New director takes reins of pioneering housing organization
Nos Quedamos, the advocacy organization that has served South Bronx residents for nearly two decades on issues ranging from housing to immigration, is on the verge of a comeback, after nearly a year in limbo.
The agency has maintained a low profile since allegations emerged last winter that former executive director, Yolanda Gonzalez, who is also the daughter of the organization’s founder, Yolanda Garcia, had provided Nos Quedamos funds to family members without authorization from the board.
In response, last February, the board locked Gonzalez out of Nos Quedamos’ Melrose Ave. office and laid off about a dozen staff members. It closed entirely for a brief period, then reopened on a shortened schedule as it sought to continue to serve the public without a chief executive.
The State Attorney General’s office is conducting an investigation of Gonzalez. A spokesman for that office, Fernando Aquino, declined to comment on the investigation.
Nos Quedamos’ board has named former board chair Jessica Clemente the agency’s new volunteer executive director, while announcing that about five new staffers will be hired when the agency returns to a regular schedule in January.
Clemente says the organization is poised to put the recent dark chapter in the past and has nothing to hide. She maintains the group is eager to continue serving the community’s housing, public health and social justice needs, and to resume its long legacy in the neighborhood.
“We want to reestablish that same community morale,” said Clemente in an interview while hanging photos on the wall near the office’s entrance highlighting the agency’s past endeavors and its local folk-hero founder, Yolanda Garcia, who died of a stroke in 2005. “We want to connect to the real essence of what community building means.”
For now, Clemente said, the organization is holding project funds in an escrow account while it evaluates internal accounting practices. She added that the Attorney General’s “investigation is of an individual, not of the organization.”
Clemente is a product of the neighborhood. She was raised in the Millbrook Houses on East 137th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue before receiving her Masters in Urban Planning at NYU, and going on to lead a public health project monitoring air quality and asthma problems for South Bronx residents between 2000 and 2006.
While she helped Clemente arrange photos and award plaques on the office wall, long-time board member Sandy Quilico said she is confident Nos Quedamos can quickly return to the status it previously held as an advocate for needy Bronxites, recalling that “under Yolanda Garcia, we were doing phenomenally well.”