During her keynote address at the 2015 Booth Women Connect Conference, Joyce Frost (on Twitter at @JFrostNYC) shared a piece of advice that has guided her like a beacon: “Follow your heart and see where your skill set can make a difference.”
Easter always meant assembling baskets at her father’s Lions Club in her hometown of Chicago, she says, and after moving to New York, she pitched in with a nascent volunteer group, New York Cares. It’s now the city’s largest volunteer management organization, serving more than 400,000 at-risk New Yorkers, and Frost serves as secretary of its board of trustees.
A passionate advocate for charter schools, Frost is also founding board chair and current vice president of Bronx Charter School for Excellence, and chair of the board of directors for Friends of Bronx Charter School for Excellence. Learn more at newyorkcares.org and bronxexcellence.org.
When I joined New York Cares in 1989, it was a young organization, but I could see that it was having a big impact and I loved the projects I was doing. One of my favorite projects was working in the children’s ward at Montefiore Medical Center, reading books to patients and holding their hands. A few years later, I was asked to join the board after successfully chairing several fundraisers.
For about 10 years and until a few years ago, I was a New York Cares team leader and coordinated visits to seniors at a nursing home on the Upper West Side with a group of volunteers. We served coffee, created art projects, and played games to get the seniors engaged. Some had very little contact outside the home, so they really appreciated the visits.
I thought if I could get even one child into a school like my
own children’s, I would have succeeded.
I became friends with a man who lived there named Sam D’Amato. We still talk on the phone almost every day. He’s 96 and such an interesting person. Sam used to be the manager of the Hotel St. James near Times Square, and he’ll tell my son stories he won’t tell me—everything from being a bookie, to chasing out the bad guys in the ’70s when that was a rough-and-tumble area. It’s now a family tradition to take Sam out for a big sit-down meal the day before Thanksgiving, right around his birthday. He’s like an adopted grandparent to us.
In 1994, my family sponsored a student, Bethania Pena, through a nonprofit called Student Sponsor Partners. Bethania had recently arrived from the Dominican Republic and could barely speak English. She attended a parochial high school, and I saw firsthand what a huge difference it made to receive a high-quality education and have mentors guiding her. At the time, I also did some work for a nonprofit that worked only in the public schools, but I felt like I had no capacity to change anything within that system. Those experiences influenced my interest in charter schools, which were still relatively new in New York.
When I was approached to join the inaugural board for Bronx Excellence, I thought, “We had so much of an impact on Bethania. I think I can make a real difference for hundreds of students by working within the charter school world.” I thought if I could get even one child into a school like my own children’s, I would have succeeded.
At this point, we’ve far surpassed that goal. Our first set of eighth-grade graduates went on to excellent high schools and are now seniors. We have a scholarship program for students, and we provide one-on-one mentoring throughout high school. We built a sound foundation for them during their K–8 years at Bronx Excellence and feel it’s important to continue that support. Last month we had our first college acceptance into my alma mater, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Cross my fingers that a Booth MBA is next!
—As told to LeeAnn Shelton