This year, the Yelp Foundation donated $750,000 to 75 cities across the country, allotting a total of $10,000 for three nonprofits in each city. While the selection process has been kept under wraps, each organization ties into the Yelp Foundation’s mission to help local communities through addressing needs for education, local economic development, access to information and freedom of expression.
Community members were able to vote once a day between December 1 and 15 for their favorite local nonprofit, with the winner receiving $5,000.
Queens Community House (QCH) works to serve all generations of the borough’s residents, from children attending after-school programs to having multiple senior centers around the borough.
Make the Road New York, an organization dedicated to achieving justice for immigrant communities in Jackson Heights, won second place and received a $3,000 grant while the retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building material, Big Reuse in Astoria, rounded the top three and received $2,000.
"What was exciting for us was how excited people got for us,” said Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer for QCH.
Through the voting process, and having people get their friends and family involved, Redmond added that the process was interesting "because it allowed us to reach out to our supporters, but it also allowed us to reach another tier of people.”
Many people voted daily for the organization. After discovering the organization on Yelp’s blog, one man researched QCH and eventually made a $150 donation.
Angelia Roggie, communications coordinator for the organization, credits QCH’s online presence as a strength in winning the competition.
“We honestly couldn’t have done it without our incredible network of employees, participants, and friends who spread the word on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” Roggie said. “It just goes to show you how powerful the digital world can be.”
QCH is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. The organization was originally known as the Forest Hills Community House, and was a bridge to ease tensions between existing residents and new residents of the public housing system.
Since 1976, the organization has expanded to 11 neighborhoods and 25 program sites, which ultimately led to the organization’s name change in 2008.
The organization prides itself on helping more than 3,000 children and teenagers prepare for college and careers. They begin introducing the ideas of college with children in fifth grade and continue to hone in on the application processes and choosing an interest as the students grow up.
They also work with the Department of Education to run four alternative high school programs in the borough, including the High School for Arts and Business in Corona, Voyages Preparatory in Elmhurst, Voyages South High School in Jamaica, and John Adams High School in South Ozone Park.
The schools consists of students who have either fallen behind in high school credits or have dropped out of school altogether. With smaller, individualized classroom settings, the organization aids the students in graduation as well as navigating paths to community college and four-year colleges.
For older adults, QCH’s services includes running five senior centers in Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Jackson Heights and Flushing. And for adults and families, the group offers English classes and assists in the immigration process.
QCH hasn't decided yet whether the grant money will go towards one particular project or if it will be divided among different programs.
"This kind of money is always helpful because there’s always gaps in all of our programs that we’re trying to cover,” Redmond said. "We might have a contract to do something but the city never pays you the full cost, so we always finds other ways to cover the costs.”
For example, QCH is currently attempting to expand its food pantry with volunteers from local churches and synagogues in the Forest Hills community, but will need additional funding as well to accomplish the goal.
"Sometimes it’s also helpful to do the things that you can’t get funding for, that are also very important, such as doing an organizing campaign or trying to bring participants together from across different programs or maybe starting something up,” Redmond added.