What’s a site visit that stands out in your memory?
The “Happy Birthday” song in Greek calls on the person being celebrated to grow old and wise and spread their wisdom. Some people get to do all three of these things well, and I met someone like this during one of my first site visits as a program officer at SNF. The visit was to a big, almost windowless brick building in the Bronx, where this man, Mr. John Isaacs, then in his early 90s, had shown up daily for the past fifty years. From the outside, you would never know this building was home to the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club Clubhouse, full of kids eager to show us all the treasures hidden inside (and protected by the bricks from the gun violence that was more prevalent in 1970s New York City): their projects, the pool and their swimming medals, and Mr. Isaacs, their favorite mentor and coach. He was a basketball legend, revered for his skills and sportsmanship, who had lived through the days of segregation in the sport and our city, and considered it important to help kids overcome the obstacles they faced and would face growing up. He captured the spirit of all our work at SNF: give in any way you can to help good people do good work. The autographed poster he gave us on that visit reminds me every day to stay true to that spirit.
Has the nature of your work changed over the years?
Birthdays are top-of-mind this summer as SNF celebrates 25 years of grantmaking and I celebrate 15 years of contributing to our work. By default, birthdays mark the passage of time. And with time, I find that everything we know and love will change. This goes for our work at the Foundation—we have grown, and grown up, as a team—and beyond. Change is reflected even in the buildings where our work at SNF has taken us. Madison Square’s newest clubhouse is a beautiful, glass-walled building—full of treasures inside like the Bronx clubhouse, but open to the surrounding community in our now safer city. The New York Public Library’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) brings the public library to life, reimagined from its former worn-down version as the Mid-Manhattan Library where I had spent countless hours as a pre-Google-era high school student! Being a part of these transformations through my work at SNF brings me great pride and hope for what’s ahead.
Yet one aspect of our work remains the same: the people. Our work is fundamentally driven by people who inspire us and give us our “why.” I am grateful to my colleagues both inside and outside the SNF for being that source of inspiration, helping me live up to that birthday song call to growing older and wiser, at work and in life. Here’s to more birthdays, but also to the fundamental things that stay the same!
Roula Siklas, Senior Program Officer
First-generation American, second hire of SNF New York’s programs team, and forever a student