Since the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation was established in 1967, the organization’s mission to empower community members, promote enterprise, and create more equity in the neighborhood, has taken off. BSRC Offers services to Bed-Stuy residents that range from career coaching to financial literacy courses, youth arts classes to a community farmers market. Currently overseeing those initiatives is Executive Vice President of Programs Tracey Capers. In her role, Capers is tasked with creating meaningful programming and resources that empower Bed-Stuy residents to seek more meaningful employment, healthier food and lifestyle options, and crucial social services. One of her greatest accomplishments to date? Expanding the Farm to Early Care program, which brings farm-fresh produce to preschoolers in the neighborhood. Under her watch, over 1,500 local children have access to healthy foods at a critical time in their development.
How and why did you become involved in your line of work?
I have always been interested in community development and the promise of creating a path forward for neighborhoods with less opportunities. This interest probably has a lot to do with my having grown up in public housing in White Plains, a community marked by a strong divide between the haves and the have nots. I later went on to Yale, one of the wealthiest schools, while ironically located in one of the poorest cities of the nation. This dichotomy always bothered me, and has shaped my commitment to equity and the field of community development.
Tell us a little about your present work.
I am the Executive Vice President for Programs at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, where I oversee initiatives in health and financial stability operating out of our Economic Solutions Center and Center for Healthy Neighborhoods. I see my role as that of promoting equity- whether facilitating access to jobs that pay living wages and removing barriers to upward mobility or addressing health disparities that disproportionately impact low income and communities of color. In the rapidly changing Central Brooklyn community, I strive to create a community that works for all. On any given day, I am meeting with city agencies and/or funders, leading stakeholder meetings, or planning events and engaging community residents.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work.
I find it most fulfilling when someone tells me that what we are doing has personally made a difference in their life. I remember when we had a book signing with award winning Jaqueline Woodson. Several people approached me after the event; I was pleased to hear that they are frequent users of our services and that our financial counseling and workforce development programming had made a tremendous difference in their lives. A separate time when we hosted Rosie Perez, someone in the audience shared their story of being out of work. Several months later at our off-site Christmas Party, that same woman reintroduced herself to me and told me that we helped her find employment after the Rosie event. Its times like these that I get the unique opportunity to see the face of what we are doing. It makes my work that much more real and worthwhile.
What is your proudest achievement and challenge?
My proudest achievement is witnessing an idea go from incubation to its full potential. When we launched our innovative Farm to Early Care work, we began with just two early care partners and the vision of bringing farm fresh produce to preschoolers. In just three years, this has grown to 1,460 preschoolers across 25 sites. We are continually asked to speak at national conferences on this work. We were awarded NBC Universal Foundation’s highest distinction for innovation in programming through the highly competitive 21st Century Solutions Challenge. Restoration received the grand prize along with just two runner ups selected from across the tri state area.
We also incubated strategies for economic mobility which later evolved into award winning programs. Just several years ago we were a single site offering basic job readiness and wrap around supports. Today we are a borough wide resource reaching 7,200 through our award winning Economic Solutions Center, three mobile financial counseling sites, and two sites reaching public housing residents.
Separately, a couple of years ago we took on a project to increase membership of Citi Bike in Bed Stuy, with the goal of driving rider equity. As a result of our work, we’ve seen membership increase by 57% as we helped change community perspective from “Citi Bike is not for us” to communities around the city asking when will Citi Bike be in their neighborhood.
Throughout this work, our biggest challenge has been to keep hope alive and help clients see beyond their current situations to the potential of what they can do, both at the personal and community level. Given the rapidly changing economics of Brooklyn, poverty has become increasingly isolated and balkanized. The question is how to reach those who need us most, and ensure that all boats rise as neighborhoods change.
What do you hope changes, improves or continues in your field?
I hope that we continue to build a cadre of local champions and change-makers. We’ve had so much traction empowering residents to take charge of their lives and their communities, whether participating in our weekly Citi Bike rides or taking advantage of financial counseling. We succeed when people in the neighborhood get involved, first attending programs and then volunteering and spreading the word. Residents can speak more powerfully to their peers when they have been impacted first hand by one of our programs. For example, we have used public housing residents as advocates for our work and have also had residents lead Citi Bike rides. Restoration’s work is really about creating population change and a shift in attitudes and behaviors. We work to galvanize community champions and peer advocates to helps us create tipping points for change, whether in health or economic self-sufficiency.
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.