“You at Abbott House are great and good because you are the good Samaritans working to help those who have been abandoned and who have faced the scars of the Jericho Road of life.”
Reverend King spoke these words on October 29, 1965, at the very first fundraising dinner for Abbott House, during a speech titled “The Dignity of Family Life.” More than half a century later, Abbott House is still fighting the good fight. At its core, the Irvington-based nonprofit strives to help people recover from deep trauma, in addition to preventing it in the first place. Relief and assistance are provided to families and children in need, including migrant families and children, as well as to individuals with developmental disabilities.
Abbott House received its share of media attention in recent months, after the agency helped migrant children separated from their parents at the US border. Soon after, there was an outpouring of donations. Yet, there has always been a need to help children separated from their parents, whether it’s due to drug addiction, death, neglect, or other circumstances.
“The children who were on the news had families who couldn’t wait to be reunited with them,” explains Mayor Brian Smith of Irvington. Smith, who grew up with foster children, adds: “Many other children don’t have those types of families, and there’s a lot of need right here.”
To provide its services, Abbott House relies on government grants and donations, but that is usually not enough to do the work required. Its employees receive only nominal wages, so many are forced to work multiple jobs, notes James Kaufman, Abbott House’s president and CEO. “Often, our employees need to move up, or they move on to another agency,” Kaufman says. “Turnover is tough, and that’s in an industry where you’re always looking for continuity, because kids and adults need the same figures in their lives.”
Irvington mayor Brian Smith with Abbott House board chair Gregory T. Mooney, chief development officer Lauren Candela-Katz, and president/CEO James Kaufman.
Such financial challenges are prevalent among social services agencies. As Abbott House chief development officer Lauren Candela-Katz explains, “Insinuations from the media that [nonprofts are] cash cows, earning all this money…is a real injustice to us and the entire nonprofit field, and I think that inhibits people from having a more positive view of nonprofits.”
For example, in 2017, the agency received $44,252,647 in government grants and donations, yet expenses totaled $44,553,407. “So, we get ‘X’ amount of funding for our program, and, quite frankly, it’s pretty minimal,” explains Abbott House board chairman Gregory Mooney.
Abbott House remains steadfast in its mission, however. Reflecting on the early days of Abbott House, gilded with propitious oratory from MLK himself, Candela-Katz remains circumspect. “I think there is change since then, yes, but I think there is much more to be done.”