June 30, 2017 - After 12 years of service to Catholic parishes, pastors, nonprofit partners, elected officials and community members in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of New York City, Centro Altagracia de Fe y Justicia (the Centro) will close its doors on June 30, 2017. The Centro’s Board of Directors came to this decision over the course of the last year after engaging in an organizational assessment and recognizing a lack of revenue streams to allow the Centro to be financially sustainable.
“I am proud to have been part of an organization with such a strong mission grounded on social justice,” said founding board member the Honorable Judge Rita Mella, “and to have worked, for so many years, with other board members and the staff to fulfill that mission. The decision to close El Centro’s operations was hard and one at which we arrived after much deliberation and discernment.” The Centro was created in 2005 by then New York Province Provincial Fr. Jeff Chojnacki, SJ, as a way for the Jesuits to be of greater service to the Dominican community in Washington Heights.
While the Centro continued to offer quality programs to young adults, families, parishioners, tenants and community coalitions, each emphasizing the desire to form people in a faith that does justice, the organization was unable to secure funding beyond an annual subsidy from the USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits. The GLU service-learning program attracted record numbers of high school student participants for three weeks during students’ February and April vacations, allowing students to explore environmental, health, and food justice issues through service, education and exploration of potential solutions. The Centro also hosted the Breaking Bread workshop series, a program that combined nutrition education and cooking classes with family religious formation. Three parishes – St. Jude, Good Shepherd, and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs – continue to foster active social ministries teams, groups of parishioners trained, empowered and engaged in responding to community issues. Much of the parish social ministries team work has been focused on concerns related to rezoning and gentrification in Northern Manhattan. The work of Thrive for Life Prison Project, which was launched and housed from the Centro’s offices bringing Ignatian Spirituality to individuals in prison and supporting educational and job placement programs for individuals returning to communities from prison, continues as an independent not-for-profit corporation.
Tiffany Lee, interim executive director of the Centro, has spent much of the last six months finding ways to transition this work to the local parish level, including establishing a new office housed in Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish. There, Ms. Lee will continue to support organizing and faith-justice engagement with local community stakeholders who are beginning the process of incorporating as a new nonprofit organization. For questions or more information on the ongoing faith and justice work in Northern Manhattan, contact Tiffany Lee at AltagraciaFaithJusticeWorks@gmail.com or by phone at (212) 567-2637.
“I am so grateful for the work of lay colleagues, board members, Jesuits and community partners throughout the history of the Centro,” said USA Northeast Jesuit Provincial Fr. John J. Cecero, SJ. “Through their efforts, the faith of parishioners and community members came to life through works of justice. It has been a privilege for the Society of Jesus to sponsor and accompany this great work of service to God’s people, and I am pleased that this outreach will continue beyond our involvement.”
Reflecting on the varied and valuable work that the Centro has animated since 2005, there is much for which the province can celebrate and be grateful, from the work of lay and Jesuit staff over the years, to the dedication of members of the board of directors, to the co-laboring of parishioners, pastors, and community partners, to the generosity of donors who have supported the Centro.
“Serving as a board member for El Centro from its beginnings was a very rewarding experience,” reflected Judge Mella. “El Centro made a difference in the immigrant community of faith in Washington Heights. It was an honor to serve on the board with such a committed group of individuals, including Father Chojnacki, from whom we all learned so much.”