BY TERESA METTELA
Last week, Commonpoint Queens, an organization aimed at improving the quality of communal life throughout Queens, promoted a special “We See You” Virtual Vigil through which the Long Island and Queens Jewish communities conveyed their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The event, initiated by Commonpoint Queens CEO Danielle Ellman, featured speakers from the Antioch Baptist Church of Hempstead, Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, ERASE Racism, among many other religious and advocacy groups.
In her newsletter detailing the vigil, Ellman wrote about the recent protests that have taken place throughout New York City — and the country — after the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We see on our streets and on our televisions tens of thousands of people of all ages, races and religions speaking out against discrimination and it is inspiring,” she wrote. “We are committed to amplifying voices within the Black community who are calling for systemic change and an end to racial injustice everywhere.”
Ellman, a lifelong Queens resident, has always been passionate about serving the diverse community of Queens.
As CEO of Commonpoint, Ellman’s daily tasks include staying in conversation with elected officials, communicating with staff, and guiding her team. Ellman affirms that one of the hardest aspects of managing an agency is the reality that the facts on the ground change every day.
“Commonpoint is ever evolving, as are the needs of our community,” she said.
Once social distancing rules were introduced, Ellman was quick to adjust Commonpoint’s mission to better accommodate the unique situation.
She immediately opened a crisis line that acts as a hotline, allowing community members in Queens to reach out for additional support. Ellman also set up an online portal where community members are able to ask for assistance regarding COVID relief. In order to efficiently execute these tasks, she reassigned a team of professionals and put a pause on normal commitments to serve these new circumstances.
Since implementing these changes, Ellman reports a significant increase in engagement among the Queens community. Commonpoint’s mental health clinicians’ hours “went up by 40 percent as they are filling the therapeutic need that community members have right now,” said Ellman.
She saw similar peaks in youth engagement as well. Currently, Commonpoint is connected with more than 8,000 high school students who branch from five schools in particular. Students now have access to college guidance and career readiness resources through an easy virtual platform.
Ellman notes that the pandemic has shown the world how to use technology in a meaningful way.
“With the shift to online platforms and aid, we now run our agency through technology and I don’t see us going back,” stated Ellman. “It has provided a way to expand our reach, especially by engaging with senior members of the community. I believe that the labor force will come back in a more flexible manner.”
Ellman is not the only one at Commonpoint who understands this immediate need for fluidity and innovation.
Mitch Karpp, the organization’s associate vice president of Youth Education Services, has been with the agency for more than 30 years, beginning as a camper in its summer programs. In his role, Karpp oversees Commonpoint’s Special Services programming for youth and teens, early childhood parenting, and the 24-hour after-school program.
In light of the pandemic, one of Karpp’s major responsibilities is operating “rec centers” that provide child care for essential workers. Karpp and his division are also actively providing remote learning activities and self-care programming for the many families already part of their nursery and after-school centers. More than 700 children are enrolled in these programs.
Karpp first met Ellman when she became the site director of Commonpoint’s Forest Hills location, in 2010. It didn’t take long to recognize Ellman’s crucial role within the organization and he admires her dedication to Commonpoint’s mission.
“No matter how difficult things become, or what the obstacles are, Danielle doesn’t quit,” said Karpp. “She tirelessly goes the distance, expects the best in her team and gives her all to every challenge.”