Hosts Michael K. Williams and Cheryl Wills with Jaye Smith (HDWC board vice president), Dorothy Worrell (HDWC executive director) and Tim Mulvaney (HDWC board president) display proclamation from the City of New York

*Dorothy Worrell, executive director, Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children and Family Services (HDWC), welcomed some 250 longtime supporters including Colored Orphan Alumni from as far away as Georgia to the esteemed organization’s 175th anniversary on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at Bridgewaters at South Street Seaport.

As a not-for-profit child-welfare agency, the mission of HDWC is to serve and assist children and their families in crisis and distress.  The agency recognizes that children are the future of our society, and that a healthy, stable, and caring home environment is essential to their present and future welfare.

During her eloquent remarks acknowledging this milestone celebration, Worrell put things in perspective.  “This year, we proudly celebrate the history and legacy of an institution that has survived countless wars and conflicts, a depression, numerous recessions and assaults on our community, but still we stand.  As we reflect back on 175 years as we embark upon this year long celebration, we realize that our work is never done.”

“Our children are not true orphans anymore, but they are orphans of poverty, they are orphans of crowded and inadequate schools, they are orphans of communities racked by drugs and violence, they are orphans of families struggling to survive, often at the expense of being neglectful of their children.”

“Today, we stand strong and proud as Harlem Dowling, the surviving entity to the Colored Orphan Asylum, founded in 1836 to care for children of color.  We believe in the inherent strength of families.  We give them the tools, support and strength to reunite and when that is not possible, we work to create new families for children.”

Worrell also thanked the legendary agency’s legion of supporters.  “It is because of our deep and abiding respect for children and families that Harlem Dowling continues to be innovative in its programs and approaches to working with children and families.  The work that we do would not be possible without our friends and partners in government, foundations, corporations, educational institutions, community organizations, our alumni and individuals for contributions and support on behalf of the 2500 children and families served annually through all of our programs and services.”

The importance of the work of HDWC does not go unnoticed by the proud city it serves.  As a result, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an official declaration proclaiming November 3 as Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children and Family Services in the great city it calls home.

The event, which also recognized National Adoption Month, was hosted by actor Michael K. Williams and NY1’s main anchorwoman Cheryl Wills.  The evening included live performances by budding singer Danielle Quinn, internationally renowned recording artist Cyndee Peters, and folk group They Call Me Lucy.  The evening ended with a surprise performance by R&B crooner and former lead singer of the 80s hit duo The System, Michael “Mic” Murphy, who brought the house down with his timeless classic hit “Don’t Disturb This Groove.”

Every year, HDWC puts the spotlight on those who look back and give back.  This year’s honorees included Harlem Dowling consultant physicians Dr. James McKnight, a noted child and adolescent psychologist, and Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, a celebrity psychologist and TV personality.

Dr. James McKnight (honoree), Dorothy Worrell (HDWC executive director) Dr. Jeffrey Gardere (honoree), Sheri Migdol (honoree) and Tim Mulvaney (HDWC board president)

The dedicated physicians are co-recipients of the 2011 James McCune Smith award in honor of the first African American physician to practice medicine in the United States who was also a devoted house physician at the former Colored Orphan Asylum for over 20 years.  The coveted award recognizes health care professionals who are dedicated to eradicating health care disparities in our community.

In addition, author Sheri Migdol McKnight, a noted child and adolescent psychologist, received the 175th Anniversary Community Service award which recognizes individuals who continue to unselfishly give of their time and resources to the Harlem Dowling community.  Mrs. Migdol, the wife of board member Gerald S. Migdol, Esq., is a tireless civic leader and dedicated volunteer at Harlem Dowling’s food pantry.

The funds raised supports the children in HDWC’s out-of-home placement program, placed with the organization’s foster and adoptive parents who are the unsung, quiet heroes and heroines of HDWC.  They continue to answer the call in the middle of the night; they open their doors, their heart and homes to children who have experienced severe trauma.

“It is through friends, donors and supporters that Harlem Dowling can continue to be innovative in responding to the ever changing needs of our diverse community and city in meeting the needs of children and families. We know that we can continue to count on you to be ‘part of the solution’ as you have for 175 years,” stated Worrell.

HDWC board president Tim Mulvaney, president, The Mulvaney Group, along with Worrell and fellow HDWC board members Wendy Hewlett, Mark V. Monteverdi and Don Mullins, together with Dr. Bert Petersen, Global Cancer Control, served as 2011 gala benefit organizers.

Earlier this year Harlem Dowling announced its capitol building fund which calls for the construction of the agency’s first standalone facility since the closing of the Colored Orphan Asylum over 4 decades ago.  The new facility will be a high-tech; green building that will include approximately 15,000 sq. ft. of dedicated office space and an additional 45,000 sq. ft. of space dedicated for low-income and subsidized housing. Ground breaking for 8 -9 story building, which will be located on the corner of 127th Street, is anticipated to take place in 2012, with an occupancy date of 2013.

Today Harlem Dowling remains one of New York City’s leading multi-service agency providing out-of-home foster care, adoption, therapeutic placement, supportive housing for youth aging out of foster care, and other support services.  Related services include, family preservation, HIV/AIDS services, family support services, and after school programs for children and families living in Central Harlem, Washington Heights, Southeast Queens and Far Rockaway.  The agency remains true to its old tradition of uplifting humanity and annually serves over 2,500 inner-city children and their families.

Since its inception in 1836 as the Colored Orphan Asylum, Harlem Dowling has been at the forefront of providing innovative and culturally relevant and competent services to children and families.  At a time when no one would take in children of color, the orphanage was there.  (Photo Credit: Hubert Williams / Images of Us)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.