Dominican Sunday has come a long way since it was first established almost two decades ago.
“We started without anything,” Altagracia Hiraldo, co-founder of the Manhattan Valley community organization, recalled. Instead of employing permanent staff, the group had to rely on community members for support.
Thanks to that volunteer base, the group has become a cornerstone of the local Dominican community, providing important educational services, including English, computer literacy, and citizenship classes, and holding cultural events such as Dominican Heritage Month, which it celebrated two weeks ago.
But as the organization still has fundraising problems, even as it works to expand its programming beyond the neighborhood’s sizable population of Dominican residents and serve the entire community.
“We hope that our nationality can work together—at least, you know, can do something for the community together,” Hiraldo said.
Dominican Sunday operates out of a tiny, poster-lined office on 107th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, but its services have a wide impact.
Hiraldo said the organization, which was established through the Ascension Church in 1995, has counteracted negative stereotypes about the Dominican population by showing the neighborhood “who we are, our history, our culture.”
She added that she saw a special need for Dominican Sunday’s services in Manhattan Valley, the neighborhood between 96th and 110th streets, where she said there was a lot of drug use, causing some locals to think negatively of the Dominican population.
Co-founder Belkys Ravelo-Paulino said that when it was established, Dominican Sunday filled the need for a Dominican community group. She added that while other ethnic groups connected in other New York City neighborhoods, the Dominican community lacked a similar center in the area.
According to Ravelo-Paulino, the organization helped 1,900 people gain citizenship and voting rights during its first three years of operation. It also refers clients to lawyers, provides financial aid services, and hosts an annual job fair.
Currently, the organization receives funding from discretionary City Council money, volunteer fundraisers, and food sales. The group is also partnered with Columbia, which provides space for classes, pays some Dominican Sunday teachers, and has helped the group gain 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
However, Hiraldo said, the group still lacks a stable funding source, and needs a designated volunteer to write letters to potential donors and assist in securing funds.
According to Hiraldo, 12 volunteers helped with the recent Dominican Heritage Month celebration two weeks ago, where over 100 people enjoyed music, folk dance performances, and traditional Dominican food.
At the Dominican Heritage Month event, local politicians, including City Council members Gale Brewer and Robert Jackson, State Assembly member Gabriela Rosa, and City Council candidate Mark Levine, voiced support for the organization.
“You can’t give up,” Brewer said, adding that Hiraldo’s leadership has taught her lessons.
Jackson, who presented awards to several Dominican Sunday volunteers, urged attendees to maintain “your history as a people, your culture as a people.”
“My heart and my soul is with the Dominican people,” he said.
Rosita Delgado, who has taught ESL classes at Dominican Sunday for 10 years, said she enjoys every aspect of working with Dominican Sunday. According to Delgado, students have represented many different countries, including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and Honduras.
She said that the classes can be a first step toward obtaining college degrees.
“Some of them—not all can go to college, but some of them,” Delgado said. “They want a better future.”
David Ramires, who has been in the ESL class for three years, agreed.
“I would like to get a very good job in New York City,” Ramires, who currently works as a restaurant busboy, said.
Ramires, who is originally from Mexico, added that he enjoyed the classes not only for their conversation, but also because “I meet different cultures in here,” he said.
Hiraldo said that in the future, she hopes the organization will give younger generations “space for them to create” in addition to the encouragement to seek high school diplomas.
“We continue to serve this community and are hoping to get some resources” to better serve the community’s needs, Ravelo-Paulino said.