Two West Side Safety Nets Merge

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Goddard Riverside and Lincoln Square are merging, as demand for social services surges


  • Sabin Danziger, left, with Stephan Russo at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. Photo by Zeena Saifi

Two of the Upper West Side’s most prominent social-service centers are merging.

Goddard Riverside Community Center and Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center are joining forces, in a combination that underscores the soaring need for social services in New York even as wealth in the city continues to climb.

While the deal is described by both sides as a partnership, it is, in effect, a rescue of Lincoln Square, which has struggled financially and has had to cut its programs. Lincoln Square, formed more than 65 years ago, serves about 1,000 people in struggling parts of the West side, primarily at the New York Housing Authority-run Amsterdam Houses. Though it has managed in the past year to climb back to break-even, after falling hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, its board came to the conclusion last year that it needed a bigger partner if it was going to be able to offer the kind of services, from programs for seniors to housing support, that were needed.

“We decided as a board that we were in a relatively weak situation,” said Sabin Danziger, Lincoln Square’s board chairman. “We weren’t giving the programs we thought the community deserved. We were living from Monday to Tuesday and didn’t have the resources to grow properly.”

In Goddard, Lincoln Square has found a partner that is among the city’s largest safety-net providers.

With a staff of 350 people and an annual budget of around $28 million, Goddard helps more than 17,000 people a year with college counseling, homeless outreach, job training and services for older New Yorkers, among other programs.

Since its founding in 1959, Goddard has grown both organically and through mergers like this one; indeed, the modern version of the organization was created when two of the neighborhood’s original settlement houses, as they were called – both of them founded in the late 1880s – joined forces.

The expansion of organizations like Goddard have come as more and more city services are offloaded to private groups, many of them straining under the added demands. Even as government services have been scaled back, homelessness in the city is at a post-war high, and the poverty rate is climbing.

Stephan Russo, Goddard’s executive director, said Lincoln Square was always a good fit for his organization, though the added costs and demands of taking it on were a concern. “Sure, I had a little trepidation,” he said. “When you take on new clients, you have to be able to sustain the services.”

Russo said he is confident Goddard will be able to not only absorb Lincoln Square – whose staff of 35 and budget of $1.8 million make it a fraction of Goddard’s size – but enhance its services.

Russo will oversee both organizations. Lincoln Square’s incoming executive director, Susan Matloff-Nieves, begins next month and will report to Russo.

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