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Downtown Initiative Serving Schools Amid the Skyscrapers

Most people think of Lower Manhattan as a center for business. However, between the skyscrapers and the storefronts, thirty-thousand students attend public schools south of 14th Street. 

In March, PENCIL, a nonprofit that connects business volunteers with public schools, launched the Downtown Initiative, a program designed to serve those students. It’s funded by Trinity Wall Street as part of its All Our Children initiative. 

At a reception hosted by Scholastic, PENCIL staff mingled with current and potential volunteers from local businesses, followed by a panel discussion. 

“We need you in the audience to help support our kids and to help them have a sense of who they can be and what they can do,” said Joyce Coppin-Mondesire, a member of the Trinity Vestry and experienced educator, who spoke on the panel. 

“I see these beautiful skyscrapers going up and the community changing and they're bringing all this talent, and interspersed are these students,” said Elise Kirban, Associate General Counsel and Chief Ethics Compliance Officer for NCR Corporation. “A lot of these kids don't really have a sense of what’s possible in terms of careers.” 

Kirban has worked with high school students since 2009, teaching them to write, research, and create presentations in a business setting. 

“We’ve been blown away by some of the presentations,” she said. 

Many have finished the program with a better sense of potential careers they can pursue after they graduate. 

“I think the opportunity to be exposed to your businesses are extremely valuable,” said Patricia Minaya-Orsini, a panelist and Principal of the Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women, which partners with Castle and Harlan. Minaya-Orsini said her own life was shaped by a mentorship program run by IBM when she was a public high school student in New York City. 

Many of her students are underserved minorities below the poverty level. 

“My students are leaving with skills that will help them in college,” she said.  

The panel was moderated by Windy Lopez-Aflitto, manager of philanthropy for American Express, who has volunteered with PENCIL for several years. 

“It’s about preparing kids for college, career, and life,” she said. 

To get involved, contact Caroline Lefaivre at or at (646) 638-6424 to find out how you can partner with a school.

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