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Near Westside Initiative receives 2010 InterFaith Leadership Award

May 10, 2010

Jemeli Tanui
(315) 443-5172

For its neighborhood revitalization efforts over the past few years, the Near Westside Initiative will receive the 2010 InterFaith Leadership Award from InterFaith Works of Central New York.

saltThe award will be presented during InterFaith’s 28th annual award and fundraising dinner, taking place Tuesday, May 11, at 5:30 p.m. at the Oncenter ballroom.

Four visionary members of the Near Westside Initiative (NWSI) will accept the award: Marilyn Higgins, president of the NWSI board and vice president of SU’s Community Engagement and Economic Development office; Kathy Goldfarb-Findling, executive director of the Gifford Foundation and vice president of the NWSI board; Taywana “Mother Earth” James, neighborhood resident and activist; and Maria Revelles, also a neighborhood resident, president of the Spanish Action League board and a labor organizer.

InterFaith Works, formerly known as The InterReligious Council (IRC) of Central New York, was founded in 1976 to bring together the diverse array of faith traditions in the Syracuse community, with the belief that engagement among these different faith groups would lead to understanding, friendships and a collaborative strength to address community issues.

“With leadership, dedication and love, you are working to strengthen neighborhoods and create a new community spirit that embraces diversity, celebrates the promise that exists in each of us and promotes positive change in ourselves and in the places we live and work together,” says Beth A. Broadway, executive director of Interfaith. “Through your friendship and partnership, you are helping our neighbors in Central New York see what is possible and encouraging them to work toward achieving their dreams. Your work and the work of the Near Westside Initiative are building a community where residents are empowered and where each individual’s dignity and respect is strengthened by the warmth and affection of their neighbors.”

The award recipients:

Kathryn Goldfarb-Findling
Goldfarb-Findling is the executive director of the Gifford Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to the stewardship of the funds entrusted to its care that was created by Rosamond Gifford in 1954. The foundation is committed to using its financial and human resources to build the capacity of individuals and organizations to enhance the quality of life for the people of Central New York. The Gifford Foundation began its involvement in the Near Westside neighborhood of Syracuse in 2006 with the formation of the Near Westside Initiative—with the intent of partnering with SU and other community organizations to work collaboratively on the revitalization of the Near Westside. As a lifelong Syracuse resident, Goldfarb-Findling has dedicated her work to ensure residents’ voices are heard and resident leadership is developed so that equitable development occurs within Syracuse communities.

Marilyn Higgins
Higgins is vice president of community engagement and economic development at SU, overseeing SU efforts in support of the Near Westside Initiative. Higgins is also president of the Near Westside board, which seeks to use the power of art, technology and innovation to revitalize the Near Westside neighborhood in keeping with local values and culture. Higgins’ office also leads a collaborative effort with the City of Syracuse to create the Connective Corridor as a signature strip of innovative urban design linking University Hill with the arts and cultural venues of downtown Syracuse.

Taywana “Mother Earth” James

James believes that Syracuse found her, not the other way around. Joining friends on a last-minute trip from her hometown of Flint, Mich., she spent a few days in Syracuse and knew that she would move back here to live. “I knew I was home when I was here the first time. When I moved here from Michigan, people were kind and generous, a neighbor brought curtains to use until I had time to hang my own. People came to speak to me, to meet me and welcome me. I knew that I had been called to come here for something special, and I wanted, no, I needed, to be involved,” James says. She is a mother, a mentor, a spoken word artist, a leader and an organizer. Her nickname, “Mother Earth,” stems from her lifelong mothering job—which started out when she was six years old, and left in foster care with her two-year old brother, and continues to this day with her taking on people. In addition to her many activities and accomplishments, she recently launched a mentoring and self-esteem-building program for young women on the Near Westside and already has plans for expanding the program. She works tirelessly to support the Near Westside Initiative and to encourage her neighbors to do more in the community.

Maria Revelles
Revelles was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Spain. She is the mother of five daughters, a resident of the Near Westside and an organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199. SEIU represents 1.5 million service workers, many of them health-care workers. Over the years, Revelles has led some of the most successful service union organizing campaigns across the United States and in Puerto Rico. Revelles is president of the board of the Spanish Action League and is a member of ACTS. A strong believer in the Near Westside Initiative, she and her family relocated three years ago to the Near Westside with the desire to help rebuild this community. She advocates for and develops leaders within the community, and encourages them to speak out on issues important to them, such as education, health care and immigrant rights.

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