Human Services / Nonprofit Sector

Grand St. Settlement: A 20-year partnership with a New York City institution

Permanent spaces in the community, for the community
CEO Robert Cordero, Grand Street Board Members, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, Council Member Carlina Rivera, and participants cut the ribbon at 80 Pitt St.

NFF and Grand St. Settlement first connected in 2003 for financial management consulting, and we’ve been working together ever since to support Grand St. Settlement’s growth and change. NFF provided more than $1 million in zero-interest financing to support its continued essential operations in April 2020 – less than a month after the shutdown in New York City began. And most recently, NFF invested $4.3 million to support Grand Street’s renovation of their 80 Pitt Street headquarters, featured in the ribbon-cutting above with CEO Robert Cordero, Grand Street Board Members, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, Council Member Carlina Rivera, and participants.  

Grand St. Settlement’s Lower East Side headquarters buzzes with activity.  

The 32,000 square foot facility on 80 Pitt Street is home to a Head Start preschool with several classrooms, a variety of youth programs, an LGBTQ+ hub and center for older adults, and the organization’s administrative offices.  

Signs in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Braille cover the walls; the space is colorful and full of light. 

The organization's facility is so vibrant that it feels like it’s always been there. But nonprofits like Grand St. Settlement don’t create spaces like this overnight. It takes time, resources, and a lot of hard work to build a center that responds directly to community needs.  

Through community centers like 80 Pitt Street, Grand St. Settlement provides vital services across New York City. NFF is proud to support this nonprofit’s efforts to establish permanent locations in the communities it serves. 

A 108-year history in New York City

Grand St. Settlement was established in 1916 as one of New York City’s foundational settlement houses. Initially built to support European immigrants – especially Jewish immigrants – as they adjusted to life in cities across the Northeast and Midwest, settlement houses quickly expanded their services to meet the needs of all low-income Americans. For more than a century, settlement houses like Grand Street have been an essential part of the fabric of American society. 

Grand St. Settlement’s history as a settlement house strikes a particular chord with Robert Cordero, the organization’s CEO. “I was a settlement house kid,” he shares. “My mother put all of us in the preschool there, which, I found out later, happened to be a Head Start program... for me, it's deeply personal, because that experience of Head Start had me ready for kindergarten and reading.” 

Today, Grand St. Settlement continues to offer Head Start programs, along with Early Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs. Together, these programs serve over over 800 children and their families per year across New York City. 

But that’s just the beginning. Grand St. Settlement also offers afterschool care, a summer camp, a teen technology center, and LGBTQ+ programs for youth. They support adults and families with ESL and GED classes, tax preparation, and connections to benefits and other services. And they care for older adults with health and wellness, educational, cultural, and social activities – offered in multiple languages. 

“The model is multi-generational, intergenerational,” Robert says. “That’s really part of what makes a settlement house so special.” 

CEO Robert Cordero welcomes New York City Mayor Eric Adams to their renovated Lower East Side Community Center.
CEO Robert Cordero welcomes New York City Mayor Eric Adams to their renovated Lower East Side Community Center.

Permanent homes in the communities they serve

Manhattan’s Lower East Side has changed a lot since 1916. But to Robert, it’s important that Grand St. Settlement maintain a presence in the neighborhood it’s long called home. 

“We're in a hyper-gentrified neighborhood that still has a huge concentration of public housing in it next to ridiculous wealth,” says Robert. 

“The other thing in the Lower East Side,” he continues, “is some of the best agencies in the city are [here]...iconic groups like Education Alliance, Chinese-American Planning Council, Henry Street Settlement.”  

Investing in its headquarters at 80 Pitt Street allows Grand St. Settlement to easily connect Lower East Side residents to the many nearby government and nonprofit service providers. But to reach more New York City residents, they had to expand.  

“A lot of our neighbors from the Lower East Side, because of gentrification, wound up in Brooklyn. In Bushwick, in Williamsburg, East New York, Brownsville, Sunset Park. So those are the neighborhoods that we intentionally and strategically decided to expand to have our presence in.” 

And when Grand St. Settlement expanded, says Robert, “We did it the settlement house way. We asked the community, the residents of public housing, faith leaders, elected officials, community grassroots leaders, and other nonprofits.” 

By intentionally establishing physical locations in so many neighborhoods, Grand St. Settlement makes its services accessible to people who might find it challenging to travel to the Lower East Side. It can also tailor the services at each center to the unique needs of the surrounding community. In less than 10 years, Grand Street has tripled the operating budget to $45 million. 

"One of the things that makes Grand Street a little bit different is that we have 37 sites,” says Robert – sites that together serve more than 17,500 New Yorkers per year. “We have intentionally expanded to some of the highest-need neighborhoods in Brooklyn...and we maintain the fidelity to being a neighborhood settlement house, whether we're in Bushwick or in Brownsville.” 

NFF and Grand St. Settlement: A long-time partnership

NFF and Grand St. Settlement first connected in 2003, when we conducted a business analysis funded by Empire State Development Corporation. We’ve been working together ever since to support growth and change with financial management insights. 

When COVID-19 struck in 2020, it hit New York City hard – especially in the communities that Grand St. Settlement served. The organization saw an immediate increase in demand for its services, and it needed capital – and fast – to respond.  

In April 2020 – less than a month after the shutdown began in New York City – NFF offered Grand Street Settlement more than $1 million in zero-interest financing to support its continued essential operations, such as preschool for the children of essential workers and meal delivery for senior citizens. In 2023, Grand St. Settlement paid back this loan in full.  

“Nonprofit Finance Fund came out with remarkable products that got us through that pandemic,” says Robert. “You all did a no-interest loan that saved us.” 

NFF has most recently invested $4.3 million to support Grand Street’s renovation of their 80 Pitt Street headquarters. With this financing, Grand Street is installing modern heating and A/C, updating the building to make it accessible to people who use wheelchairs and other forms of assistance, install gender-neutral restrooms, expand space for several programs, and more. This renovation is transforming a dark, cinder-block building into the light-filled, community-focused space we see today.  

As Grand Street took on more and more financing and the projects they invested in became more complex, their relationship with NFF remained as close as ever. “[NFF was] working with us at every step of the process,” says Robert. “[That] was crucial to it happening.” 

Grand St. Settlement CEO Robert Cordero celebrates the completion of their renovation in front of Grand Street's donor appreciation wall.
Grand St. Settlement CEO Robert Cordero celebrates the completion of their renovation in front of Grand Street's donor appreciation wall.

Grand Street Settlement’s vision for the future

Grand Street’s renovation of their flagship facility was a much-needed investment for the organization – one that allows them to better serve their community. But the nonprofit is already preparing its next expansion. 

“As we continue our expansion,” says Robert, “we're looking very strategically at the Bronx and some of the highest need zip codes in the entire city.” 

And, he adds knowingly, “I’m planting a little seed! That's exactly the kind of thing where financing would be most helpful.” 

Potential Head Start expansion into the Bronx will be a vital step toward Grand Street’s vision for New York City: as a place where everyone can gather, inspire one another, and work together as neighbors to create a strong community where everyone belongs.  

This vision for New York City is a vision NFF shares. We’re proud to support Grand St. Settlement’s vital work to achieve this goal.  


Learn more about how we support community ownership of assets.

Read more about how NFF loans help nonprofits like Grand Street Settlement achieve their goals.

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