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After challenging pandemic, Dodge Y celebrates 17th year with live gala

Party honors staff, board and supporters, raises funds for summer camp

May 23, 2022 Mary Frost
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The Dodge YMCA celebrated 17 years of operation in Downtown Brooklyn on May 19, honoring supporters, board members and staff who persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the Y hard over the past two years.

The gala brought in funds to help send Brooklyn kids to summer camp, Dodge Y Executive Director Jamel Davis said.

“One of the most important missions of the Y as an organization is that we promise to never turn people away because of their inability to pay. So anybody who walks through our door, regardless of their income status, the Y is there for them,” Davis said.

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The get-together was all the sweeter after the restrictions of COVID-19, Davis said. The branch lost almost half its members at the height of the pandemic, and in-person fundraisers weren’t possible.

Roughly 150 guests attended the event held at the Green Building, a former brass foundry in Gowanus. Food trucks from Kinky Taco and the Red Hook Lobster Pound served up tacos and lobster rolls in the courtyard.

Board Members, Reverend Allen Robinson of Grace Church Brooklyn Heights and Ted Newman were all smiles.

“We need more opportunities to come together and celebrate our connections, accomplishments and achievements, and this is certainly worthy of that great celebration,” said Sharon Greenberger, CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York.

“The Dodge community has grown stronger over time; our work together has grown stronger over time; the board of managers have grown stronger; and I just want to say thank you for strengthening that sense of community,” Greenberger added.

Dodge Y Board President Barbara Lowe could not make the party because there was a chance she had caught COVID, said Board Member Kim Soule, who read Lowe’s prepared remarks in her stead.

“Though we have lost half of our members and half of our income to COVID, we have persevered, and I think that we are on the rise thanks to everybody’s support and belief,” she said. “It proves that what really matters is our connections to one another … Your money and support from this party is going to [fund] summer camp, so there’s going to be a lot of really happy kids!”

Lowe’s remarks praised Executive Director Davis, “who brings out the best in everyone.”

Executive Director of the Dodge Y Jamel Davis and Tristen Lee Edwards were naturals at the podium during the awards ceremony.

Guests were treated to entertainment provided by fourth- and fifth-grade students who are enrolled in the Y’s afterschool Afrodance program at P.S. 11. Dressed in glorious golden costumes, their precision footwork brought enthusiastic applause.

“We provide the afterschool program inside of the school so they don’t have to leave the school,” said program director LaToya Charles. “We have ages from kindergarten through fifth grade and serve about 160 kids every year.”

The atmosphere at the Birthday Bash was one of community, love, and inclusion. Honoree, Kilvio Vargas (left), and Jason Burgos (right) of the Bedford YMCA exuded pride and gratitude.

Guest speaker Tristan Lee Edwards, a 15-year-old sophomore who attends Specialized High School of the Arts, said he participates in the Dodge Y’s Saturday Night Lights program.

“Joining the Y gave me the opportunity to get together with my friends and make other new friends,” he said.” “My basketball has improved tremendously since going to Saturday Night Lights.”

District 33 City Council Member Lincoln Restler stopped by to congratulate the Doge Y and the evening’s honorees. Many of Restler’s constituents benefit from the Y’s location at Atlantic Avenue and Court Street.

City Councilmember Lincoln Restler (District 33) said he grew up in the area. “If the Y had been there when I was a kid, I would have been there every night. We are so fortunate to have a YMCA in our community, serving the neighborhood.”

Restler added, “The Gowanus Houses [NYCHA housing project] is about three blocks away from here. It’s over 1,100 units of housing and we haven’t had a functioning community center there in over twenty years … The Y has been a lifeline for families in Gowanus and for families at Wyckoff Gardens.”

2022 Awards

The event honored Diane-Jean-Jacques, business manager of the Dodge Y; Kilvio Vargas, property director of the Dodge Y, Tim Ingrassia and the Ingrassia family, long-time supporters; and the Dodge Foundation, which provided significant funding which allowed the Dodge Y to open its Atlantic Avenue location.

These 4th and 5th-grade girls are participants in the afterschool program at PS11 provided by the Dodge Y. Their original performance is but one example of how afterschool activities enrich the lives of students, their families, and communities.

Diane Jean-Jacques: Business manager Diane Jean-Jacques started her career at the Dodge YMCA in January 2005 as a fund development associate, and was later promoted to business manager. “She’s very hard-working, very supportive, helpful and understanding, and she does not play when it comes to making sure all aspects of our business are running the right way,” Davis said. Jean-Jacques received the 2022 Commitment Award.

Kilvio Vargas: Davis said that Kilvio Vargas “is one of our best property directors.” Vargas started his career at the Flushing YMCA about thirty years ago. He was covering for another staff member who went out on vacation, “and the person never returned to work. Vargas took over their job and the rest is history.” Davis described Vargas as “calm, easy going, and he works very hard to make sure our building is clean, safe, and presentable.” Vargas received the 2022 Commitment Award.

Sharon Greenberger President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York spoke from the heart during the program that celebrated individuals who enabled the Dodge Y to remain resilient and strong during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tim Ingrassia and the Ingrassia family: In honoring Tim Ingrassia and the Ingrassia family, Davis said, “Tim Ingrassia started volunteering at the Brooklyn Central Y back in 1998. Through his volunteer work, Tim provided guidance and expertise, shared his time and talent, and always donated generously. … Not only did Tim give his own capital donation in support of the new Y, but he rolled up his sleeves, reached out to his network and advocated and urged the Dodge Foundation to invest.” Davis added, “Tim and his wife Stephanie have always stepped up to support not just the Y, but many other CBOs [Community Based Organizations] in Downtown Brooklyn and beyond.” Ingrassia received the 2022 Philanthropic Award.

Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation: In the 1800s, businessman and philanthropist Cleveland H. Dodge help to build and finance the New York City YMCA and served as the president. Since that time through seven generations, the family foundation has supported the Y. In 2005, the Brooklyn Central Y, located in a storefront on Montague Street, moved to its current building on Atlantic Avenue. This was made possible by significant funding from the Dodge Foundation. In honoring the foundation, Davis said, “We are pleased to honor the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation and the Dodge family for their unwavering dedication and support of the YMCA of Greater New York for well over a hundred years. The commitment and generosity of the Dodge family and the foundation is unmatched in our YMCA’s history.” The Dodge Foundation received the 2022 Philanthropic Award.

Sharon Greenberger President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York, and Anthony Escobar enjoyed the beautiful evening and lively conversation.

Emily Mommsen, executive director of the Dodge Foundation, said that the foundation usually funds programs, not buildings. But in the case of the Dodge Y, “The foundation leaned in. And they leaned in because of all that the YMCA had been to the family. They agreed to do this leadership gift so we could have this community center. Watching the fullness of it now is really gratifying, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about giving children a safe place to thrive. It’s about giving families a place to make memories and to conduct programs that help to support the community.”

Mommsen added, “In each community they go into, the Y forms partnerships with the people to find the unique needs of each community. Though there is a common menu of services, everything is tailored through this partnership, and the programs grow from the ground up.”

With his 1,000-megawatt smile, it’s easy to see why Jamel Davis, Executive Director of the Dodge Y is so beloved and the perfect host for the evening’s festivities.

Board members, parents big fans of the Y

“Jamel Davis, our executive director, has been a really fantastic leader of the Dodge Y, and we are really thrilled to honor him and his staff,” said Board Member Peter Hamilton. “I go to the senior aquatics class three or four days a week and that’s been a rock of my fitness. I love the Y,” he said.

“My favorite thing about the Y is that we offer so much to the community and we’ve never turned away anyone because of an inability to pay, and that’s what things like tonight help make happen,” said Board Member Michelle Brindley.

“No one goes without summer camp,” said Board Member Stephen Dietz. “I learned to swim at the Y. My mom would put me on the bus in New Jersey to go to the Montclair Y and that’s where I learned how to swim and be a lifeguard.”

Ellen Newman and her husband Board Member, Tom Newman both congratulate Honoree Diane Jean-Jacques.

Former Brooklyn Heights Association President Martha Dietz said the Dodge Y has got “terrific camp programs serving underserved communities. It’s really just a phenomenal venue and gives all sorts of people from all over the borough an opportunity to exercise and get involved.”

Mom Ansley Samson said her son Warner, 17, has been going to the Dodge Y since it opened when he was in middle school. “It brings people together — he has friends from middle school, they show up there, they play basketball there, they hang out. It is a community building institution, and kids from across Brooklyn show up there. It’s awesome.”

Jamel Davis, Honoree Diane Jean-Jacques and Tristan Lee Edwards smile for the camera after presenting Ms. Jean-Jacques with her award.

Board member Ted McC. Newman said, “Life at the Dodge Y is coming back strong and it gets busier and busier every night.”

Newman’s wife Ellen enthused, “Ted goes to the Y every night.”

“I do Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and I think about it over the weekend but I don’t go,” Newman laughed. “That’s how I stay in shape, after a fashion.”

Honoree Tim Ingrassia of the Dodge Foundation spoke about the humble origins of the Dodge Y.

 

Honorees Tim Ingrassia and Emily Mommsen with charismatic Co-MC, 15-year-old Tristan Lee Edwards.
MC Jamel Davis with honorees Sharon Greenberger, Diane Jean-Jacques, and Kilvio Vargas.
Tim Ingrassia and Emily Mommsen share a moment after the awards ceremony.
Tristan Lee Edwards, age 15 was very comfortable at the podium during the awards ceremony. No doubt, his self-assurance, and confidence have been fostered at the Dodge Y.
Tristan Lee Edwards basked in the spotlight while Co-MCing the evening’s award ceremony during the Dodge Y 17th Birthday Bash on Thursday, May 19th, 2022.
Jamel Davis endured some gentle teasing before being given a warm embrace by Sam Moore of the Coney Island Y.
Board Manager, Peter Hamilton arrives at The Dodge YMCA 17th Birthday Bash.
Board Member Stephen Deitz exuded a genuine warmth.
Board Member Peter Hamilton, Ellen Newman and Board Member Ted Newman shared a cocktail and a smile.
Board Members Michelle Brindley (left) and Amy Rowland (right) were all smiles and ready to celebrate coming together again after the difficult two-year period during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dodge Y Member Kate Perry and Instructor, Sharri Mendzez dance to the classic Village People song, “Y.M.C.A.”
Party-goers Iva Padjen, her husband Stephen Smith and their friend Hanan Kenyatta enjoyed each other’s company, the summer evening and delicious fare from The Green Building, Red Hook Lobster Pound, and Kinky Taco.
Guests Sonia Atherly, Jessenia Urgiles-Taft and Phyllis White-Thorne engaged in conversation that resulted in peals of laughter.
The tables were aglow in preparation for the Dodge Y 17th Birthday Bash.
The crew of Red Hook Lobster Pound, one of two food trucks selected for the evening’s fare.
DJ Kayla C had the perfect playlist to keep the mood elevated including, of course, The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”

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