On Wednesday afternoon, the Blackstone Group and the City Year New York Civic Engagement team infused the playground of PS 149 Sojourner Truth in Harlem with color. During their two hour service project, over 45 Blackstone employees built bookshelves and painted playground graphics and murals.
Brushing a few extra strokes of green on to her project, Karen Sprogis, a Blackstone managing director said, “I think the service project is great. It’s nice to help the kids and it’s fun to do something that you don’t typically do on a work day. I’m happy to do it and it’s nice to see coworkers in a different setting like this.”
PS 149 is both an elementary and middle school with 400 students. This school faces many challenges: based on performance, about 80% students qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is typically a poverty indicator. 1 in 6 students are at or above proficiency in Math and English and the school staff, along with City Year, are trying to turn that around.
While there is a big playground at the school, it lacked the creativity the students are known for. To serve as a reminder for them, volunteers painted five values that the students are encouraged to use in their art classes: imagination, creativity, strength, honesty and loyalty.
Principal Barbara Darrigo expressed her gratitude for the volunteers’ work. “When kids come to school, it matters if the school yard is bright, cheerful and beautiful. It matters that the murals on the outside of the building are wonderful. The murals in the gym and all of the work in the yard are just phenomenal. I’m so eternally grateful to have everyone come out here and do this for my kids and the community. It’s not just the kids; it’s the people walking by, the teachers, the parents. I’m just so deeply touched by it.”
Near the back of the playground, a group of volunteers were hammering and sanding away. Just after Michael Casey, a Blackstone partner and the Senior Managing Director in the Investor Relations & Business Development group, finished his bookshelf, he was ready to start on another project. “It feels great to do something that can help the kids a lot. It was easy for us to do and being able to make a place for them to put their books makes you feel that its time well used. Service projects are a good opportunity to get out there and understand the people in need of help. I think it’s good for us to work together. “
Tyler Henritze, the Senior Managing Director in the Real Estate Group, hopped from touching up the paint on the basketball courts to finishing the bookshelves. Henritze has been involved with City Year for a little more than three years. “In the last three years, I’ve been on the investment community board,” Henritze said. “I chose City Year because I believe in the power of education and because my younger sister was involved in the organization out of college…I believe in the importance of being involved in your community. “
By 4:00 p.m., Blackstone volunteers completed painting five values, a compass, jump line, four square, decorative pictures, repainting the basketball courts and building and finishing four bookshelves. Thanks to the volunteers, the students at PS 149 will have a playground as vibrant as they are.