while Dinner Chair Jamie Drake presented Kelly Sinatra, Benjamin Moore’s Director of Public Relations, with the company’s Award.

During her remarks, Williams recalled her first Kips Bay Showhouse in the early ‘70s, and expressed her amazement of the funds raised from the Presidents’ dinners and Showhouses, adding, “I’m so proud to be part of this design community, it’s so generous to not only Kips Bay but many other organizations.”

L. to r.: Bunny Williams with Dara Caponigro and Kelly Sinatra.

A crowd favorite of the night were the song and dance performances by members of the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club’s Performing Arts Program. The President’s Dinner raises money to provide more than 10,000 young people between the ages of 6 and 18 at ten locations throughout the Bronx with essential after-school and enrichment programs aimed to help them recognize their potential for growth and success.

Today, the club is proudly one of the most prominent and responsive youth development agencies in New York City and a “flagship” of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Since the organization was established over 100 years ago, they have grown into a recognized leader among the 4,500 Boys & Girls Clubs nationally.

Members of the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club’s Performing Arts Program.

Among those attending: James Druckman, Board of Trustees President; Dinner Chairs: Jamie Drake, Corey Damen Jenkins, Sasha Bikoff, Dinner Vice-Chairs: Alessandra Branca, Jesse Carrier, Mara Miller, Alexa Hampton, Young Huh, and Andrew Torrey. Also: Alex Papachristidis, Amy Astley, Billy Cotton, Brian McCarthy, Cathy Kincaid, Christopher Spitzmiller, Edmund Hollander, Andrea Schumacher, Cathy Kincaid, Ellie Cullman,Fernando Wong, Johnny Rosselli, Kathy Prounis, Mark Sikes, Markham Roberts, Martha Stewart,  Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Meg Braff, Miles Redd, Neal Beckstedt, Nick Olsen, Paolo Moschino, Robert Stilin, Sheila Bridges, Stephen Sills, Thom Filicia.

Keita Turner, Noz Nozawa, Chris Goddard, and Tish Mills.
Bunny Williams and John Rosselli.
L. to r.: Josh and Summer Thornton; Elizabeth Graziolo and Joy Moyler.
Corey Damen Jenkins, Marilyn D’Amore, Sheila Bridges, and Joy Moyler.
L. to r.: Sarah and Andrew Wetenhall; Lesley and Sinclair Hollingsworth.
James Druckman, Bunny Williams, and Daniel Quintero.
L. to r.: Mark D. Sikes, Courtney Schafer, and Gil Schafer; Alice Wright.
Martha Stewart.
L. to r.: Noz Nozawa, Joan Craig, and Tish Mills; Martyn Lawrence Bullard.
Amy Astley.
L. to r.: David Duncan and Hunt Slonem; Thom Filicia.
Noz Nozawa, Billy Ceglia, Nazira Handal, and Benjamin Deaton with friends.

Ilya Savenok & Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images (Literacy Partners); BFA (Kips Bay).

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