LOWER EAST SIDE — The new leader of the Educational Alliance wants to go beyond just offering social services — he wants to fight for the teens, seniors and low-income New Yorkers whom the nonprofit supports.
Alan van Capelle, a longtime civil rights advocate who will become president and CEO of the Educational Alliance in March, said he hopes to press for political changes to help the 50,000 people in Lower Manhattan who use the organization's services each year.
"We clothe, we house, we give them an education, but we could do a better job at telling their stories," said van Capelle, 38, a former deputy comptroller for the city who currently leads Bend the Arc. "We need to do a better job at advocating for them so we can break that cycle of poverty."
While van Capelle has not decided on the specifics of the Educational Alliance's future advocacy work, he said he was concerned that 40 percent of seniors on the Lower East Side are below the poverty line and half of the shoppers at the neighborhood's Fine Fare supermarkets use food stamps. He also mentioned the fatal shooting of Raphael Ward, a teen who was gunned down on Columbia Street in January this year.
Van Capelle's goal is to gain a seat at the table during city, state and national discussions about poverty and how to combat it.
"What I want to do is be a part of this conversation," van Capelle said.
Van Capelle, who will replace Robin Bernstein as the head of the 124-year-old nonprofit, will take over shortly after the Educational Alliance opens its new $55 million community center on 197 East Broadway in February. That will be the Educational Alliance's second location, along with the 14th Street Y.
Van Capelle is a relative newcomer to the Lower East Side, having moved there with his husband and young son three years ago.
"It wasn’t by accident that we chose the Lower East Side because we think it is a vibrant and dynamic community," he said.
It's also a community that is changing rapidly but still needs the dozens of services the Educational Alliance provides, from health and fitness classes to drug treatment programs.
"Those problems are real," van Capelle said, "and to be able to work on those issues while I live in the community feels like an exceptional opportunity and one too good to pass up."