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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.-As vice president of financial services for United Nations Federal Credit Union, Stephen Ryerson understands the workings of nonprofit financial institutions. However, starting in the early 1990s, it was Ryerson’s involvement with New Ground Inc.-an organization that seeks to break the cycle of homelessness by providing long-term housing and services that educate and empower formerly homeless families-that first introduced him to the nonprofit world. “My life was very different before I came to UNFCU,” Ryerson says. “For many years, I worked on the bond trading floor, and while I basically knew what a nonprofit organization was, I didn’t know anything about how they really operated.” Ryerson first came to be involved with New Ground in 1992, about a year after the organization was formed. His wife, Leslie, as president of the Parent-Teacher Association at their local elementary school, was seeking an organization to partner with for a Thanksgiving food drive and came to learn about New Ground. From that point on, New Ground became a permanent fixture in the Ryerson family’s life. “We started doing fundraisers for the organization,” Ryerson says. “We would host holiday parties with 75 to 125 people and ask everyone to bring gifts for the children and parents. It was better than Christmas itself and definitely the highlight of my holiday season.” “Other times, we chartered a boat to take families fishing,” Ryerson continues. “Or, we’d host picnics. We’d bring our friends, and everyone would interact. You didn’t know who was in the program and who wasn’t.” In the late 1990s, Ryerson’s role in the organization expanded. New Ground’s founder asked him to help reorganize the board of directors, which at the point existed mostly as a board on paper only. Seeking the assistance of other professionally minded friends, Ryerson brought a new sense of dedication to the organization. Initially serving as vice president, Ryerson soon became president and chairman of the board. Today he holds the titles of “past president” and “member for life.” “That’s a good strategy for boards-to make past presidents and members for life-because you don’t ever want those individuals to go away,” he says. Through the dedication of individuals like Ryerson, New Ground’s successes have been tremendous: 88% of adults in the program have full-time jobs; 52% have earned their GED and continued with vocational training or college; and 98% of children in the program attend school regularly and are on track to graduate. One of the organization’s literacy initiatives-called “Family Memories”-has become particularly well known in the Long Island community that New Ground serves. Together, parents and children develop books about their new lives, complete with black-and-white photos taken by the children-some of which have appeared in photography magazines and photo exhibitions. In the process of helping New Ground families create their own positive memories, Ryerson has done the same for himself. “There are so many things to be proud of,” Ryerson says. “The way we’ve grown financially; we raise funds for everything. Seeing the progress of children and parents.kids who struggled in school and are now in college.” “We’re much more involved with the families than you typically would see at the board level,” he says. “It’s been an enormous pleasure knowing the impact we’ve had will go on for decades.” [email protected]

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