This is a photo we found a while back. It was a photo from the early days of the St. Nicks Alliance. After we initially ran it in the paper, the current executive director of the group, Michael Rochford, reached out to us. Here’s some of what he told us:
As the article points out, the person in the center is Father Walter Vetro, who was principal of Bishop McDonald High School.
After his tenure at Bishop McDonald, he went on to serve as pastor of St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church in Williamsburg. His appointment came at a time when Williamsburg and much of north Brooklyn was in a period of decline.
When a fire destroyed a row of housing on Powers Street near the church, the parishioners, under Father Vetro’s leadership responded to help 18 families left homeless.
This tragedy led to the founding of St. Nicks Alliance. Gary Sam Hattem, also in the photo between Father Vetro and Assemblyman Vito Lopez (far right), was hired as executive director. Together, Father Vetro and Gary Hattem led the organization for 15 years.
One of their first achievements was the redevelopment of property where the fire took place, which led to the building of Jennings Hall, a 150-unit housing development for senior citizens. This community-led development was a major turning point in grassroots efforts to revitalize Williamsburg.
St. Nicks Alliance went on to develop over 2,000 units of housing, rebuilt or constructed 75 residential or commercial buildings, all while launching industrial and commercial revitalization strategies.
Today the organization serves over 3,000 children, 1,200 elderly, and trains and places over 350 people in jobs each year at its Workforce Center on Broadway.
The photo documents the presentation of a contribution to St. Nicks Alliance by Citi Foundation. The two other people on the left side are Citi representatives including Peg Swezey, who was the first female president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.