When Dr. Roderick L. Jones took the reins of Goddard Riverside on Feb. 13, it was a homecoming of sorts. Jones grew up in New York City before his work in community services took him farther afield —first to the Rochester area, and then to St. Louis, Missouri.
“I grew up in the Cypress Hills projects, never knowing or believing that I would someday live beyond that neighborhood or have the ability to experience the fullness of New York City,” says Jones. The lesson he took away is that rising from poverty “is not merely about personal intellect alone”: Young people often need support from the community to overcome the obstacles they face, including lack of exposure to possibilities and life options.
“It’s everyone working together —it’s what we all believe and do —that makes a city a better place for all of us,” he says.
Jones went into social services in the hope of helping young people facing those challenges. He rose quickly in the settlement house world. In 2008 he became president and CEO of Grace Hill Settlement House, just two miles north of St. Louis’s famous Gateway Arch.
The settlement house movement traces its roots to the late 1800s, when reformers like Jane Addams declared that doling out charity and moral lectures was not the best way to help families in poverty. To create social change, they argued, one must move into the community and work with people to achieve the goals they want for themselves. Further, when individuals advance, so does the community and the nation. It’s a philosophy that’s as powerful and essential today as it was back then, Jones believes, and one he intends to live every day in his new job.
“I think Goddard Riverside’s role is building and contributing to a just society — in our neighborhood and New York City. And its role is enabling people to make the best choices they can for themselves and their families.”
He’s inspired by the memory of his mother, who raised him as a single parent.”I think she represents so many women who find themselves caring for children and other people. She had so much caring and sensitivity for us and the community we lived in,” he recalls. “We grew up with a sense of personal responsibility as well as civic responsibility.”
Jones is looking forward to the city’s vibrant diversity. “I’m so excited about the adventure of just experiencing New York,” he says. “It’s the comfort of being a minority among minorities — just the love and loyalty and patriotism that true New Yorkers have. When you live in it every day you don’t always feel it. But it’s there.”
That’s a spirit of community Goddard Riverside has embraced over its decades of work —and one that, under Jones’s leadership, stands to grow and thrive in the years to come.