A little over a month ago, we hosted our first mixer for Center for Wellbeing & Happiness staff to meet and connect. When someone at the mixer added up all the months we had been open (nine in total), one of our instructors aptly pointed out, “Wow, that’s the length of a pregnancy!” It was apt because, after nine months of incubating this transformational space, we stood on the cusp of a big announcement: a transition of leadership from myself to Michelle Grier, an accomplished nonprofit leader and social worker.
Although we just opened our doors in October 2022, the dream of the Center began long ago. Since our mother organization, the Lower Eastside Girls Club, opened its first permanent home in 2013, the desire for a community space on Avenue D has been growing stronger and stronger. For years, we heard from parents and community members who wanted—who dreamed of—a space like Girls Club for themselves. With its rooftop farm, 64-seat dome planetarium, and mixed media art studios, who could blame them?
In 2019, Girls Club leadership had the opportunity to take its first tangible step toward realizing that vision with the purchase of the space that was formerly the local Rite Aid. However, by the time I joined the Girls Club in 2021, the renovation of that space had been stalled—a victim of COVID, funding shifts, and supply chain delays—and the dream still lived only in our hearts and on paper.
Over the next two years, I had the privilege to work closely with the Girls Club team to bring this radical idea to life. Before we could be together safely, we launched virtual programming. Before we had a space, we hosted classes in community gardens and on NYCHA campuses. Before we could make the Center for Wellbeing & Happiness, we made a community. It was no surprise, then, that after years of hustling, dreaming, and building that the community came to us with open arms, ready to see what we had been cooking up.
Serving as the Interim Director of this space has been the highlight of my professional and personal life. I say it’s the highlight of both because what we do extends beyond work—we have built a destination within the neighborhood I am lucky enough to call home.
When you are in the space, you cannot help but feel you are amongst family. During my time at the Center, I have been adopted by four ‘mothers’. I have learned the Salsa basic step, following in the footsteps of my own grandmother, a professional salsa dancer. I have tried our team’s plant-based take on the community’s beloved Spanish/Caribbean food.
Along the way, we have also hit important milestones: 1000+ members registered, 3000+ visits, and a few members who have even safely decreased their waistlines or dropped their blood pressure!
While the transition is bittersweet, like all new parents, I know my baby, the Center, will grow and develop into what it should be. I am grateful to leave the space in good hands with Michelle; the wonderful team that has helped to carry her thus far: Kiera Del Vecchio, Jayleen Rosario, and Johanne Wilhelmsen; and the Lower East Side community.
— Sarah Batchu, Interim Director