Our A Brush with Kindness program is one of our most popular and successful volunteer programs! We launched BWK in 2009 with the understanding that a habitat is larger than the four walls of a home—it includes the larger neighborhood and spaces that the community can gather. BWK improves and refurbishes public spaces, engaging volunteers all across our service area!

For more than 10 years, volunteers have painted, planted, fixed up, and beautified spaces all across the five boroughs! While the majority of our work has been in NYCHA community centers, we also work in senior centers, churches, playgrounds, schools, residential buildings and more. We take on these projects because it allows us to reach families and communities that our traditional construction model could never reach, and in turn, helps us to make an even greater impact on our city.

Thousands of New Yorkers have volunteered with BWK and breathed new life into a variety of spaces! Check out just a few BWK projects:

789 MacDonough Street HDFC

In 2018, Habitat NYC volunteers painted the lobby and hallways of 789 MacDonough Street, a charming brick, pre-war affordable co-op building in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The co-op board decided that the interior of the building needed a new coat of paint, but the last time they had the building painted, they had to pay thousands of dollars. That kind of bill can put financial strain on a building like MacDonough. Thankfully, the Board found BWK!

Volunteers got to work! “It was inspiring for us in the building to see Habitat’s unity,” said Corinne D., Board Treasurer. “[The volunteers] shared a genuine interest in providing this work as a service to the community and wanting to give back.” Residents and volunteers got to know each other – greeting each other like neighbors. “I think it was an exceptionally inclusive and integral experience, one that we would not have had if we had professional painters coming in,” Corinne said.

The repairs and the fresh paint and newly shiny floors give a sense of pride to the families who call 789 MacDonough home. “Before the work, I would give my incoming guests a disclaimer,” said Corinne jokingly. “But when everything is new and freshly painted, everyone is proud to bring their guests through and showcase the lobby and building interior because of the first-rate product given to us by Habitat.”


Jacob Riis Cornerstone Community Center

Over eight weeks in 2018, nearly 300 volunteers worked to paint the reading room, game room, tech room, bathrooms and hallways of the Jacob Riis Cornerstone Community Center on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The Jacob Riis Cornerstone Community Center is part of the Henry Street Settlement, a historic non-profit and great partner to Habitat NYC. The Center serves kids, young adults and adults with a variety of programs including after-school care, literacy programs, GED classes, workforce development and parenting workshops. The fresh coat of paint that our volunteers provided really brightened up the space, and we hope brightens the days of those who use the center.


Laurelton LIRR Stop

Some of the most exciting BWK projects are those that beautify the spaces we walk by every day and barely notice, like an overpass. In the summer of 2017 our volunteers worked to landscape and paint a mural under a Long Island Railroad overpass in Laurelton, Queens! The mural features an abstract design of the neighborhood’s beautiful Tudor homes and the silhouettes of local activists. Some of the activists pictured even came to help out.

Volunteers also had the chance to landscape around the overpass, bringing a little green and some fresh mulch to the area.


CitiLeaf Chelsea

Our Home Purchase Program [LINK] serves families of a certain income level, but we know that every single New Yorker deserves a safe, welcoming place to call home. That’s why we were so excited to work with CitiLeaf Housing in December of 2020. CitiLeaf Housing provides supportive housing for people living with AIDS who were formerly homeless. CitiLeaf Housing offers life-enhancing services such as access to social work, healthcare, free meals, and community trips and activities.

Our volunteers gave the common areas of the CitiLeaf Chelsea building a fresh coat of paint, as well as painted murals and inspiring quotes on the walls. It may seem like a small thing, but for the residents of CitiLeaf Chelsea, a fresh coat of paint can change their perception of the building.


Tilden Senior Center

This project may have been small in scope, but it was huge in impact! Over two days in June of 2014, 16 volunteers painted community and administrative spaces in the Tilden Senior Center in Brooklyn. These changes may seem small in the larger scheme of things, but BWK’s free services allowed the community center to save some money for their incredibly important work in the community.

The Tilden Senior Center provides north Brooklyn seniors with daily hot lunch, exercise classes, recreation programs, computer training, health and nutrition classes, local trips, benefits assistance, social events, volunteer opportunities and much more. We were thrilled to be able to work with this organization that does so much for their community.


Slattery Playground

Another project that upon first glance, could be considered small until you consider the difference that small change made! Over two days in November and December of 2014, four dedicated volunteers and our BWK staff scraped old paint from fences, retaining wall and playground equipment at The Bronx’s Slattery Playground. They then gave the whole area a fresh coat of paint, brightening the space for the kids and adults who use the playground for exercise!

While the majority of our BWK projects have been senior and community centers, we are expanding our 2021 work to mission-oriented community spaces (like churches and supportive housing buildings), schools and playgrounds. Do you know of a space like this that could use A Brush with Kindness? Let us know – applications are now open!