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Stories of Impact

A group of people posing for a photo in front of a building.
BKO partners VOCAL-NY

Though legislation and policy is meant to protect civilians’ rights and interests, they often fail the most vulnerable people in our communities. As disheartening as this reality is, organizations such as VOCAL-NY (Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders) are a force that works to combat it, helping to build a movement of low-income people dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and homelessness.

“Since 1999, we have been bringing people together that are directly impacted by the issues we work on to lead and design our powerful campaigns,” Alyssa Aguilera, VOCAL-NY’s Co-Executive Director, said. “There are lots of different campaigns we’re working on — but at the heart of what we do is community organizing. We see this as critical to shifting power so that people can play a more active role in improving their own lives.”

Two men standing in front of a graffiti covered wall.

One of the biggest challenges to combating these issues is overcoming the stigma associated with them. Not too long ago, these issues were taboo to talk about — forcing people who struggle with poverty, HIV, and drug use to hide in the shadows. Despite today’s societal shift, many people are still reluctant to talk about the importance of addressing these long-standing issues.

According to Aguilera, finding solutions to systemic issues like housing insecurity isn’t because of a lack of resources, but a product of misguided and misdirected wealth. “Why are we prioritizing the wants and needs of wealthy real estate developers over housing people who are homeless?” she asks. “Those are all choices — and it’s our job to make sure that our people have more power and access to resources to create positive change.”

At the heart of what we do is community organizing. We see this as critical to shifting power so that people can play a more active role in improving their own lives. Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director

Given these systemic failings, VOCAL-NY champions solutions rooted in systemic change. Over the years, its community organizing, leadership development, advocacy, direct services, participatory research, and direct action have helped save and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers across the state.

VOCAL-NY’s work falls into five key focus areas — HIV/AIDS, drug policy, mass incarceration, and homelessness — that are led by issue-specific unions. These unions organize community members whose lives have been personally affected by these issues, empowering them to be at the frontlines of change, and build coalitions with others to gain political power.

A group of people sitting in a room talking to each other.

Brooklyn Org (BKO) has been proud to support VOCAL-NY’s lifesaving work within the borough and across the state. In 2018, BKO backed the organization’s syringe exchange program that distributes over 400,000 sterile syringes annually and offers overdose prevention training to hundreds of New Yorkers. BKO’s additional funding has also helped VOCAL-NY grow its outreach, testing programs, and service delivery for people who use drugs and are living with Hepatitis C.

Aguilera says that this long-term support has helped VOCAL-NY establish itself as a community organization that has no signs of stopping. “Receiving this support from BKO was really special for our organization because it elevated our profile and helped people learn more about our work,” she said. “And it was amazing that they invested in us for a five year cycle. This long-term investment helped us to focus more time and energy on our programmatic work rather than fundraising and proposals.”

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