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Sharing My Gala Remarks

By March 11, 2022March 30th, 2022No Comments

These are the remarks I gave at our annual gala benefit held on March 1, 2022. It was an honor to represent Graham, to share some reflections on the impressive women who founded our organization, and to show how we carry that legacy with us today.

Good evening, everyone. I am pleased to greet you, our Graham Board of Directors, esteemed guests, partners, and Graham community members.

This magical evening has been two years in the making and we are beyond excited to come together in this spectacular designed venue to celebrate our young people, parents, staff, and management team at the start of Graham Windham’s 216th Anniversary year.

I want to take a moment to thank our Gala Committee whose incredible work is being witnessed tonight.

I want to acknowledge our distinguished Chairman Georgia Wall, our marvelous Board members Jennifer Mackesy and Heather McVeigh, our Development Consultant Extraordinaire Tess O’Dwyer, our wonderful partners at CMI Events, and Graham’s one and only Mayra Pacheco for all that was done to make this evening special!

This evening is very special to me.

In addition to it being the first time in two years that we can all gather together in person, it is exactly one year ago today, that I became President of Graham and the first African American to hold this esteemed position!

I am proud to lead an organization that has a legacy of coming alongside of its community to give “helpful help.”

We use that term quite often to explain what we do and how we work with kids, families, and communities.

For us, helpful help happens when our kids, families, and communities tell us what they need. We listen, and we work together to create what is needed.

This way of working started in 1793 with a society of women who heard and saw the needs of families being impacted by the health crisis of their day: yellow fever and tuberculosis.

Isabella Graham, Eliza Hamilton, Sara Hoffman, and Joanna Bethune set about doing what was unheard of in their day: creating the societies that would provide aid to the children and widows greatly affected by those scourges.

In fact, I hope that this disclosure offends no one’s sensibilities, but through my studies of Graham’s history, I came to understand that Isabella Graham was the original Notorious B.I.G – Bold Isabella Graham.

In her memoir entitled, The Power of Faith: Exemplified In The Life And Writings Of Isabella Graham, published in 1819, five years after her death, I found the following quote:

[I quote] “The Society For The Relief Of Poor Widows With Small Children having received a charter of incorporation and some pecuniary aid from the Legislature of the state, the ladies who constituted the Board of Direction, were engaged in plans for extending their usefulness…

… The society purchased a small house where they received work of various kinds for the employment of their widows.

They opened a school for the instruction of their orphans and many of Mrs. Graham’s former past pupils volunteered their services taking upon themselves by rotation the part of instructors.

Besides establishing this School, Mrs. Graham selected some of the widows best qualified for the task and engaged them for a small compensation to open day schools for the instruction of the children of widows in distant parts of the city.” [end quote]

These founding mothers were dedicated to ensuring that children were properly cared for and raised right.

Isabella and Eliza, both widows with clout and great influence but of precarious financial means, understood that the widows needed to be able to provide for their families.

Seeing the plight of formerly incarcerated women reentering society, they created vocational training centers that linked the women to meaningful apprenticeships and employment.

In addition to all of this, these pioneering women founded the Orphan Asylum in 1806, the first of its kind in the United States and an influence and model for future such organizations including the Society for the Relief of Half-Orphan and Destitute Children, the progenitor of Windham Children’s Services.

This is the foundation upon which Graham is built.

Sturdy, steadfast, and unshakeable leaders determined to give helpful help to widowed mothers and to orphaned children of NYC by creating what did not exist.

That quality of meeting needs through giving helpful help and innovation continues at Graham today.

It is rooted in our organizational DNA.

We see it at work in our Graham SLAM coaching model for youth launching into adulthood.

It can be seen in our Family Success model which provides coaching and peer support to parents through our Parent Advocates.

It can be seen in the creative and progressive programming done at our FEC, Beacons, Cornerstone, and the Graham School programs.

It can be seen in the implementation of evidence-based and evidence-informed practice approaches used to engage families in our behavioral & mental health, foster care, and preventive programs.

Our visionary founders adhered to strong business practice and fiscal prudence setting the example that our back-office operations must be accountable, sensible, and transparent.

They created the formula that has helped us make meaningful impact.

Our Vision 2025 goals build on the legacy they left for us, serving children and families that may look different but whose experiences of insufficient resources, social inequities, and disconnection are very much the same…

To build a thriving “One Graham” culture that:

  • Helps our youth and families achieve their dreams.
  • Helps families in crisis heal.
  • Changes biased systems and fights inequity.

We are well on our way to achieving these goals!

It is centuries later, but the challenges that our families face can be as daunting today as they were in 1806.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the inequities that exist for our families in their access to quality childcare and education, health care, housing, and food.

Thankfully, we are joined by a strong care-net – colleagues agencies, government partners, and the community- all working together toward the same end.

I am grateful for the generosity of our individual philanthropic and foundation donors, many of whom are here tonight, who support our work and the powerful vision of our Graham community.

In closing, I want to share an inspirational tribute made by Isabella Graham at the opening of one of many day schools for children.

I hope that no one will be offended by her form of speech but as this is also the first day of Women’s History month, I think we can make allowances for the vernacular of her time.

She saluted the teaching volunteers with these words:

“My dear young ladies, everything new becomes a matter of speculation and variety of opinion. An association of ladies for the relief of destitute widows and orphans was a new thing in this country. It was feeble in its origin; the jest of most, the ridicule of many, and it met the opposition of not a few. The men could not allow our sex the steadiness and perseverance necessary to establish such an undertaking…

But it has prospered beyond the most sanguine expectations of its propagators. Its fame is spread over the United States and celebrated in foreign countries. It has been a precedent to many cities, who have followed the laudable example!”