Unique partnership transforms Harlem buildings -- and lives
July 10, 1999
From Correspondent Frank Buckley
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Susan Concepcion says she'll never forget walking into her newly renovated Harlem apartment after an investment banker and a social worker took on the job of transforming some of New York's worst properties.
"When I came in and looked at it, it was beautiful," Concepcion said of the spotless white walls and freshly painted front door.
Earlier this decade, Buildings 27 and 29 on West 118th Street were among the worst in Harlem. Crack users camped there. Rats roamed. Residents lived in fear.
Businessman Bill Ruane wanted to fix the problem.
"What would happen if we went in with some courageous social workers to simply knock on the door and say, 'How can we help you?'" the investment banker asked.
Ruane joined forces with the established Children's Aid Society and social worker Ann Hamm. The result: A project sponsored by private and public funds that not only transformed buildings but also changed lives.
"What it has done for people here is restore their sense of hope," said Phil Coltoff of the Children's Aid Society. "It's given them a sense that there is a future."
Ruane and Hamm worked hard to gain residents' trust -- and produce results. Social services were just as important to the project as livable housing.
Now, Harlem children participate in safe activities and some are eligible for scholarships to a local Catholic school, courtesy of Ruane's philanthropic organization, the Carmel Hill Fund. The operating budget: $164,000.
The effort could serve as an example for policy makers, Coltoff said. "It could not only be done here on 118th Street, but it could be done on any block in Harlem and it can be done with any block in America."
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