In the vanguard of advocacy

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Early on, Warren Scharf went from Wall Street to the nonprofit world


  • Warren B. Scharf executive director of the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. photo: Philip Mauro.

Warren B. Scharf has spent nearly three decades helping those most in need. For the last 15 years he has done so mostly on the Upper East Side, as executive director of the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.

“I was at a big Wall Street law firm and my wife Jane [Spinak] was always encouraging me to do what makes me happy and to help people who lacked the ability to defend themselves and it went from there,” Scharf said.

In 1989, Scharf was appointed attorney-in-charge at the Brooklyn Office for the Aging of the Legal Aid Society. Subsequent posts were with the Brooklyn Neighborhood Office of the Legal Aid Society and vice president of The Partnership for the Homeless.

Scharf, 58, who grew up in Whitestone, Queens, was greatly influenced by his parents who, he says, “believed in social justice and making sure to take care of those who need help ... being a good neighbor.”

Scharf, who graduated from Columbia College where he studied East Asian languages and cultures and then Columbia Law School, is especially proud of the legal services provided by Lenox Hill. “Demand for the Neighborhood House’s legal services has never been higher,” he said. “We continue to be one of the few resources on the East Side for low-income individuals and families to turn to for help with their civil legal problems.”

Over the last two years, the staff at Lenox House’s legal advocacy department has more than doubled, from 11 to 23, and now provides legal services that benefit more than 5,000 low-income New Yorkers who have encountered difficulties with their housing, access to benefits and health care, and other issues.

Lenox Hill’s senior center, known as “The Center,” is another extensive resource within the organization’s East 70th Street Neighborhood House, at the corner of First Avenue. There, community members can get meals, health and wellness services, and programs in the arts and fitness.

“Given what’s going on in society, it’s critically important to have a place where the young and old can get the services they need.” Scharf said. In 2011, Scharf and Lenox Hill instituted a “farm to institution” model for their food service program, which serves 350,000 meals yearly to seniors and children. All of the food, including sustainable fish and grains, is purchased from New York State farms. “Now clients can eat food that’s healthier and tastes better,” Scharf says.

Under his tutelage, Lenox Hill also initiated “Teaching Kitchen,” which instructs other nonprofits how to convert to the “farm to institution” model. Scharf said that, to date, they have helped 30 organizations serve 3 million meals. The goal, he said, is expanding to 80 non-profits this year. The New York State Health Foundation awarded “Teaching Kitchen” its 2016 Emerging Innovator Award.

Other features of Lenox Hill are the programs for early childhood development, English classes for speakers of other languages along with a comprehensive network of programs and services to help homeless and formerly homeless improve their lives.

“The consequences for our clients can be great, so we’ve assembled a special team that can make real improvements in their lives, which is exciting and fun,” he said.

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