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March 21, 2019
At Citizens’ Committee for Children, we believe in the power of knowledge and collective action. We take seriously our charge to empower New Yorkers with facts and involve them in civic engagement opportunities that allow them use what they learn to take action.
CCC’s Community Leadership Course (CLC), our flagship civic engagement program, has been educating and inspiring New Yorkers since 1962 so that they may contribute to creating a New York in which all children are healthy, housed, educated, and safe.
At the helm of the course are two CLC Co-Chairs, whose leadership is essential to sustaining quality and ensuring growth. We recently sat down with our two new co-chairs to hear their impressions about the CLC and, as alumni of the program, the impact it’s had on their own lives. Marcy Sandler (Class of 2000) and Margarita Soto (Class of 2014) have both remained active CCC volunteers ever since they took the course and we are lucky to count them among our ranks of community leaders.
Marcy Sandler moved back to New York City after living in London with her family for a few years in the late 1990’s. “I was looking for involvement in an organization that I could sink my teeth into,” she says, “One where I could do more than volunteer a couple of hours a week, and where I could learn something new and try to make a difference.”
Knowing this, a friend invited her to get involved with CCC’s spring benefit and she obliged.
“I remember at the first benefit committee meeting, CCC’s director came in and gave a lengthy and informative update about family homelessness in the city. I felt an immediate connection between the funds we were trying to raise and the impact CCC could have on policy. I was hooked,” says Marcy, almost 20 years later. That fall, she enrolled in the CLC and a new child advocate emerged.
Margarita Soto has always been interested in understanding what helps children thrive — perhaps because of her own personal history. She was born with a congenital heart defect and was able to get free life-saving treatment at a public hospital in Peru, where she was born.
“As a child, I emigrated to the United States with my family and was an undocumented immigrant. Both my parents worked blue collar jobs with health care benefits and a living wage that gave them enough income to buy a multi-family home with rental income. I was able to attend strong public schools and when the Immigration Control & Reform Act of 1986 (Amnesty) passed, it helped me access a college education. I thrived because I was able to be healthy, housed, educated, and safe, which is what CCC wants for every child.”
In adulthood, Margarita was a social worker and later an assistant district attorney in the Child Abuse Unit investigating child abuse. When she had her own children, she became active in her community by serving on boards focused on helping children in Queens thrive. “I was happy to be introduced to the CLC by a friend. I took the course in 2014 and have remained a CCC volunteer since then.”
For both Margarita and Marcy, the CLC deepened their knowledge of the challenges facing many families and children in New York. It also introduced them to the important work being done by innovative providers of children’s services.
“My favorite part of the CLC is site visits to spaces that are trying creative solutions to time-worn problems,” says Margarita.
“My biggest takeaway from the course was meeting the many devoted child-serving professionals who took the time to talk to us and take us on tours of their sites. These inspiring professionals work long hours under stressful conditions, usually for a relatively low salary,” adds Marcy.
Site visits take place each week in the morning, and participants regroup at CCC over lunch to discuss policy and practice. “You have the opportunity to learn from CCC’s highly regarded policy and data professionals, as well as outside expert speakers. You also learn from your fellow participants – a mix of concerned citizens, direct service providers, non-profit professionals, parents and more. I found it educational, stimulating and extraordinarily meaningful,” she says.
Like many CLC graduates, both Marcy and Margarita increased their involvement with CCC after the course. Marcy continues “to be inspired by my volunteer colleagues at CCC, as well as the incredible skills and talent of the small but mighty staff. I have been fortunate to have had a number of senior roles at CCC over the years, including President and Chair of the Board. But in the end, it comes down to the people. In the nearly two decades since I became involved with CCC, I have made many dear friends and am continually awed by my peers’ commitment to CCC’s vital advocacy.”
Margarita continues to stay involved “because I am very appreciative of the work that CCC does on behalf of NYC’s children. I also really enjoy learning at CCC events. I’ve been impressed with the high dedication and caliber of the CCC staff and volunteers. I also appreciate CCC’s data-centric approach to informing advocacy.”
As the Co-Chairs gear up for their first class of CLC participants, to begin in September, they are excited to bring the course to new audiences. “I hope to continue the trend of increasing access for child advocates across the city,” says Margarita. “I want to ensure that at the CLC table there is greater representation from the outer boroughs and from people of color.”
New York City needs child advocates in every single community, and CCC stands ready to do our part in putting advocacy tools in the hands of more people who are ready to do this work.
“I think New York is not the leader that it could be with regards to prioritizing our children at every intersection,” Margarita says.
“There is still a cycle of poverty and homelessness facing New York City’s most vulnerable children and families,” Marcy adds. “It is critical that we continue to push for city and state budgets that fund programs and policies to ensure that every New York City child is healthy, housed, educated and safe.”