By Paulette Safdieh
Upper East Sider Elaine Walsh remembers the East 86th Street corridor when trains chugged along the Third Avenue El, long before 2nd Avenue Subway construction began. Born and raised on 86th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues, Walsh committed herself to giving back to the neighborhood from a young age.
Today, Walsh co-chairs Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee and runs the East 86th Street Association. Her years of dedication and active involvement within the community earned Walsh an OTTY Award this year.
“I enjoy being involved and I like to see social change—luckily, I’ve seen that happen,” said Walsh. “It’s a good way to live.”
Walsh, 67, remembers her mother being involved in community affairs and school events, an attitude that influenced Walsh as a teenager. She led the student body at St. Vincent Ferrer High School on East 65th Street and was vice president of the student body at the College of White Plains. Walsh continued on to earn a master’s degree in social work and a doctorate in social welfare, both from Fordham University.
For the past 25 years, Walsh has worked as a professor in the Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs. She runs its Public Service Scholar Program to raise money and encourage students to get involved in public service.
“Leadership came naturally to me,” said Walsh. “I enjoy helping people grow, delegating out and seeing people blossom.”
Walsh joined the Community Board 15 years ago, first chairing the Economic Development Committee. She helped jumpstart crime prevention programs in conjunction with the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House and helped organize a community task force in 2002. The task force surveyed residents and local businesses and identified a need for a civic group to handle quality of life issues on East 86th Street, which led to the formation of the East 86th Street Association in 2003.
As president of the Association, Walsh works with many community members, neighborhood residents and local businesses. Teri Slater, the Association’s secretary and co-chairperson of Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee feels lucky to be one of them.
“She’s infallible, she doesn’t give up and she’s a fighter—that’s what it takes to be a community advocate,” Slater said. “She has a full-time job but she applies the same hard work, intelligence and strength of character to the community on the Upper East Side.”
Over the last few years, Walsh has led the association to get historic lamps installed down the East 86th Street corridor, fix broken corners, plant trees and clear space for upcoming bike racks. She helped get neighborhood signage replaced and worked with big retailers to maintain decorum on the streets. Walsh now lives on 86th Street with her partner of 30 years, Brenda McGowan.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have good health and live a long time,” said Walsh. “I understand that change takes time, but we’re getting there. We’re making a difference.”
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