By Talia Winiarsky
While many residents see problems in their neighborhoods, a few voluntarily step up to tackle them. On Monday evening, Goddard Riverside, the longstanding Upper West Side social service agency, honored eight of these activists for their contributions to their local communities, including the Upper West Side, Harlem, East Harlem, and Yorkville.
The recipients of the “Good Neighbor Awards” represent a diverse group of projects and advocacy.
Linda Carter Cooper advocates for neighbors with a variety of problems. Ann Cutbill Lenane founded “One Block” to clean Upper West Side streets. Mark Diller is an active member of Community Board 7. LaDreamer and Daisy Lark assemble care packages for underserved people. LaVera Sutton fights for tenant rights. Alan Winson discovers the stories of community members on his podcasts.
Goddard Riverside hosted the award ceremony in the garden behind their building on West 88th Street and Columbus Avenue. Presenters of the awards, family members of the recipients, Goddard staffers, and local elected officials attended.
Community residents nominated about 25 people for the awards. The selection committee included seven former winners. “People are so creative in the ways they find to be stewards,” Committee Member Susane Lee said. John Del Vecchio, the emcee of the night, acknowledged Covid’s role in recent activism. “Humanity proved that we are very social creatures because we went out of our way to help each other,” he said.
Several of the projects were related to Covid, including the mother-daughter pair of LaDreamer and Daisy Lark, who gave out over 25,000 masks in February 2021. “I just love trying to find new people, helping people, and everything that we do,” said Daisy, who is six years old.
Alan Winson’s project also blossomed during the pandemic. Although he had podcasted before, he created “Hunkered Down” in the early weeks of the shut down, on which he interviewed artists about their work when they could no longer perform. “What joy it is to talk to people in a very concentrated way,” he said.
“One Block,” Ann Cutbill Lenane’s initiative, was born in the summer of 2020. She and Jake Russell created it after the New York City Sanitation Department decreased the number of trash pickups due to pandemic budget cuts. The organization, which allows residents to sign up for slots to clean their blocks, has accrued about 1,800 members. They also employ formerly homeless people to pick up trash. “People are coming out and cleaning up garbage on the Upper West Side. That’s nothing that I ever thought that I would see a New Yorker doing,” Cutbill Lenane said.
Other awardees were inspired to become involved in their communities for deeply personal reasons. LaVera Sutton, a tenant advocate, was formerly homeless. She then lived in a single room occupancy (SRO) building where a new landlord tried to evict her after gaining ownership of the building. “Each landlord thought, because I was in an SRO, I must be stupid or uneducated and I didn’t know my rights,” she told the Rag. In addition to testifying many times in court, Sutton said she spreads the word about the Goddard Riverside Law Project, which provides free legal services and education on tenant rights to people on the west side. “When I’m in line at Dollar Tree, Costco, or on public transportation, I always talk about Goddard Law Project,” she said.
Community Board 7 member and former chair Mark Diller has always been passionate about schools, he said. He first became involved in politics as a PTA president, realizing that securing more funding for schools was a “political process.” Diller is known for creating resolutions that solve complex problems and appeal to many perspectives, Brewer said, presenting the award. Diller said he owes his success in leadership, in great part, to his colleagues. “To think that one person by himself is going to change anything is a flight of hubris,” he said.
The last awardee was Linda Carter Cooper, whose husband Tony accepted on her behalf. “Linda helps others with issues of housing, equity, and education that you may think are small, like having a basketball program for your children,” Del Vecchio said.
In the primary elections in June, the Upper West Side had the most votes by far of any neighborhood in the city, Brewer informed the crowd. The Goddard Good Neighbor awards celebrate a very civically engaged neighborhood where everyone is a stakeholder.