ABC: Not As Easy as 1-2-3

The Association to Benefit Children has moved to the front lines in the pandemic

23 Apr 2020 | 02:18

If this were a normal week, in a normal year, the dedicated staff of The Association To Benefit Children (known as ABC) would be teaching Early Education classes to children of lesser financial means, playing sports with the students during afterschool and weekend hours, and offering at-home visits to families in particular need.

That was then. Now? In fact, ABC is still making a difference.

Even though social distancing has closed its educational facilities as children are being home-schooled, ABC has moved to the front lines. “Our work has obviously become more urgent,” says George Edwards, the non-profit’s Senior Development Manager. ABC’s Fast Break Mental Health Services’ mobile unit continues to send consultants, therapists, and advocates to families at particular risk. At East Harlem’s Echo Park, it has established an emergency childcare center for first responders and emergency workers. Grab-and-go meals are being delivered to public school students.

“The truth is, ABC has always been poised to respond to any new threat to children and their families, especially those who are most vulnerable,” says Gretchen Buchenholz, the dynamic woman who founded the organization in the mid ‘80s. When the virus struck, ABC was one of the first groups to ensure that public school students would not be meal-free, raiding its own pantries and ordering huge quantities from suppliers. Adds Buchenholz, “we are, for the most part, now delivering directly to the families in their homes or at shelters and in one case, to a local fire house in the Bronx.”

ABC’s mobile crisis team is hardly immobile at this crucial time. When calls come in asking for help (1-888-NYC Well), “we respond within two hours,” says Leny Bolivar, director of the unit. “About 50% of our work is still in person, though the patterns change every week. These are generally families in very small spaces, who have no access to computers or even phones, and who may have experienced some previous traumas or vulnerabilities.”

Like so many other front-liners, ABC is counting on the generosity of the community. “There has been such an outpouring to support our essential work,” says Buchenholz. Amy Phillips Rotter, an UES resident who is a private school mom but a longtime ABC fan, says she is more committed than ever at this moment. “ABC means comfort, safety, connection and hope. In the face of crisis, it is so easy to feel powerless. But ABC reminds us of the power that we all have as individuals to facilitate real change.”

Jackeline Bancayan, program director of All Children’s House in the Bronx, says: "I have been working for ABC for almost 7 years ... since the pandemic began, the importance of our work has been overwhelmingly clear. I have never been more proud of the work we do."

The organization’s original goals were erasing inequalities and “raising the whole child.” Now, it is flexing different muscles and stepping up in sometimes daring but necessary ways. It is a new challenge but, as Bolivar says, “human contact may be difficult right now, but when it comes with kindness and caring, it is truly appreciated.”

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"In the face of crisis, it is so easy to feel powerless. ABC reminds us of the power that we all have as individuals to facilitate real change.” Amy Phillips Rotter