Stories telling of the exponential growth of the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center (MMCC) under the leadership of Donald Bluestone will no longer be the only way to remember the executive director after he retires in 2017.
On Oct. 20, board members unveiled the renaming of a central point of one of MMCC’s campgrounds in upstate after Bluestone, sealing Bluestone’s enduring legacy that saw the neighborhood center impact the lives of thousands of young Bronx residents.
“We decided that the best way to honor Donald was the camp,” longtime MMCC board member Natly Esnard said at a dinner honoring Bluestone. The camp, found at Harriman State Park in Sloatsburg, NY, features a Central Square, a meeting ground for campers who begin and end their day there. “Every morning, the campers gather in Center Square, they have their programs and then they go on to do their thing at camp, so we decided to name it Bluestone Square.”
In addition to making camp a staple of MMCC, offering adventures, arts and crafts, and sports, Bluestone also helped MMCC grow from a $1.5 million not-for-profit to a $26 million operation with a large foothold in the Bronx.
“Twenty-seven years ago I came to MMCC,” Bluestone recounted. “I presented my ideas to the board hiring me, telling them all the programs that I would start and everything that was wrong with MMCC. In spite of this they hired me.”
MMCC, which was launched in 1942 by a group of women to serve Norwood, went from serving 3,500 people a year to serving more than 35,000 people annually under Bluestone’s tenure, making it one of the largest youth-centric groups in the Bronx.
Bluestone has undoubtedly expanded the center’s reach and vision and he’s achieved this by introducing more services and programs that include crisis intervention to summer camp, and even a Head Start program.
“I mean, the man is a genius when it comes to programming and bringing programs into the community,” Bob Altman, who served as the assistant executive director of MMCC for almost 20 years, said. “I’ve known Don for over 35 years. He’s a dynamic person. He really cares about the kids and the community.”
MMCC CEO Rita Santelia, who’s been with the center for roughly 25 years, will take over the reins as executive director after Bluestone retires in 2017. Santelia plans on maintaining Bluestone’s vision and expand the center in the area of the arts and entitlement.
“We’re looking for programs that complement what we’re currently doing,” Santelia explained. “Even though he’s only 5’ 3”, he has big shoes to fill.”