It started out as a lime-green bowling alley in Queens. At last week’s official ribbon-cutting ceremony, it became our new Queens Hub, where thousands of New Yorkers can now access an array of life-changing human services all under one roof.

Chosen for its location near one of the densest areas of Jewish poverty, the building has been transformed into a welcoming, dignified space. And dignity matters. Because poverty and unemployment often rob people of their sense of self-worth, and the deeper they fall into despair, the harder it is to climb out.

The idea for the Hub took shape four years ago, during the planning for our centennial. Pre-pandemic, we knew that roughly three million people in the New York area were poor. And a staggering one-third of people living in Jewish households in the New York area were living at or near poverty. So as we looked to our second century, we were determined to amplify our response to fighting poverty. Our goal: not simply to provide more for basic needs, but fundamentally to move people from crisis to stability. Reflecting our aspirations, we called our initiative Upward, New York.

The Hub is designed to do exactly that — changing the trajectory for people throughout New York, moving them upward by capitalizing on the expertise of multiple partners in UJA’s network.

An important part of our vision has now become a reality in Queens: our partner Commonpoint Queens (the Central Queens Y) will operate a newly constructed $10 million facility in Elmhurst, ensuring that the thousands of people who walk through its doors receive the customized package of supports they need to succeed. Commonpoint will leverage its deep expertise in mental health services and workforce development, providing emotional support and sector-based job training in the areas of healthcare, data management, and retail. New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) will provide essential financial and legal counseling. Hebrew Free Loan Society will offer clients access to interest-free loans, enabling them to invest in their education, meet emergency expenses, start a business, and more. And Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty will supply food for the digital pantry. You can learn more by watching this.

Back in the planning stages for the Hub, we never conceived that a pandemic would wreak havoc on our lives. Now, the need for this kind of space has become ever more critical. Those who were vulnerable before are more vulnerable, and widespread unemployment has left thousands more in financial distress. To address this growing challenge, in late August, UJA authorized the allocation of an additional $4.6 million from our endowment to support the creation of six smaller satellite Hubs. Housed in Jewish community centers, the satellites will allow the comprehensive services offered at the Queens Hub to extend to other boroughs, as well as Long Island and Westchester. These satellite Hubs are opening next month, and we’re also actively working to build a major new Hub in Brooklyn.

I must thank the incredible philanthropists — led by our immediate past president, Jeff Schoenfeld — whose generosity brought this vital initiative to fruition. They shared our vision, saw the opportunity to change countless lives, and seized it.

After all our dreaming, planning, and building, it comes down to hope. People may enter a Hub thinking that they’re stuck and seeing no path forward. But when they’re provided with the appropriate resources and treated with respect and sensitivity, they’ll leave knowing a caring community is right there with them, helping to lift them — and all of New York — upward.

Shabbat shalom