Young Audiences Arts for Learning New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (YA) has a mission to inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts. YA works toward a future where all children in the region engage in quality arts learning that nurtures creativity, expands cultural awareness, and fosters the development of critical thinking skills.

YA is a valued school partner providing programming led by teaching artists across all artforms and numerous cultures. They provide arts experiences to students directly by bringing professional teaching artists to schools. This eliminates barriers to participation and makes the arts accessible to students of every socioeconomic background, geographic area, and ability. YA delivers programming in formats designed to complement the workings of a school, including workshops, residencies, performances, and teacher professional development. All programming is designed to meet school-defined needs.

Arts Lab

The Grunin Foundation met with YA back in 2016 to discuss solutions to chronic absenteeism in our schools. They introduced us to their Arts Lab program, which harnesses the power of the arts to reduce chronic absenteeism. YA had applied for the All Kids Thrive grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation so they could establish the Arts Lab program in Mercer County schools. We agreed to match this $300,000 grant if they received it, and they did! We then began discussing implementing the program in Toms River. After meeting with Toms River Regional Schools administration and the Young Audiences team, it was decided that Silver Bay Elementary would be the home of the Arts Lab program.

Through performances, workshops, residencies, professional learning and family arts & creativity, YA worked with school administration, teachers, parents and students to tackle attendance issues and other challenges.

Arts Lab Pre COVID

Before the pandemic hit, Silver Bay Elementary students experienced Arts Lab in the classroom or as part of school assemblies. Here are just a few of the Arts Lab programs the Grunin Foundation team had the opportunity to visit in person before Covid hit…

Hip Hop Fundamentals – Hip Hop Fundamentals is an award-winning team of diverse professional breakdancers dedicated to Hip Hop Education, and the world’s only breakdance education company combining academic and social content with the world’s most dynamic dance form. Their mission is to educate, engage and empower. Hip Hop Fundamentals teaches academic and social content through the lens of Hip Hop dance. They honor the Black cultural roots of Hip Hop by upholding traditions and teaching diversity. Students (and teachers) not only get to watch and learn, they also can join Hip Hop Fundamentals on stage to show off their newfound Hip Hop skills!

Burble Fizz Kaboom – These are super energetic performances by theatre artist Rand Whipple, where students learn about the world of science through fun, humor and maybe a marshmallow or two. The unique ways in which chemical reactions, solutions, molecules, and phase changes are presented, keep students engaged and jumping to participate. They are able to be a part of the experiments and by the end, they are shouting out answers to scientific questions.

Dance to Learn – This program uses the art of dance to encourage students to explore, internalize, and transform classroom learning while developing their individual creative voices. We had the opportunity to watch a few Dance to Learn classes including the grand finale, where students acted out elements of their assigned theme (Ocean, Rain Forest, Safari, Jungle) using their own artistic interpretation through dance. It is an incredible way to integrate the arts as a learning tool for language arts, mathematics, science and social studies, physical education and music curriculums. Diversity, equity and inclusion is also at the forefront of Dance to Learn, which prioritizes excluded and systematically marginalized dance styles, and student populations.

Shifting Gears During Covid & What’s to Come

As we entered the Covid shutdown, YA quickly created a virtual roster for the Arts Lab programming. All Arts Lab teaching artists were prepared to deliver virtual programming by the fall of the 2020-2021 school year.

The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, and addressing the mental health outcomes will be critical. The Arts Lab program will focus on Social-Emotional Learning, which can help improve positive attitude towards self and others and increase students’ academic performances. Programs will also focus on joy, fun, connection, learning and equity & inclusion by integrating the arts into the curriculum.

While we can’t wait to see these programs fully return in-person, we love how Young Audiences has kept everything going during Covid. To stay up-to-date with Young Audiences and Arts Lab, visit

Special thanks to our friends at Young Audiences Arts for Learning New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (YA) for all they do to keep the Arts Lab program running successfully!

Michele Russo – President & CEO
Ann Betterton – Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Liz Winter – Education Operations Director

Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Working Groups have begun. You can learn more about how we started these groups and the overall strategy by visiting our EDI Working Group webpage.

Each of the three groups (Empowering Youth Changemakers, Amplifying Diverse Leadership, Empowering Communities that Center Equity) met for the first time in September. The first meeting started with introductions of each member. We then gave an overview of the Grunin Foundation and how we got to this point in our EDI journey.

Before we jumped into the work, we wanted everyone to get to know each other a little better. These groups will be working together over the next several months so building trust and comfort is important. We broke the full team down into smaller groups and discussed the personal journeys in our careers as well as challenges we are facing. Group members shared stories, tips, resources and even a few tears of joy and inspiration.

Each table then discussed what their specific equity pillar (Empowering Youth Changemakers, Amplifying Diverse Leadership, Empowering Communities that Center Equity) meant to them. After the group members had a chance to discuss at their tables, they were able to share with the full room. One person at each table took notes which we compiled and sent back out to everyone so we can continuing building off these ideas at each meeting. We were also recommended a book from one of our group members – “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee – which the Grunin Foundation will supply to all EDI working group members who are interested in reading it.

We ended the first meeting with some great questions and suggestions that will guide this journey. One specific suggestion to note is that we should specifically call out what we are trying to do such as “Amplifying BIPOC Leaderships” vs. “Amplifying Diverse Leadership.” We are taking all of this feedback (or “feedforward” as we learned from our friends at Idea2Form) and will be revising our strategies and language as we get deeper into this work.

We’ll start the next sessions where we left off – really thinking about and discussing what each pillar means…

  • What does Empowering Communities that Center Equity mean? Specifically, what does “community” really mean? 
  • What does amplifying BIPOC leadership mean?
  • What does empowering youth changemakers mean?

Once we have these important conversations, we will get into the mapping exercise. This will help us gain a better understanding of the work that is currently happening at the Central Jersey Shore (Monmouth & Ocean Counties) in the realm of each of the above EDI pillars. We will try to capture as many programs/activities as possible happening at the local level and work to understand where there are gaps.

We are looking forward to our future meetings and making more progress in helping to break down barriers, uplift marginalized voices, celebrate diversity, and champion a more just and equitable society.

Stay tuned for more EDI Working Group updates coming soon!

It’s hard to believe the summer has come and gone and we are in the final quarter of 2021. In many ways, this year has been more challenging than the last, but we continue to see the strength and resiliency of the amazing Central Jersey Shore community.

One of the challenges we are all still experiencing is the inability to efficiently plan around the Delta variant. We know that so many nonprofits had to “pivot” (we’ll never say that word again after this year) and find new ways to operate and fundraise over the last 19 months. There have been many creative solutions born from the pandemic – some were learning experiences and some will stick around for years to come.

We’re happy to share with you what we’ve been doing this summer and give you a glimpse into what’s to come for the Grunin Foundation.

Upcoming Events for 2021

We have decided to put any further Foundation-hosted indoor events and seminars on hold until the spring of next year. After surveying our nonprofit partners to assess their comfort level, we made the call to keep our September Catapult Institute as an in-person event at the Sheraton in Eatontown. We maintained distance and provided masks and sanitizer. However, this will be our final in-person event of the year and we will be moving some things around to start planning for 2022. We will continue hosting small in-person meetings and working groups as scheduled. You can also still sign up for our Catapult Institute Virtual Lunch Hours which are happening monthly.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Working Groups

In July, we formally announced our Commitment to Equity and unveiled our EDI Framework, including changes to our website and the introduction of our EDI Working Groups. We began holding the EDI Working Group Meetings in September. Each group coincides with one of our three EDI strategies: Empowering Youth Changemakers, Amplifying BIPOC Leadership and Empowering Communities that Center Equity. You can read more about our EDI Working Groups here, and we will be providing updates on the work being done via blog posts on the EDI Working Group webpage.  

Grunin Foundation Board and Governance

As we strive to become a better funder, to help improve the quality of life for ALL residents of the Central Jersey Shore and to champion a more just and equitable society, we have been looking internally at our own board and governance process. In early 2022, we will be announcing new Grunin Foundation board members who will provide governance to help us ensure our grantmaking practices are equitable and in line with our mission, values, funding pillars and EDI framework. We are excited for the new additions to our board and will be sharing more information with you soon.

A Look Into 2022

We truly look forward to bringing our nonprofit partners and friends together next spring for a great Catapult Institute year and fun Foundation events where we can enjoy the celebration of just being present together. On behalf of our entire team, we are grateful for the trust, support and feedback our nonprofit community provides us. We wouldn’t be here without you.

We’re excited to bring you along for the next chapter of the Grunin Foundation’s journey and can’t wait to share more news with you soon. Stay healthy and we hope you have a rejuvenating autumn season.


Jay Grunin Jeremy Grunin

The Mission of Interfaith Neighbors

Interfaith Neighbors (IFN) is a non-profit organization founded in May 1988 when local faith communities came together to address the growing problem of homelessness. Their mission is to assist those less fortunate among us to meet life’s basic necessities, while seeking to improve the quality of life for individuals and families and the communities in which they live. Through the years, their services have grown to include distinct programs for Monmouth County residents, including:  Rental & Mortgage Assistance, Nutrition and Meals on Wheels, Affordable Housing, Neighborhood Revitalization, the Business Development Center, Kula Urban Farms, MacroBites @ Kula, and SOAR.

The Impact of COVID

Executive Director Paul McEvily, remembers the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic like it was yesterday. He watched as the world started to make changes, shutting down airports and other travel. It was St. Patrick’s Day of 2020 when Paul noticed that New Jersey started to become concerned and there were rumors of travel restriction within the United States. Shortly thereafter, everything shutdown.

The first plan of action was to figure out how to keep running one of Interfaith Neighbors’ largest programs, Meals on Wheels of Monmouth County. The priority was how to continue getting food to homebound residents given the growing social restrictions. Thinking ahead to combat any roadblocks, the team proactively worked with Monmouth County officials to get volunteers the credentials needed to continue the food delivery program. Meals on Wheels would become even more vital as COVID took hold and senior centers closed, taking away the communal aspect of sharing a meal at six sites across Monmouth County. Interfaith Neighbors was able to quickly pivot to not only continue daily delivery of over 1,100 meals to seniors’ doorsteps, but added those who could no longer receive meals at the senior centers to existing routes.

Because IFN utilizes a hub-and-spoke delivery network that relies on volunteers, concerns increased on how to keep these volunteers safe; many who are seniors that were forced to take a step back to focus their own health during the pandemic. At the same time, IFN was receiving an influx of volunteer opportunity inquiries, including from college students who were temporarily unemployed. McEvily repositioned his staff to address the on-boarding of new volunteers and to plug in gaps where needed. The team doubled their drivers and never missed a day of delivery!

Another initiative heavily impacted by the pandemic was IFN’s homelessness prevention program. While the Rental & Mortgage Assistance team normally assists 300-350 families annually, the COVID shutdowns resulted in 25 to 30 daily calls from families with emergent needs. This equated to more than 400 households over a period of just six months, partly because the local economy is heavily reliant on the hospitality industry, which shut down overnight. With jobs lost and the financial need growing for so many, McEvily and the Interfaith Neighbors team did all they could to counsel clients on where to focus the money, ie for prescriptions, food, utility bills, etc. IFN was able to provide emergent rental assistance to those who qualified, with the help of local funders who stepped forward and asked how they could help. The 33 year old nonprofit quickly established a COVID-19 Emergency Financial Assistance Fund to provide support to individuals and families experiencing financial distress due to the pandemic. In all, over $500,000 was contributed to the fund by individuals, corporations and foundations. The fund continues to help families as the effects of the pandemic linger.

MacroBites @ Kula

Another part of the Interfaith Neighbors Network is MacroBites @ Kula, formerly Kula Café. In addition to being a community café and gathering place in Asbury Park’s underserved southwest neighborhood, Kula Café operated as a hospitality training and job placement program. With its shutdown due to COVID, it could no long be a viable conduit for the area’s young people entering the workforce. What seemed like a sad ending to a program that found stable employment for over 150 local youth since its 2013 inception, became a reimagining exercise that led to a worthy successor to the Café.

Childhood friends Fritz, Jarrette, and David are the founders of MacroBites @Kula, which is a ready-to-eat meal prep company. MacroBites preps, packs and ships healthy meals in the correct proportions. Fritz, Jarrette and David still had other jobs when they began this business and when they lost access to the kitchen they were using due to COVID, Paul reached out to them to talk about their goals. From that discussion, Paul knew this would be a great fit for not only the former Kula Café, but for the Asbury community. From there, MacroBites @Kula was born.

Fritz, Jarrette and David agreed to work with the young adults who were part of the Kula Café’s innovative workforce development program and are proud to be serving the community in which they grew up. In addition to shipping healthy meals, they opened up a small portion of the building for people to sit and be served meals. They’ve also contributed to the overall health of the community in other ways like hosting yoga in the park across the street from the café.

The Kula Farm

The Kula Farm is a social enterprise that provides on-site job training, educational programs, farm to table dinners and free fresh produce to neighbors in need, and has been in the community since 2015. Prior to the pandemic, the farm yield was sold to local restaurants and made available to those who were food insecure. The Asbury Park School District also collaborated with Kula Farm to provide meals to students. Any extra meals were given to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County to distribute to the community.

While the farm lost revenue generating capability from the restaurant shutdowns during COVID, it set up a commerce site so people could order fresh produce for pickup or delivery. This was a great way to ensure the farm yield didn’t go to waste and to fundraise. During the pandemic, Kula Farm collaborated with the AP Dinner Table Project, operated by local restaurant and provide fresh produce for the preparation and distribution to families in need due to the pandemic.

Silver Linings

While the pandemic has caused so much loss around the world, there have been some silver lining moments. The drive for people to help has been stronger than ever, even if their own situations weren’t optimal. Funders proactively reached out to see how they could help families in need. Grassroots efforts were spontaneously born that helped keep revenue flowing and services continuing. And, collaboration was stronger than ever, with many individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations coming together to make a bigger impact. A great example of this is Gwen Love, Executive Director of Lunch Break, providing her Red Bank location as a pickup and drop off area for meals that Interfaith Neighbors could distribute to their clients.

Interfaith Neighbors Today

Today, Interfaith Neighbors is nearly back to full speed. The workforce development program is up and running again at the farm. And while some senior centers are still not open, Interfaith Neighbors is working to find where the gaps are and how to fill them. They have many people who are volunteering and donating to help their neighbors and the community.

The Future

To stay up-to-date with Interfaith Neighbors’ programs and how they are helping our community, visit

Lunch Break’s Mission

As a caring community, Lunch Break freely provides food, clothing, life skills and fellowship to those in need in Monmouth County and beyond. They strive to break the cycle of poverty for those they serve and guide community members in need to self-sufficiency and healthier, more productive lifestyles.

While the need was great prior to the pandemic, Lunch Break’s leadership, staff, volunteers and board could never have imagined how much more critical it would become.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Gwendolyn (Gwen) Love, Executive Director of Lunch Break, recalls watching the news in the beginning of March 2020. She knew the COVID pandemic was getting closer each day, but it never occurred to her or her staff and clients that everything was about to shut down. At the time, the Lunch Break dining room was at full capacity. The Client Choice Pantry was still open and clients came in daily to shop for perishable and non-perishable items needed for themselves and their family members. It was business as usual and Lunch Break was operating at full staff with employees and volunteers.

While Lunch Break’s Board of Directors and leadership team tried to put a phased plan in place to keep things running safely, they knew they had to get ahead of the health threat and sadly, shut down. It was a very emotional decision and the biggest concern was how it would impact clients. Lunch Break is more than a place to get a meal, clothing, pantry items or take part in life skills or wellness programs, it is a place for fellowship which would become even more important once quarantine hit.

That night, as Gwen drove home, she already had a plan in place on how to continue serving the community and met with staff the next morning to start the communication process. The most important part of the messaging was the “why.” They had to let their clients know why they were deciding to shut down and how they would continue to help them get the services they needed.

Later that week, Lunch Break had already transitioned the dining room to grab and go and the Client Choice Pantry moved from in-person shopping to curbside pickup. No clients were allowed inside the building, but could walk, bike or drive up and get what they needed. While this may sound like a straight forward transition, there were many logistical challenges to ensure everything worked smoothly. Gwen and her team had to reconfigure volunteers as many decided to take some time off due to COVID health concerns. They also had to take stock of necessary items and mass purchase disposable containers and utensils.

As the pandemic progressed, it was time for the staff to work from home and they had just a few hours to gather all of the necessary items they needed from the office. This was a very quick turnaround as the employees were already in a good position technology-wise to continue working from home. If someone did not have a computer at home, Lunch Break provided it as well as any additional supplies needed.

The motivation and wellbeing of staff was crucial to making these changes work during the pandemic. In addition to employees working from home, there was an in-house operations team that took care of the kitchen and maintenance of the building. Gwen met with each of those team members individually to get an idea of their comfort level and figure out how to work together while staying healthy. They had a system of weekly check-ins and daily work flow reports to ensure everything was running safely.

Transitioning for Success

Next came modifications to the building to better serve clients. An awning was installed so pickups could comfortably continue even in inclement weather. Doors were changed so large items could easily be transported in and out. They also rented pods to have better access to necessities while they were outside.

As we moved further into 2020, some of Lunch Break’s suspended programs gradually started to come back, specifically the Clara’s Closet. While clients were still not able to come into the building, they could have volunteers shop for them. If there was something a client needed that wasn’t available, Lunch Break would ask for these items to be donated.

For Lunch Break’s Life Skills program, it was a quick transition to the virtual world and they saw an increase in participation now that classes were online. Transportation and childcare had been barriers, but the ability to access the classes from home made it much easier. Lunch Break purchased laptops and Chromebooks for those who needed them, ensuring everyone had access. Many of the classes were recorded so clients could participate on their own time.

A fun addition to the Life Skills program was a cooking class for children. Lunch Break knew that focusing on mental health, especially during a pandemic, was so important and they wanted to do something to help kids. They created a “Cooking with My Hero” YouTube series where children (Junior Chefs!) could pick a recipe and a hero in their lives, and cook together. Lunch Break did the shopping, funded the food and dropped everything off to the clients. They made a cookbook with all the recipes and sent to their donors as a gift.

Support from Donors

The support Lunch Break has received throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing. Donors proactively contacted Gwen and started a COVID Emergency Fund that provided $900,000 to those in need. They also received many deliveries of supplies and other necessary items from generous donors, volunteers and community members. The community collaboration was also incredible as local restaurants provided food to Lunch Break that was paid for by other local businesses. Everyone truly came together to help those who needed it most.

The Future

Lunch Break never skipped a beat, even on the hardest days. As the Lunch Break staff begins to return to the office and services begin to come back to pre-pandemic levels, the drive to help the community is even stronger. Visit Lunch Break’s website to stay up-to-date on their programs.

We are so happy to introduce you to our DIAL Intern, Camryn Morrow! Camryn came to us through the Diversity in Arts Leadership Internship program and will be with us until early August. Administered by Americans for the Arts and national partners, DIAL matches undergraduate students from backgrounds underrepresented in arts leadership with dynamic communities, energetic host arts organizations, and mentors to guide students’ personal and professional growth throughout the summer. While we are sad we only get to work with Camryn for ten weeks, we are grateful to have been paired with her and built a relationship that will last long beyond her internship! Learn a little more about Camryn and all of the incredible things she has accomplished and planned for the future.  

Camryn is a fourth-year Human Development and Community Engagement major at the University of Cincinnati. A Cincinnati native, Camryn was surrounded by the arts and artists her entire life, which played a significant role in her passion for the arts and the community.   

Camryn’s education was also fully immersed in the arts. Her elementary school was a magnet school and exposed her to the arts from the very beginning. She also attended a creative and performing arts middle and high school. These experiences had so many positive impacts on her life. It made learning exciting and kept her engaged. She was also exposed to philanthropy and nonprofits in the arts. This is what really made her excited about future opportunities. Camryn said, “I realized that this is something I could do. This is in the cards for me.”   

Committed to following in the steps of people she met through service programs, Camryn was excited to give back and make a difference. As a high school graduate, her passions remained in education and the arts, and with a background in service and creative writing, she didn’t know how to blend it all to translate into a career. 

Camryn began working with Breakthrough Cincinnati, a transformative experience that came at just the right time in her life as she was contemplating her future and searching for community. Breakthrough Cincinnati pairs college students with middle school students to help put them on a path for success. Through this program, Camryn helped kids stay engaged in their coursework and build relationships. Some of the kids had to deal with challenges in their home life, but Breakthrough Cincinnati was a place full of love and support for all – students, leaders, and peers. Camryn has always loved working with kids, and this allowed her to not only help others but to create lifelong relationships.

At the University of Cincinnati, Camryn started as a Sociology major, and while she loved it, she knew it wasn’t for her. Ultimately, she found her footing with a major in Human Development and Community Engagement. In addition to her coursework, Camryn has interned for several arts organizations and has also gone back to Breakthrough Cincinnati as an intern.  

During her time in the DIAL Internship program, Camryn is working with the Grunin Foundation and the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund (NJACRF). She is working on the NJACRF Impact Report project. She has had the opportunity to interview individual artists and arts organizations to help tell their stories of strength and resilience throughout the global pandemic. Camryn has used her knowledge and creativity to help us put procedures into place and assist in the structure of the NJACRF Impact Report. She is an incredible asset to both the Grunin Foundation and NJACRF!  

When Camryn has free time, she spends it with her friends, who empower her and allow her to be her best self. She loves reading and journaling and even started a book club at her University. Camryn also enjoys touring her city. Although she was born and raised there, she always finds something new, whether at a museum, cultural center, festival, or anywhere within the vibrant city of Cincinnati.  

Camryn plans to use her love of the arts, education, creativity, and passion for social justice to empower students and address inequities in education. We love working with her, and we know she will be highly successful in all she does! 

How MindALIGNED Began

mindALIGNED began as a collective impact initiative to create arts-engaged schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Educators, philanthropists, parents and civic leaders at the Central Jersey Shore convened to form mindALIGNED, which is modeled after the Creative Learning Initiative, a program in Austin, Texas. The Grunin Foundation was at the table for its inception, and we share the belief that when creativity and the arts are used in the classroom, students are more engaged and learning improves.

The goals of mindALIGNED are to re-invigorate learning, inspire greater engagement, and provide a brighter classroom experience for teachers, students and parents alike. By 2030, the hope is for every school district and community in Monmouth and Ocean Counties to become mindALIGNED and arts-engaged.

mindALIGNED is spearheaded by Count Basie Center for the Arts (The Basie), in partnership with leadership from the Grunin Foundation, Monmouth University, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, government and arts councils, teachers, school administrators, and the Monmouth County Department of Education. It was piloted in 2017-2018 school year with six participating schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. By the fall of the 2019-2020 school year, that number increased to 17, and the program was going strong. Today, there are 10 district partners, 19 schools participating, 690 trained teachers and nearly 12,000 students impacted!

Creative Teaching

There are many ways the arts can be used to teach lessons across all subjects. Creative Teaching refers to a set of instructional techniques drawn from the arts to teach any content area; engaging students, driving inquiry, promoting rigor, and creating personal connections to learning. One example of a creative teaching method is statue. The statue technique invites students to take what is most important about a single idea or multifaceted topic and express it as a physical representation (a statue), that the class can interpret and discuss.

Creative teaching methods are so diverse that they can be implemented to teach any subject. Statues can be used to teach vocabulary words, depict character descriptions, show energy roles in science and even express graphs, shapes or lines in math. And that’s just naming a few areas in which statues can be used within curriculum and lessons. This is also just one of many examples of creative teaching techniques.

How COVID Changed Education

Without knowing that COVID was about to transform education as we knew it, Professional Development had already been ramping up. During the second week of March in 2020, schools were holding mindALIGNED family nights, where parents learned how to use creative learning techniques with their children at home. While this was very important to both the parents and children, no one realized just how valuable this would become, as the shutdown of the schools was impending.

When COVID finally caused schools to close, the mindALIGNED program had to be incorporated in different ways. The Basie team supported the schools but also gave them space to carry out the program in a way that worked for them. There have been many virtual trainings, Professional Development sessions, coaching time and even virtual field trips over the past fifteen months.

Mental health was also a key factor in rethinking how mindALIGNED programs would be implemented virtually. The mental health of the students was important prior to COVID and now it was extremely crucial. Teachers included mindfulness moments in their lessons, relationship building exercises and focused on social-emotional learning.

The new, fully virtual world was creating many opportunities, some that would continue to be beneficial even when schools fully open. It allowed the teachers to go more in depth with virtual Professional Development, which is something they wanted to do for a while. Different school communities were finally able to come together to learn virtually. And there were more workshop requests than usual – teachers could simply turn on their computer and the teaching artist was right there.

mindALIGNED Impact

Measuring impact can be challenging (especially during a global pandemic), but it is critical to ensure programs are achieving goals, to use for future funding and to assess if any changes need to be made. Dr. Deborah E. Ward has been working with the mindALIGNED initiative to provide external research and evaluation. Dr. Ward’s research has found that 100% of teachers responded that the program and creative teaching strategies improve student engagement, the visibility of the arts in schools, and students’ creative expression, while 89% of teachers said the professional development training provided them effective teaching tools. Samantha Giustiniani, Senior Director of Education & Outreach at Count Basie Center for the Arts and Director of the mindALIGNED program along with her team, were able to use some of the downtime during COVID to utilize UpMetrics, an impact visualization tool. Utilizing data collected by Dr. Ward, this has been very helpful with fundraising activities, storytelling to the community and shaping the teacher and student experience in the classroom.

The Future

Next year will be a recovery year for administrators, teachers, students and parents. The mindALIGNED team will continue to help teachers finish the necessary Professional Development and get incorporated safely back into the schools. While the virtual world has certainly presented some great opportunities, everyone is looking forward to forging ahead and being in the classroom again!

Visit for more in-depth information and to stay up-to-date on the mind ALIGNED program.

by: Michael Orey & Sonia Semienchuk, NYU School of Law

NEW YORK, June 10—The 2021 Grunin Prize for Law and Social Entrepreneurship was announced on Wednesday, June 9. This prize recognizes lawyers’ participation in the ways in which business is increasingly advancing the goals of sustainability and human development, and rewards the innovation and potential impact of projects and solutions developed by lawyers to advance the fields of social entrepreneurship and impact investing.

The 2021 Grunin Prize was awarded to the Argentine law firm Beccar Varela in recognition of the support the firm provided to the RAMCC Trust, a versatile contractual vehicle structured by the Argentine Network of Municipalities against Climate Change (RAMCC) for the purpose of financing and investing in projects that generate positive environmental, economic and social impacts for the direct benefit of the municipality that are members of the Trust. This vehicle is the first of its kind in Latin America. It was designed to enable multiple public municipalities of different sizes and regions of Argentina the opportunity to jointly pursue and finance significant sustainability projects in a transparent, scalable and cost‐efficient way. Members of the Grunin Prize‐winning team at Beccar Varela are Daniel Levi (Partner); Carolina Serra (Partner); Dorothea Garff (Senior Associate); Santiago Barbarán (Senior Associate); Constanza Connolly (Counsel); Evangelina Petrizza (Head of Sustainability Department); Diana Warszawski (Junior Associate); and Agostina Coniglio (Junior Associate). More information about the project is available on RAMCC’s website (

“We are deeply honored and grateful for being awarded the Grunin Prize, which is not only a wonderful recognition for our team, but also for the hundreds of Argentine municipalities that believed from the beginning that the RAMCC Trust could become a powerful tool in their mission to protect the environment, creating a better place to live for their citizens. As lawyers, we are confident that we can be game‐changers for helping impact projects to succeed, and this acknowledgment strengthens our enthusiasm to keep driving sustainability initiatives forward,” said Daniel Levi, Partner, Beccar Varela.

Established in 2017 with a generous endowment from NYU Law graduates Jay Grunin ’67 and Linda Kalmanowitz Grunin ’67, and the Grunin Foundation, the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship, the first center of its kind at a law school, is dedicated to enhancing the community of lawyers and legal institutions engaged in social entrepreneurship and impact investing and accelerating its effective participation in these fields. The Grunin Center does this through education, knowledge dissemination, and field‐building collaborations.

“In a year that has caused so much hardship and loss for the world, the 2021 Grunin Prize finalists worked tirelessly to drive impact, advance equity and solve challenges to improve the quality of life for all. Their commitment to creating lasting change through their innovative contributions in the legal field of social entrepreneurship and impact investing is inspiring. I am humbled to be a part of their journey,” said Jay Grunin, co‐founder and chairman of the Grunin Foundation.

Strengthening community is the foundation of the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County (The Y). They believe that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we all work together to invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors. That’s why they focus their work in three areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

In September of 2019, the Community YMCA and YMCA of Western Monmouth County, united to become the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. While everyone was excited for the new synergy that would enable both Ys to benefit from shared resources and enhance their ability to respond to the community’s most pressing needs, merging organizations still presents many challenges.

Laurie Goganzer, former president and CEO of The Community YMCA, was appointed to lead the newly formed YMCA of Greater Monmouth County in the same role. Laurie was fairly new to this Y, and began here in 2017 after holding leadership roles for 25 years at Ys across New York and California. She was now tasked with one of her career’s biggest challenges – building trust with the staff and board across two organizations, now joined as one.

With this strategic alliance, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County became the 2nd largest Y in New Jersey. Now it was time to create a shared vision and strategic plan. In January 2020, the process began and soon after, COVID hit. While the pandemic had changed life as we knew it for everyone across the world, the global pause created the perfect conditions for the Y to work on its strategic planning. They had more time to focus and were very successful at creating a shared vision for their future.

Sadly, the financial impact of COVID on their non-profit organization resulted in a layoff of 85% of her workforce, the majority of which were frontline employees in direct service roles. Layoffs are difficult to begin with, but after just building trust with her combined staff and board, this was emotionally and physically draining for Laurie and the team. “We had already gone into the pandemic both inspired and tired,” Laurie said. Still, they had to move forward so they leveraged the strategic planning process to help.

Prior to COVID, the facilities at the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County were considered  health and wellness centers. Once COVID hit, they shifted gears, changed their business model and became community care centers. Collaboration had already set up the Y for success, as they worked with 70 partners before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it was crucial to work together.

Community care was the top priority, so Laurie and the team took a step back and assessed what the critical needs were for both the members and community. They started focusing on food insecurity and worked with Fulfill to become food distribution centers. The Y held food drives, collecting and distributing donations at their locations to give back to those in need. They also served over 30,000 meals. Additionally, they quickly began emergency childcare for children of essential employees.

The Y also held blood drives where community residents, Y staff and members could conveniently donate. They received over 1,000 pints of blood on location, saving over 2,500 lives. Their Red Bank location also became a testing site for COVID in May of 2020, and they were one of the first YMCA vaccination sites in the country. Partnering with VNA Health Group, they provided over 15,000 vaccinations!

If you ask Laurie what the silver lining is from the last fourteen months, she would say communication, which has definitely ramped up for the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. They became closer with stakeholders, volunteers and donors. They consistently stayed in touch with Y members and board members. They even raised more money during these tough times because people could truly see the good work being done for the community, and understand that the Y is so much more than just a place to exercise.

Moving Forward

As things begin to open and we move towards physically healthier days, we will be facing our next collective challenge – the mental health crisis that is arising from the pandemic. The Y never stopped their mental health services and quickly shifted to virtual offerings. From stress management and anxiety relief webinars to traumatic loss, addiction recovery and therapeutic counseling for all individuals and families, the Y is now offering a hybrid model of mental health options.

Laurie and her team are now looking into what to continue doing to stay successful as community care centers as well as what to stop doing so they can focus on what matters most. She continues to do everything she can to motivate her staff, board and Y members, as well as show the community what the Y really is. While most hear “YMCA” and think of fitness and swimming, they now know that the Y is a charity, with a core mission to strengthen the community.

Laurie said, “We are not just IN the community, we are FOR the community. We are working with our partners to do more and we are using our strengths to give back.”

Visit to keep up-to-date with all that the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County plans to do for our community!