En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Profiles of MRNY
Type: Media Coverage

Charity Gives Hope to City Aid Angels

Iris Morales
knows how to pick a winner, and that’s a good thing for this city.

As executive
director of the Union Square Awards, Morales and her staff – Program Officer
Cynthia Wong, Program Associate Irini Neofotistos and Program Coordinator
Telesh Lopez – have, since 1998, been identifying and supporting up-and-coming
organizations working to better their community and/or target group.

The roster
of Union Square Award winners include groups and personalities that have since
become powerhouses in the city and nation, including: Majora Carter of the
environmental advocacy group Sustainable South Bronx (2002 winner); Families
United for Racial and Economic Equality (2004); Added Value, an urban farm
program (2006); Housing Matters of New York (2004); Oona Chatterjee and Andrew Friedman of the worker organizing group Make the Road by
Walking
(1998-1999),
and Hour Children (2007), a Queens group that helps families of incarcerated
women.

There have
been 162 "social justice" awards (which includes groups working with
homelessness and hunger, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, youth leadership,
family and community development, economic self-sufficiency and conflict
resolution) and 23 art awards since the group was founded 10 years ago.

Winners
receive a $50,000 no-strings attached grant paid over one or two years,
depending on which schedule Morales feels best suits the group’s need.

"Sometimes
the organization is tiny, one person with no staff and no money," Morales
said. "If they get $50,000 in one shot, they feel they have to live up to
it and spend it. Then the next year comes and they have no money. Many groups
have come back to me in the second year and told me how happy they were that we
broke the award in half."

That was the
case for Fernando Soto, executive director of The After Hours Project (2003),
which does on-the-street outreach with heroin addicts. "Iris is an angel,
our guardian angel," Soto said. "If we had not gotten that money when
we did, we would have gone under."

A
Manhattan-born lawyer and daughter of an elevator operator and garment worker,
Morales said awards are based more on "passion than on numbers. Through
the generosity of our benefactors, we’re offering a hand to people who are
trying to make our city better."

The group
also offers seminars on fund-raising and organizational planning.

The awards
were set up in 1998 by an anonymous artist who died before the first ceremony
could be held. The award logo is a picture he took of the U.S. Supreme Court
steps. It is named for Union
Square, one of the historical centers of
organizing efforts in the city.

The late
artist’s family has continued his legacy and attends the annual awards
ceremony.

"This
award gave me a foundation," said Sally Regenhard, co-founder with Monica
Gabrielle of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, a group which sprung up in the
wake of the Sept. 11 attack on the World
Trade Center.
"I had no funds, and they gave me a needed boost and the recognition I
needed."

Chatterjee, co-founder of Make the Road by
Walking
(the group
has since merged with the Latin American
Integration Center
and is now Make the Road New York), said the 1998-99 award "helped stabilize us. Plus it
was just amazing that, knowing Iris’ personal history as an activist and
organizer, that she saw something in our work to admire."

Make the Road was one of four groups that last
month received a $100,000 "special award" as part of Union Square
Award’s 10th anniversary observances.

Morales said
she’s just trying to make a difference in the city she loves. "I believe
in the power of love and the people of the City of New York," she said.