As a boy, Andrew Friedman promised his immigrant grandparents that he would somehow see to it that New York City lived up to the poetic pledge engraved on the Statue of Liberty – "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tos’t to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Mr. Friedman became a lawyer and kept his promise.
Last week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced the gift of $105,000 toward what it termed Mr. Friedman’s "quiet crusade" of the past decade on behalf immigrants and the poor – as well as $20,000 for his personal use.
In March 1997, while still a student at New York University School of Law, Mr. Friedman and fellow student Oona Chatterjee founded Make the Road by Walking, a nonprofit advocacy organization providing Brooklyn immigrants with help in overcoming language barriers and administrative mazes that often prevent equal access to health and social services. They have served as co-executive directors ever since.
The organization takes its name from a line by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939), "Searcher, there is no road. We make the road by walking."
Since its beginnings in the basement of St. Barbara’s Church in Bushwick, Make the Road has moved from an all-volunteer group to an organization with a staff of 25 full-time and 20 part-time employes. Its budget has grown from an initial $72,000 to $2.5 million this year.
On Monday, the organization completed its merger with the Latin American Integration Center to become known as Make the Road New York, serving Queens and Staten Island as well as Brooklyn. The combined annual budget is about $4 million. With merger, a third co-executive director was named – Ana Maria Archila, who previously headed the center.
Mr. Friedman, 37, said he would apply the $105,000 of foundation money to expand existing Make the Road initiatives that monitor hospital and pharmacies to ensure compliance with health-related civil rights law, as well as equal access to health insurance.
As for personal use, Mr. Friedman plans to devote most of the $20,000 to his 2-year-old son’s college fund. The rest, "sadly, will go to liquidating debt," he said.
According to his colleagues, the soft-spoken Mr. Friedman is not comfortable accepting congratulations. On occasions when he must, they said, he tends to use expressions popular during his grandparents’ younger days.
Mr. Friedman’s first reaction to news of the Robert Wood Johnson gift was a hearty "Hubba-hubba!"