Teaching Taught me the True Importance of Philanthropy

Elementary school kids sitting on classroom floor

Since a very young age, I looked up to my teachers. I knew that more than anything I wanted to encourage and mold young minds. I started my young adult life by studying and becoming an elementary school teacher. It was a dream for me to work with children and I wanted to make an impact on both their education and their lives.

I taught first grade at an inner city school. These adorable and innocent 6 and 7 year olds taught me so much about their challenging lives. They opened my eyes to the difficulties that children from the inner city face growing up at a socioeconomic disadvantage.

Most days the students would come to school on an empty stomach, so we provided them with a free breakfast meal. Most children welcome holidays and days off from school but not my students. Some were frightened of their home life and never wanted to go home. Some children were kept awake all night by alcoholic parents and they would come to school needing some sleep. Other children did not have any support at home hence making their daily lives very difficult.

I will never forget my first week of teaching these first graders. One student named Alan came to school looking so exhausted. He had dark circles under his eyes and he was having difficulty staying awake. He asked me if he could take a nap. Of course, I told him yes.

It was important that I never left these children alone, as they were sometimes unruly. Per my rules, at bathroom time I would chaperone my 28 students in a single file to the restroom. At that point, Alan was sound asleep but I knew I had to wake him and make sure he was part of our group. Alan was hard to wake up but I was able to rouse him and get him in the line for the bathroom break.

As we all made our way to the bathroom, Alan started walking very crookedly- almost like a drunken sailor. I was startled by his inability to function and his extreme drowsiness so I asked my superintendent to call an ambulance. The ambulance came quickly, thank God, and rushed Alan to the emergency room where they discovered he had overdosed on his mother’s Valium pills. They pumped out his stomach and saved his life.

I will never forget this experience as Alan could have died in my classroom if it were not for my restroom rules. I was devastated by this experience and my heart broke for this poor child. He had managed to ingest enough Valium to overdose unbeknownst to his family. It was in this moment that I realized my mission in life.

This event showed me clearly how vulnerable some of these kind and innocent children were. I learned so much about their way of life and it was a total eye opener for me to hear their everyday stories of their parents drinking, leaving them alone at night, going to jail, drug abuses and so much more. It was in that moment that I decided to make it my mission to help children like Alan.

I remember at the end of this teaching year I was astounded at how much these children, in spite of their extreme difficulties at home, could learn and grow. They ended up learning how to read, write and displayed extraordinary math skills.

Looking back on this I realize that it was my most accomplished teaching year. These students had difficulties at home yet they were able to put everything aside in order to learn and succeed. I realized at that moment that I would always try however I could to teach and help vulnerable children. 

I have since spent my adult years as a founding director of KIPP Academy. We had 2 schools when I started (one in NYC and one in Houston) and after 7 years we grew to 85 schools around the country. I am proud to say that there are now more than 200 KIPP schools around the country serving underprivileged children from kindergarten – 12th grade.

I am also now a development director for Cristo Rey Brooklyn high school. We serve underprivileged students in 9th- 12th grade. EVERY student in our school of 320 students graduates from this school and EVERY student goes to college on a full scholarship. This is life changing for these students as no one in their family has ever even graduated from high school. We are the only parachute out of their desperate situations and they are all eager to get out- given an opportunity and a nurturing, scholastic environment.

I feel that if one can offer a helping hand in this world, then our lives were not lived in vain. Sometimes even the smallest acts of kindness or generosity can have a lasting impact on someone and I believe that if more people reached out to help others, the world would be a better place.

 

Supporting and Remembering the Deployed Members of the Military with Forgotten Soldiers, Inc.

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The holiday season can be quite hectic for most people. We often get bogged down with the hustle and bustle of Christmas and New Years. It’s the most wonderful time of the year and as wonderful as it is to spend all that extra time with friends and family, there are others that need to be remembered during this time. Last Christmas Eve, both my family and I volunteered for an amazing organization called the Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, Inc. located in Florida. This organization sends care packages to service members that were unable to be at home this holiday season. This event greatly affected me beyond what I expected.

Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, Inc. based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a nationally recognized organization that sends out monthly care packages to deployed military members. Military members can either register themselves or can be registered by family, friends, or commanding officers to receive a “We care” package filled with much needed toiletries, snack food, batteries, drink mixes, comics, personalized letters of encouragement and much more. All care package items are donated from people all over the United States. The mission of this organization is to support the deployed military service members to make sure that they are not forgotten during a long and difficult deployment.

Since 9/11 there have been 2.77 million service members that have served on 5.4 million deployments according to an analysis done the Rand Corporation. Deployment is highly taxing and the stress, loneliness and fear felt during deployment is compounded during the holidays. Being away from loved ones during this time can cause additional anxiety, fatigue and feelings of isolation. Forgotten Soldiers Outreach sends care packages to these soldiers to make sure that they know that they are remembered and appreciated. Being away from home is hard, for the brave service members it is even harder.

When my family and I volunteered to help create the care packages with Forgotten Soldiers Outreach on Christmas Eve, I was unprepared for how much it would affect my emotions. When interviewed during the event, I was overcome with emotions when thinking about how important these heroes are to our country and how much they sacrifice for the safety of the nation. They are apart from their family and friends and more than anything, I wanted these soldiers to know how much they are appreciated and remembered. I am so thankful for the opportunity to create these “We care” packages for service members and to spend time volunteering with my family. There is no other place I would have rather spent my Christmas Eve.

I will continue to support and help this worthwhile cause. It is so important to support these soldiers and send them care packages so they realize how much we appreciate and understand ALL that they do, by risking their lives, so that we can live in freedom.
The foundation is called Forgotten Soldiers because people forget about them and take them risking their lives for us, for granted. The soldiers are our hero’s and should be remembered and appreciated every day.

The holidays aren’t the only time that our soldiers should be recognized for their service; the Forgotten Soldiers Outreach can use your help year round. Although they are located in Lake Worth, they accept donations for the packages from all over the country. They also accept monetary donations through their website. Please visit their website for more ways to help out deployed soldiers.

 

 

Sharon Bush: Mentoring Women Entrepreneurs

Women in roles of leadership and especially those building their own business are becoming more commonplace in modern times. As a culture, women have made considerable strides in the last few decades making their way into positions of authority. Women in business are stepping outside of traditional roles and thriving in the professional world. With every step forward that women take in society, there were women before them who were breaking ceilings and making room at the table. Today, with hard work, sweat, and determination, women can lead and build businesses successfully. Women can help other women learn from the lessons they faced in the past, helping and encouraging the future of women in business.

Women entrepreneurs know that the entrepreneurship grind does not come without hardships and struggle. Relying on the experience of other entrepreneurs who have gone before them can help them make the trek slightly less complicated. Seasoned and experienced mentors can be an excellent resource for budding women entrepreneurs. Sharon Bush is an entrepreneur who has expressed that women with more life experience can extend a helping hand to younger generations. Bush has started several businesses of her own and knows a thing or two about starting your own business.

Sharon Bush took the initiative to start several companies and foundations that help children in the United States and internationally. One of these ventures is called Teddy Shares. When a teddy bear is purchased from Teddy Shares, a Plump’Nut supplement is given to children who need nutrients and nourishment. Sharon Bush has also worked to leave a greener and more environmentally conscious world to future generations. She oversees business development for two companies, Protein Matrix, and GreenStract. Both focus on how we can better improve how we dispose of and break down waste. Sharon Bush has also invested her time as a board member in organizations that are vessels for positive change. Some of these include the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and the UN Women for Peace Association (UNWFPA). As a mother, entrepreneur, business-woman, and teacher, she brings a wealth of information on the matter of balancing business and life. Sharon Bush passed on her entrepreneurial spirit to her children. Her daughter Lauren Bush is the CEO of a company called FEED, which also focuses on tackling the problem of world hunger. [LinkedIn]

As an experienced entrepreneur, Sharon Bush’s advice is to be open about your gender-related struggles. When we share stories about our experiences, our efforts, and how we grew through them and overcame them, we can give hope to those going through their own experiences- that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and hardships can produce great learning. Society places high expectations on women. To have it all together all the time and not look like you are breaking a sweat is delusional and a reality in which a normal human being would not thrive. To truly succeed, there naturally will be struggles along the way. Being open and authentic about those struggles allows people to relate, not feel alone, and give them a boost of confidence. To know that others who have gone before you and made it through also provides a sense of comfort. Women entrepreneurs are becoming more common, but you still might be a minority in a business world of men; know that what you feel, see, and experienced is not uncommon. Being vulnerable about your past struggle while navigating the entrepreneur world, can make a newcomer not feel so alone.

Bush also talks about intentionally seeking out high achieving professionals and being a mentor, taking them under your wing. To build up the next generation of professional high achieving women, it is essential to see them for where they are at and give them the advice and guidance you wish you could have had. It is crucial that women give each other a hand up and spread knowledge and wisdom where one can. With this mentorship comes a level of honesty that is intended to help. Bush also talks about giving feedback, even if it’s negative. To grow we need to be aware of where gaps exist, and sometimes it takes an outside eye to identify areas of growth.

Starting your own business is no small undertaking. Thankfully today, women can connect with those who have gone before who can mentor and advise on the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship. It’s safe to say that being an entrepreneur can bring some extreme highs and lows and having one person to lend an ear or offer advice can make a significant impact on your experience.

Follow Sharon Bush on Twitter!

Houston and Hurricane Harvey

Houston and Hurricane Harvey

Pictured: Voss Road Flooded by Hurricane Harvey

I was so proud when my son Pierce was named CEO of Big Brothers & Sisters Lone Star in 2015. As the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in the world, it covers Houston, North Texas, and West Central Texas.

 Weeks ago, as the news focused on the impending hurricane, Harvey, my thoughts were with Pierce, and the children he helps every day. Then, on August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. By Sunday evening there was catastrophic flooding in Houston and the surrounding areas.

As the disaster continued to unfold, and life-saving measures were taken– from opening shelters to rescuing people from rooftops- I could only imagine the fear and heartbreak being experienced by the children who are part of Big Brother Big Sisters.

I raised my own children in Houston, and was devastated when I saw that Voss Road, the street I used every day when I drove my children home from school, was underwater.

Pierce may or may not remember those trips with the same fondness I do, but while I’m heartbroken at the photos, I couldn’t be prouder of my son now as he responds to the overwhelming problems that face all of Houston as they emerge, literally, from the floodwaters.

This is the note he sent:

Because of my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, I have often told friends that the divisive news cycle we see on the television screen is not the reality I get to see every day. For every day when I arrive at work, I get to see a world in which people sacrificially give their time, energy, love and resources to young people whom they would likely not meet otherwise, all in an effort to make their lives better. They simply understand that when a kid is suffering in our community, we are all suffering no matter if that kid is related by blood or not.

 

In the face of tremendous tragedy, we have seen tremendous care. I am deeply moved by the stories of people helping their fellow neighbors during this tragic storm and love the city of Houston which I am honored to call my home. It is a city that embraces the incredible diversity of its people and takes pride in being the most diverse city in the USA. It is a city that is open and friendly to all who want to make a better life for themselves. It is a city that looks today what America will look like tomorrow. Because of how Houston has acted during this storm, it is safe to say that America will always be the greatest, most welcoming place on earth, because its people are good.

 

Thank you, Houston, for being so awesome! We will rebuild our great city for all of our neighbors.

 

— Pierce Bush

Clearly, even with the courage, strength and optimism of people like my son, it will take years to rebuild Houston. But Houstonians are big hearted, and always help each other.

Texas Governor, Greg Abbot, said, “We need to recognize it will be a new normal, a new and different normal for this entire region.”

Right now the focus is on emergency relief. But, as the waters recede and the people in this place I love come together to create their “new normal,” it uplifts me tremendously to know that all the water, and destruction, have not damaged the spirit of the city– the people.

I couldn’t be prouder of my son and my city.

Saying prayers for everyone.

4 Ways to Mentor Female Entrepreneurs

4 Ways to Mentor Female Entrepreneurs

Girlboss. Lady boss. Mompreneur. No matter what you call them or how you feel about the cutesy nicknames, there’s no denying that women entrepreneurs are having something of a cultural moment. From the Netflix Girlboss TV show, featuring a woman who starts her own fashion empire, to the real-life moguls rounding out Forbes’ list of the most powerful women in business, women have made it into the big time, and people are paying attention.

The best part about more women breaking into the ranks of boardrooms and corner offices? It puts us in a position to recognize and identify other capable women that we can pull up to the top with us. Here are some specific ways that we can act as mentors to our fellow females:

  1. Be open about your own gender-related struggles.

Don’t think you’re doing a good deed by sweeping any difficulties you’ve faced as a woman under the rug. If women don’t hear other women talking about how frustrating and lonely the working world can feel sometimes, they’ll wonder if there’s something wrong with them instead of with the situation. So tell them about the time when you were the only woman in the room and you felt like everyone doubted your right to be there. Tell them about the time when you felt like your voice wasn’t being heard. Tell them about how hard it is to succeed both in the office and at home, and about how sometimes on your worst days you’ve felt like you’re failing at both. Most importantly, tell them that you pushed through it and stuck with it.

Feelings of gender-related frustration are completely normal, and it’s important for women to hear that from more accomplished women that have lived through it all. Honesty breeds trust. It also sets expectations appropriately. You may not be able to give her the magic answers to all of the struggles she’ll face, but at least she’ll be prepared to face them.

  1. Don’t wait to be approached. Look out for high-achieving young professionals and take them under your wing.

Asking for advice from a senior-level professional can be intimidating, and women new to the working world may be unsure about how to broach the topic of mentorship. Instead of putting the pressure on her to make the first step, take the initiative and do it yourself.

First, let her know that your door is always open if she ever needs advice or wants to talk. Remind her that you were in her shoes once, too. Then, take an active interest in what she does. Start small by always asking questions and showing interest in how she’s feeling about work. Ask what frustrates her and what excites her. Walk her through some of the tougher leadership decisions you’ve been making so that she gets an insider’s view on your thought process. Keep the conversation going.

You don’t even need to officially apply the “mentor” label; let your relationship grow naturally.

  1. Establish a formal support group for women within your company.

From “Lean In” circles to Women’s Issues working groups at work, a more formal affinity group or support group for women can be an excellent way to expand the idea mentorship besides the traditional one-on-one approach. If your company doesn’t already have one, consider starting one.

In this way, you can be one of a group of senior-level mentors that helps tackle company issues head on and encourages women to support each other in the workplace. By talking about your experiences in groups instead of one-on-one, everyone involved will be exposed to a wide variety of advice; different things work for different people. Plus, you’ll develop your own professional network at the same time.

  1. Never hesitate to give her feedback, even if it’s negative.

As a mentor, one of the most useful contributions you can make to her future success is to give her specific, actionable feedback. Especially in a large and more formal workplace, honest feedback can often be hard to come by.

Don’t just focus on the positive feedback, either. Tell her what she’s doing wrong, and what she can improve on. Tell her that you noticed she seemed nervous speaking in front of everyone, ad recommend some practice tips or that she join a Toastmasters group. Tell her that you think she needs stronger leadership experience, and recommend specific ways for her to improve.

If specific and genuinely constructive criticism comes from someone she respects and who she knows has her best interests at heart, she’s more likely to listen. A true mentor wants their mentee to become stronger, and that means having the tough conversations.

Why Women Over 50 Make Better Entrepreneurs

Why Women Over 50 Make Better Entrepreneurs

For women entrepreneurs over the age of 50, the odds seem to be in their favor. Recent data shows that the 55-to-64-year-old age group boasts the highest rate of entrepreneurship among Americans. Female founders are on an upward trend, too. Older female entrepreneurs may not meet the common caricature of the spectacled young techie founders running Silicon Valley, but they’re clearly thriving–and with good reason. Middle-aged women are at a time in their lives that’s ripe for innovation and entrepreneurship. Here’s why:

  1. We know from personal experience what over-50’s want.

Companies are tripping over themselves to market to millennials, the largest demographic in the U.S., numbering about 80 million. If they can only crack the code to being “cool,” the thinking goes, they’ll reap the financial rewards accordingly.

But their laser focus on the young adult market carries risks. Over-50s hold 80% of the developed world’s wealth, and as more of them make their way to retirement, they’re ready to start spending. And with women making the majority of household purchasing decisions, who better to lead the way in developing new products for the over-50 market than female over-50 entrepreneurs themselves?

  1. We’ve spent a lifetime building up our networks.

One critical factor in building a successful business is finding the right people on your team. While a just-out-of-college entrepreneur can hire a headhunter and perform multiple rounds of interviews, it takes time and effort to form an effective group of key employees. Older entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are more likely to have already built a deep bench of people that they have worked well with before and can trust. Drawing from that bench will let them hit the ground running.

Those strong networks built up over the years will come in handy not just for hiring the right people for the job, but also for marketing products and generating excitement and publicity. With a full career behind us and the contacts to show for it, we’re starting two steps ahead of fresh-faced college graduates.

  1. The numbers and the research are both on our side.

From Mark Zuckerberg to Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the media loves to tell stories about twentysomethings with fresh ideas building successful enterprise giants from the ground up. It’s interesting, it’s exciting, and it’s dramatic. But when you look at the numbers, these young founders are far from the norm. In fact, they’re actually the ones who beat the odds; there are twice as many entrepreneurs over the age of 50 as there are under 25, and 38% of founders are over the age of 40.

Research shows why those findings make sense: according to a Kellogg study, people are truly becoming more innovative at older ages. It takes time for all of our education and work experience to settle in our brain and trigger new ideas about better ways of doing things. In today’s world, where people are living longer, healthier lives, older entrepreneurs have the energy and the resources to act on those ideas.

  1. We’re thinking about building our legacy.

As a general rule, women over 50 are starting to think about building our legacy for the future, meaning that we’re not slowing down–we’re speeding up as we start to envision the finish line off in the distance. Psychology bears this theory out. 50-year-olds are solidly in the seventh developmental stage, “generativity”, of psychologist Erik Erikson’s eight developmental life stages. The “generativity” stage is defined as a time of increased productivity and creativity, as people want to contribute to society and the world around them. Think of it like a “midlife crisis” in the sense that 50-and-overs are ready to take risks and make major life changes–but in a good way, and not actually a crisis at all.

  1. We’re pursuing less crowded markets.

Popularized by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, many modern entrepreneurs aim to pursue a “blue ocean strategy” in which their product won’t have any competition, so that they can expect to capture a greater share of the potential market. With the product landscape targeting tech-savvy twentysomethings oversaturated, that creates a prime opportunity for over-50 entrepreneurs to innovate new products targeting the increasing number of older Americans, a market that is relatively wide open: only 10% of marketing budgets are designated for the 50+ age group, even though they account for over half of all consumer expenditures in the U.S. That’s a huge missed opportunity, and older entrepreneurs are in the perfect position to take advantage of the imbalance.

Keep Your Eyes on Women Over 50

While Forbes touts its youth-focused “30 under 30” list, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the next great innovation will be born out of youthful exuberance; it’s more likely that it will be born out of old-school wisdom, and that that wisdom will come from a woman over 50.

 

4 Organizations Doing Great Things for Mothers

4 Organizations Doing Great Things for Mothers

Just because Mother’s Day has come and gone and Father’s Day is around the corner, we can’t lose sight of the many women who play the part of both parents at home. According to the 2016 census, 23% of families with children under 18 are single-mother households, and out of the 11 million single-parent households, 8.5 million of those are led by moms.

I know that balancing work and family can be difficult for any parent, but for single mothers trying to be there for their children while earning enough money to provide for her household, balancing both responsibilities is even more of a challenge.

Luckily, there are many nonprofits around the country that provide help and guidance for moms doing it all on their own. Here are four organizations that do everything they can to improve the lives of single moms on a local and national scale.

Women’s Banking Worldwide

For over 30 years, Women’s Banking Worldwide has helped millions of low-income women around the world gain access to the products and services they need to become financially literate, independent, and responsible. With a network of 49 financial institutions within 32 countries, Women’s Banking Worldwide develops means through which women can set up and use saving and checking accounts, receive health microinsurance as well as loans for their entrepreneurial endeavors. The organization’s ultimate goal is to give women the opportunity to build a financial safety net that is easy to use, convenient, and conducive to a successful economic future. And through conducting thorough market research, they are able to evolve their products and create new ones that fit the needs of women today.

National Partnership for Women & Families

Paid Family Leave is a hot topic and for a single working mother, having the ability to stay home and care for their sick child without having to dive into her savings account makes a big difference not just for the child, but for her as well. That’s just one of the many issues that National Partnership for Women & Families is fighting for. The organization is a heavy lifter when it comes to campaigning for more substantial health care coverage including workplace benefits like paid sick leave, eliminating the gender pay gap and ending discrimination against pregnant women and new moms in the office. With a team of policy experts and attorneys, the nonprofit goes directly to the government to improve the lives of women, children, and families.

Children’s Health Fund

No child should have to compromise their health because of their economic status and no mother should have to sit by and watch as her child stays sick because she can’t afford to pay for a visit to the doctor or take off time from work. That’s when Children’s Health Fund goes to work. With 53 mobile pediatric medical centers operating throughout the country serving 290,000 individuals each year, the Blue Busses bring the doctor’s office and the experts to the young patients. Children’s Health Fund also provides support to pregnant women and mothers through a group care program, giving mothers the opportunity to bond with other mothers while doctors provide checkups to their children from birth to 18 months. For single mothers, having the ability to form a support group outside of a traditional family structure can make everything much easier.

FEED

I wouldn’t be fulfilling my role of “proud mother” if I didn’t mention my daughter, Lauren Bush Lauren’s nonprofit FEED. In 2007, Lauren’s travels as a World Food Programme (WFP) Honorary Spokesperson led her to see the impact of malnutrition on a global scale. Determined to find a solution, she founded an organization dedicated to alleviating hunger in the United States, parts of Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Through the sale of specially designed (not to mention stylish) accessories like bags, jewelry, tees, and scarves, FEED is able to provide healthy and satisfying school meals, locally sourced ingredients, and crucial vitamins and micronutrient powders to households around the world. With a special focus on new mothers and mothers-to-be, Lauren’s organization keeps these women strong and energized so they can care for their families.

The important thing to remember is that if you’re a single mother, you’re not alone. There are organizations and individuals who have your back, even if you’ve never met them.

 

Cristo Rey Brooklyn: An Opportunity to Give Back!

Sharon Bush Cristo Rey

Hello Everyone!

Just wanted to give an update on some things that I’ve been working on.

A couple of months ago, I started a new project as a Senior Development Officer for Cristo Rey Brooklyn High School. Cristo Rey Brooklyn is a Catholic high school that educates young people of limited economic means and all religions to become men and women of faith, purpose and service. By offering a rigorous curriculum, a unique work-study experience and the support of an inclusive school community we prepare our students to successfully complete college and enter the world with the values essential to a fulfilling life. Our record to date is 100% placement of our graduates into college and universities throughout the country. Even more impressively, every one of our graduates the past two years has received acceptance into at least one four year college with full financial need met!

Cristo Rey’s innovative Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) enables students to earn up to half of the cost of their college preparatory education while gaining valuable real-work experience through their immersion in entry-level positions at leading corporations and nonprofit organizations across New York City. To have a greater appreciation of the work-study program click here for a short concise YouTube video.

It is my hope that you will give serious consideration to contributing funding to sustain what I believe is one of the most important educational initiatives in the country. The Cristo Rey Network currently operates 32 schools nationally and is the largest network of schools exclusively serving low income students and families in the country.

Sharon Bush Cristo Rey Brooklyn
The vision of Cristo Rey is to uplift urban youth and enable them to gain real-world work experience and a college education.

If you’re in a giving mood this season, please reach out to me to coordinate a gift or donation! Education is more important than ever these days, and empowering children who don’t have equal opportunities is something I care passionately about and look to improve.

Aside from my work life, I’ve also been doing a bit of writing and blogging on my own, mostly based on my experiences as a mother of three beautiful and successful adults. I’m currently a contributing author at Huffington Post and Entrepreneur. Please feel free to give my articles a read if you’re interested in reading about my parenting techniques and female empowerment in the workplace. If you’re looking to find me elsewhere online connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, or like my Facebook page!

I hope everyone has a fantastic February, and I send my best wishes to you and your family for the upcoming year!

Is NYC Behind in Sustainability?

Sharon-Bush-sustainability-NYC

When you think of “New York City”, what do you think of? Many would call the urban jungle an epicenter of culture, a pioneer for the global marketplace, and a champion of culinary achievement. But would any of us call New York City a leader in sustainability?

Think of the congestion of traffic at rush hour, the over-saturation of trash on the city streets, and the dearth of recycling initiatives. Compared to a more sustainable city like Tokyo (recently named the “Greenest City in Asia”), New York certainly has ground to cover before it’s considered eco-friendly.

At the same time, New York has launched and is launching a slew of initiatives to try to catch up. Let’s take a look at what is on the horizon for New York’s environmental movement, and how these programs are faring.

As New York resident, I’ve had the opportunity to experience several sustainable efforts NYC. Recently, I’ve been enjoying frequent school field trips to the Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo, and even learned all there is about The River Project this past October.

Sustainable efforts are being taken all over the city. Just last November, the Hotel Association of New York City awarded seven NYC hotels for promoting and practicing sustainable hospitality initiatives. The NYC Department of Education not only talks the talk but walks the walk, aiming for zero waste by 2030 as well as promoting education awareness and management to schools.

It’s also on the forefront of the political scene. Achieving the status of “sustainable” has been on the agenda of government officials in New York for the last decade. Between former Mayor Bloomberg’s roll out of PlaNYC in 2007, Mayor de Blasio’s announcement of OneNYC in 2015, and recently Governor Cuomo’s host of the regional sustainable development conference this past September, we’ve seen a concerted effort from our governmental bodies.

But how are these efforts holding up? Let’s examine two of the biggest initiatives, PlaNYC and OneNYC.

The Initiatives

PlaNYC

Sharon Bush planyc

Bloomberg’s plan to implement PlaNYC began in 2007, and focused on 10 areas of interest. Each area aimed to help environmentally sustain NYC for the projected surge of 1 million new residents by the year 2030.

Here are the 10 areas of interest:

  • Housing and Neighborhoods
  • Parks and Public Space
  • Brownfields
  • Waterways
  • Water Supply
  • Energy
  • Transportation
  • Air Quality
  • Solid Waste
  • Climate Change

The plan also called to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.

Several successful initiatives have come out of the plan. According to a 2011 PlaNYC update, 97% of the 127 proposed initiatives were accomplished in the first year, making it wildly successful in its execution.

One successful initiative, the renovation of Freshkills Park, the world’s former largest landfall in Staten Island, is projected to be three times the size of Central Park.

OneNYC

Sharon Bush One NYC

Eight years after the original PlaNYC, New York City Mayor de Blasio’s updated proposal, OneNYC encompasses four ‘visions’, one of them called “Our Sustainable City”. There are five main components with 30 initiatives in de Blasio’s sustainability vision:

  • 80 x 50 (Greenhouse gas emissions from the city will be reduced 80% by 2050)
  • Zero waste (sent to landfills by 2030)
  • Air Quality
  • Brownfields (putting to beneficial use vacant lots that are majority in low-income areas)
  • Water Management
  • Park & Natural Resources

De Blasio’s plan is more demanding than Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, but so far, it has been generally well received. That being said, it’s still in its early stages, so it’s still too early in the year to check up into the progress. However, according to nyc.gov: “Over the last year, the City has made significant progress toward OneNYC’s goals. In fact, over 95 percent of OneNYC’s 202 initiatives are already underway.

It’s always good to see politicians successfully delivering on promises, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.

The critics

Not all of efforts made through Bloomberg’s PlaNYC were without criticism. In April 2008, Bloomberg submitted a costly proposal of congestion pricing, creating an $8 charge on cars entering the busiest part of Manhattan during peak hours. This was in an effort to discourage New Yorkers from contributing to car exhaust, but it was struck down in Albany. The overwhelming opposition came from a majority of NYC politicians calling those benefiting from the plan “elitists”. It’s unfortunate, as funds collected from congestion pricing would have gone towards supporting public transit availability and efficiency.

Many of the criticisms of de Blasio’s OneNYC focus on the program’s lack of executables. Critics wonder how he is going to achieve his lofty ambitions in a city as complex as New York. Environmental justice groups, such as New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, support the vision, but they also note that it “lacks a genuine engagement of community involvement” and needs more actionable details.

NYC’s future for sustainability

While New York might not be a paradigm of sustainability yet, these initiatives prove there is progress on the horizon. Support from government agencies, the Department of Education, and local businesses has put the city on the right track.

But, as the Environmental Justice Alliance points out, community involvement is always at the heart of these movements. It will take support from all New Yorkers in order to make a green NYC a reality.

Sharon Bush is an accomplished philanthropist who has worked for nearly four decades to bring resources to underprivileged women, children and families around the world. Her altruism and business acumen have had a powerful results, and many global organizations have recognized her humanitarian efforts with awards and accolades.

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