Robin Hood Honors Five New York City Heroes

Dec 02, 2008, 10:29 ET from Robin Hood

NEW YORK, Dec. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Robin Hood, one of the city's leading poverty-fighting organizations, today hosted the 19th annual Heroes Award Breakfast. The breakfast honored five New Yorkers for their dedicated commitment to improving the lives of under-privileged New Yorkers and the local community. The morning event was held at the recently re-opened Plaza Hotel.

Organizations recognized this year include Uncommon Schools, Year Up, Community Access and Food Bank for New York City. Each organization was presented with a grant for $50,000.

Special guests at this year's event included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, and schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

Presenters for the 2008 Heroes Awards were Robin Hood board members Tom Brokaw, Bob Pittman, Alan Schwartz and leadership council member Cecily Carson.

"With the help of our donors, Robin Hood is responding with the critical financial support necessary to keep community programs like those we celebrate here today operating during these difficult economic times," said Bob Pittman, chair of Robin Hood's Board of Directors and host of the Heroes Breakfast. "The 2008 Heroes are an inspiration to all of us. Robin Hood congratulates them on their commitment and dedication to improving the life of their fellow New Yorkers."

Additional information about the 2008 Heroes is outlined below.

John King, Uncommon Schools

Both John King's parents died before he was 12. Despite the hardships he endured in his youth, he received his BA from Harvard, an MA from Columbia, a law degree from Yale and a doctorate in education from Columbia. John was the co-founder and co-director of Roxbury Prep Charter School in Boston, named one of the eight highest-performing charter schools in the nation. John was enticed by his former partner at Roxbury to come back to New York and serve as the managing director of Uncommon's first Brooklyn school -- Excellence Academy. Once at Excellence, John started thinking more of his father and how he had once been an esteemed educator in New York City, including serving as Principal of PS 70. PS 70 had been a good school but as Bedford Stuyvesant declined it turned into a burned out shell housing crack addicts and dog fights. In 2004, the former home of PS 70 was rebuilt into an all-boys charter school -- Excellence Academy. John King had unknowingly helped resurrect his father's professional legacy while bringing quality public education back to Bedford Stuyvesant.

Roberto Velez and Lisette Nieves, Year Up

Roberto Velez has had the opposite of a charmed life. His mother and father left him when he was two. He was in foster care when his grandmother came from Puerto Rico to claim him. There were sometimes calm stretches with his grandmother, but then his father would get out of jail and menace them. To escape his father, Roberto took to the streets. He worked at McDonald's where he ate, and lived in train stations and parks. Another organization directed Roberto to Year Up. At the completion of the program he was offered a job at Merrill Lynch. He is not worried about losing his job in the current bad economy. Despite the fact that he considers this job "the greatest thing to ever happen to me" he feels he has already endured far greater traumas. Lisette Nieves, the Executive Director of Year Up, has dedicated herself to youth services for 20 years, including working as the Chief of Staff for the N.Y.C. Department of Youth and Community Development.

Dwayne Mayes and Steve Coe, Community Access

Dwayne Mayes has a large question mark on the back of his head -- a scar from the hot grease his mother poured on him at 18 months. His arms bear the triangular marks of an iron. For the first five years of his life, Dwayne was brutally abused until his mother left with his three other siblings, leaving Dwayne with his father. He never saw his mother again, who later committed suicide. At 16, depression hit. He became introverted and paranoid. Spiraling downward, Dwayne began to "self-medicate" and became a homeless crack addict. It wasn't until he was 30 that he was diagnosed with mental illness and got the proper medication. Sixteen years later, he is now the Director of Community Access's Peer Advocacy Center in Harlem. His daughter, who he raised as a single dad, is going to Brandeis and Dwayne will be married this May. His greatest hope is that his life and work will inspire others and help people understand mental illness. Steve Coe, the Executive Director of Community Access, is celebrating his 30th year running the organization. He has been the pillar in this community and literally thousands of people owe him their lives.

Food Bank for New York City (C.E.O. Lucy Cabrera will be accepting the award)

This past summer, spiking fuel prices triggered sharp increases in the price of basics like milk and eggs. For New York families already on a tight budget, that meant choosing between paying rent and buying groceries. Many turned to soup kitchens and food pantries for the first time in their lives. These very same emergency food programs found the cupboard was almost bare. Corporations had cut back on food donations, and a Farm Bill that was expected to yield large quantities of government-surplus food became stalled in Congress.

Founded in 1983, Food Bank for New York City provides half of all the emergency food to the 1000 plus soup kitchens and pantries in New York City. Today, C.E.O. Lucy Cabrera is developing strategies to address the new face of hunger in New York City: working families and the elderly. In the past year, Food Bank has distributed 52 million pounds of food and 9 million pounds of produce. Although virtually unknown to the 1.3 million New Yorkers who will visit a soup kitchen or food pantry this year, the organization is no less than a lifeline.

About Robin Hood:

Robin Hood holds steadfast to a single mission: fight poverty in New York City. Robin Hood is changing the fates and saving the lives of our neighbors in need by applying investment principles to charitable giving. We find, fund and create the most effective programs and schools serving families in New York City's poorest neighborhoods. To ensure that every dollar is invested wisely, we rigorously assess each program using independent, third-party evaluators to hold each program accountable. Because Robin Hood's board of directors pays all administrative, fundraising and evaluation costs, 100 percent of donations goes directly to organizations helping impoverished New Yorkers build better lives.

To learn more about Robin Hood, or to make a donation to help Robin Hood fight poverty, please visit our website:

SOURCE Robin Hood