Friday, May 25, 2012

Princess Benedikte in New York: Celebrating Jacob Riis Settlement House

Princess Benedikte was in New York 21-22 May to celebrate the Jacob A. Riis Neighbourhood Settlement House, an organisation dedicated to serving the interests of those in public housing in the western part of the NYC borough of Queens, based on the ideals of 19th century Danish emigrant and social reformer Jacob Riis. His book "How the Other Half Lives" is a staple on the reading list of nearly any university-level social and public affairs departments. Benedikte is the patron of this organisation.

Hopefully, she didn't get the same reaction that Yrma did when she paid a visit to the Riis Settlement House last year!

"omg, a princess with bad breath and a scary-face!? My dreams are shattered!"

Press Release: Danish Royal Website

Book: Amazon UK

Benedikte's Visit Article/Photos: Riis Settlement

On May 21, 2012, Riis Settlement received a special visit from its Patron, HRH Princess Benedikte of Denmark. An auditorium filled with dozens of community members, youth participants and staff greeted the Princess with flowers, applause and many flashing cameras. Art decked the walls of the auditorium where the Princess received a tour of the artwork from this year’s Spring Arts Festival.
The princess later paid a visit to our after-school activities where she was greeted with hugs from youth participants who asked important questions such as ‘where is the Prince?’ Senior and immigrant participants shared impassioned testimonies of how Riis Settlement improved their lives and their plans for the future. Princess Benedikte’s visit was the precursor to Riis Settlement’s Legacy Awards Gala, where she was the special guest and was heartily thanked for her commitment to maintaining the legacy of Jacob Riis through the royal Danish connection.

Legacy Gala Article/Photos: Riis Settlement

Riis Settlement’s first annual Legacy Awards Gala on May 22 was a huge success, drawing well over 200 friends, supporters, participants and community partners to the beautiful Museum of the City of New York for an evening of cocktails, dinner, dancing, a silent auction, and, of course, the presentation of our first ever Legacy Awards. This year’s honorees were former Board Chair and current Chairman Emeritus C. Flemming Heilmann and long-time visual arts partner and supporter, the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Mr. Heilmann was celebrated for his steadfast and tireless support, particularly in deepening and expanding ties to Denmark, the Danish Royal Family, and the Danish community in New York. Special thanks were paid for his role in establishing our highly successful Danish Cultural Exchange Program, which allows Riis Settlement youth to travel to Ribe and Copenhagen Denmark every other year and brings Danish teens to New York on alternating summers. The late Joan Mitchell and the Foundation she created were honored for their long-standing provision of free art classes and instruction to the underserved young people in Long Island City and Astoria in partnership with Riis Settlement. Accepting the award on the Foundation’s behalf was Travis Laughlin, who began as a youth worker at Riis Settlement and now serves as the Foundation’s Art Education Program Director.

The glittering evening, Co-Chaired by Riis Settlement Board members Ann Gorski LoBue and Else Matthews, featured two special guests. Riis Settlement’s patron, Her Royal Highness Princess Benedikte of Denmark, spoke movingly about her fondness for Riis Settlement and how it carries on the legacy of the Danish-American social reformer for whom it is named. She made special mention of the 2014 exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of Riis and highlighting the Museum’s rich Jacob Riis archive, the largest and most extensive in the world. The Co-chairs of the exhibition will be honoree Flemming Heilmann and Museum Board Chair and noted philanthropist Ronay Menschel.

The glitter did not end there, however. Emcee for the evening was WCBS-TV anchor Maurice DuBois, who came to know Riis Settlement through his association with the Partnership for After School Education (PASE), which has, in the past, presented two Riis Settlement staff members with its prestigious PASEsetter Award. Equally compelling were three current and former Riis participants- Tanika Vanterpool, Margaret Barnes, and Zaida Verdugo- who spoke about their experiences at “the Riis” and how it has changed their lives. Ms. Vanterpool was moved to tears as she spoke about how her involvement in Riis Settlement’s teen program set her on the course her life has taken, as a successful teacher at P.S. 76- the same school she attended as a child. It was moments like that, in addition to the vital funds raised for Riis Settlement’s programs and operations, that made the Legacy Awards Gala an evening to remember!

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