ABOVE: Yuka Yamashita, left, and Veronique Verscheure, second to the right, presents a check to Jaime-Faye Bean, second to the left, and Andy Rodriguez, center, executive director of the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens. At far right is Variety board president Walter Sanchez.
BY BENJAMIN FANG
In February, New York Life launched a new campaign called “Love Takes Action” to mark the insurance company’s 175th anniversary. The year-long campaign kicked off with a 60-second Super Bowl ad called “Agape,” an ancient Greek term describing “the highest form of love,” to highlight the company’s history of helping people build better futures.
When COVID-19 struck the country just a month later, New York Life and its foundation quickly pivoted the campaign to honor people and organizations who helped make a difference in their communities during the pandemic. New York Life employees put forward 130 nominees, which the foundation narrowed down to 35 winners, each of whom received a $50,000 grant to direct toward a local organization.
In total, through the Love Takes Action campaign, the New York Life Foundation has awarded $1.75 million for its 175th anniversary. Local New York Life agents Veronique Verscheure and Yuka Yamashita nominated Astoria resident Jaime-Faye Bean, executive director of the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District (BID) and co-founder of the nonprofit organization Queens Together.
Bean, who was one of the 35 winners of the program, chose the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens as the grant recipient.
“It was kind of obvious,” Verscheure said, when asked why she nominated Bean. “She does so much.”
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bean helped strengthen small businesses, promote commercial districts and beautified the streets of Sunnyside through the BID’s many programs. Through Restaurant Week to holiday lightings, plaza programming and pop-up markets, Sunnyside Shines has long advocated for the neighborhood’s local small businesses.
“She’s so creative,” Yamashita said. “She’s such a big asset.”
The New York Life agents said they have been working with Bean for a few years already, attending networking events, meeting with local business owners and even sponsoring a holiday trolley. Familiar with Bean’s work, Verscheure and Yamashita also nominated the Astoria resident due to her contributions to the community during the pandemic.
Along with former chef Jonathan Forgash, Bean co-founded Queens Together, a nonprofit organization that helps local restaurants while feeding frontline workers and community members facing food insecurity.
In May, Queens Together partnered with the Variety Boys and Girls Club to launch a new food pantry to provide fresh produce and other foods to nearly 500 families per week. They also delivered prepared meals to the residents of the Astoria Houses during the spring and summer.
The organization started off feeding hospital workers at the height of the pandemic in New York. They later pivoted to focus on food-insecure families, and recently started a new initiative to provide meals for teachers and school staff. The $50,000 general support grant will go toward the Variety Boys and Girls Club’s ongoing programs, which include food relief, virtual after-school programming and other services for the western Queens community.
“It was perfect for what we were thinking,” Verscheure said, “because we were also thinking about helping kids and family.”
Yamashita said she hopes the grant will be used to help local children, whose families may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that many people have lost jobs or have had their hours cut due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
“I hope they can still continue running programs for those kids so they can learn, grow and have fun.”