Get Involved with our Neighborhood

January 29, 2014

No matter how much time Dr. Debra Tupe spends in the classroom or office, the connection to the greater Washington Heights and Inwood community is never far from her mind. Dr. Tupe, an assistant professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine (occupational therapy) at CUMC, says getting involved is important to her, and she does it in part through her role in the Neighborhood Fund, a hospital and university initiative that supports community-based organizations in Upper Manhattan. For Dr. Tupe, the fund is a way to strengthen her connection to Upper Manhattan.

“We are part of the Washington Heights and Inwood community. The Neighborhood Fund is a way we can honor that,” said Dr. Tupe, who volunteers as a site visitor, helping the fund to decide which organizations to support and at what level. She also involves her students through a two-semester course that connects them with Neighborhood Fund-supported community-based organizations. The students work with the organizations to develop grant proposals.

The Neighborhood Fund, founded in 1987, is a joint effort of the medical center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. The fund solicits donations from staff, students, and faculty to support local organizations. One hundred percent of donations go to the organizations to support afterschool programs, community gardens, needle exchange programs, and other programs. Although it started by giving four small grants, today the Neighborhood Fund offers support to more than 60 local organizations.

Members of the medical center community can pitch in not only through checks and payroll deductions, but by giving their time.  Faculty, students, and staff from all CUMC schools, the hospital, and the Psychiatric Institute all work as volunteers. As Dr. Tupe and her students know, involvement in the fund is not a one-way street. They have seen firsthand the returns that result from their participation.

“Whenever I go out on a site visit and see the difference these community-based organizations are making in peoples’ lives, I am amazed and humbled. Needle exchange programs are protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our community; after-school programs are setting kids on the path to lifelong success. It’s inspiring,” said Dr. Tupe. “I hear the same thing from my students.”

Interested in volunteering or donating? Email Sandra Harris. 

Read about three organizations that benefit from the Neighborhood Fund:

Venture Prep 729

Being a preteen is not easy for anyone, but preteen girls in the Bronx, Harlem, and Washington Heights are at especially high risk for problems that include teenage pregnancy, eating disorders, and obesity; they are also more likely to drop out of high school. Venture Prep 729 tries to prevent these problems by building self-esteem and life skills through a range of activities, many of them outdoors.

The organization, run by Lizzette Perez, provides preteen girls with opportunities to go on hiking trips, volunteer, and participate in other activities designed to help build self-confidence as well as leadership and conflict-resolution skills that will serve the young women through high school and beyond.

Washington Heights CORNER Project 


The Washington Heights CORNER Project (Community Outreach & Re­sources, Needle Exchange & Harm Reduction) serves injection-drug users and people with HIV/ AIDS in Washington Heights. The program is based on the principle of harm reduction—minimizing the damage done by drug use by acknowledging that if you cannot stop it, you can at least make it safer.

Located on West 181st Street, the Washington Heights CORNER Project provides active drug users with health services, social support, and the tools to make safe, educated decisions about their drug use.  Nine full-time staff members serve a population of more than 930 participants. The program offers harm-reduction education, condom distribution, case management, HIV counseling, women’s wellness, syringe exchange, and advocacy. To date, the project has supplied 447,117 clean syringes to intravenous drug users, significantly decreasing the risk of spreading blood-borne diseases such as HIV.

Watch a video about the CORNER Project:

New York Stars Twirling and Marching Band

The New York Stars Twirling and Marching Band from Washington Heights is often the highlight of parades and block parties, but it will reach a broader audience this spring when it appears on national TV on America’s Got Talent. The band, formed by CUMC’s Kim Morel-Betances and her brother Dean Morel, offers neighborhood youth an opportunity for a fun and affordable creative outlet. The group teaches more than music and performance skills to its 60 members, who range in age from 7 through 17. It also aims to instill in participants less tangible qualities, such as confidence, leadership, teamwork, and a strong work ethic.

Thanks to occupational therapy students Lauren Offringa for information on Venture Prep 729 and Theresa Thelen-Clemmons, Laura Fileti, Erin Lobb, Kathryn Michalak, and Amy Volz for information on the Washington Heights CORNER Project.