Their mission seemed straightforward -- design a new medical center for homeless people for the organization Care for the Homeless in Morningside Heights at the Broadway Presbyterian Church. But when Pollyanna Rhee, Shelby Doyle, and Deborah Buelow were told their budget for the entire project, they could have backed out.
"We said, ‘We have $70,000 and they said, 'What?' And we said, 'Yes, that's all we have is $70,000,' and they said 'Well, let's get to work,'” said Debbian Fletcher-Blake of Care for the Homeless.
For the past year Rhee, Doyle, and Buelow have been volunteering for Architects for Humanity, and the medical center is the New York chapter's first project. Architects and teachers by trade, the trio spent a couple of days a week designing the medical space and their weekends helping to build it.
They say the renovation would normally run upwards of $200,000.
“They were tireless in being here to do some of the work themselves, like painting and clearing on the weekends as well as going out after donations,” said Lizanne Fontaine of Care for the Homeless.
Doyle said even though they were not charging for the design work they still wanted to make the best use of the space using the little money they had.
“It wasn't just that we were giving less to these clients because they weren't capable of paying to the same degree as the clients that we work for professionally,” said Doyle.
Dr. Nikki Neretin has been the doctor at the facility for the past ten years. She says it used to be hard to care for patients here.
“It was like the size of a closet with lots of different things from the church actually in it,” said Neretin. “So I was surrounded by lots of shelves and book cases and things that were falling on top of me.”
Now equipped with an exam room, triage center, doctor's offices--and bigger staff, the medical facility is open two days a week rather than one, to better serve a community in need.
“We can make a difference in building huge sky scrapers and people are amazed by these huge buildings throughout the world,” said Buelow. “But we can also make a difference in personal lives throughout. And this is what feels a little more satisfying or gratifying.”
And so, for making a difference in the lives of homeless people by giving them a space where they can come to for help, Pollyanna Rhee, Shelby Doyle, and Deborah Buelow are our New Yorkers of the Week.
- Rita Nissan
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