Editor’s note: This profile is one of a series of stories about Staten Island women who have gone above and beyond during the coronavirus pandemic. They are women who have been critical in keeping essential functions operating as the health crisis grips our community, our city and our nation. The Staten Island Advance/SILive.com is proud to dedicate its annual Women of Achievement program, established in 1964 and celebrated every year since, to these local heroes; we are calling it Staten Island Women of Achievement 2020 – The Front Line. Congratulations to this 2020 Woman of Achievement: Antoinnette Donegan.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — It was at the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when Antoinnette Donegan received a call that food had been donated to Central Family Life Center to be delivered to North Shore families in need.
Like many people across Staten Island at the peak of the pandemic, Donegan was spending most of her time at home to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. But the 60-year-old Mariners Harbor resident, who is the community coordinator of Central Family Life Center and associate minister at First Central Baptist Church, Stapleton, quickly sprang into action.
She spoke with Rev. Dr. Demetrius Carolina Sr. — the pastor of the church and executive director of the center — to develop a delivery plan to senior citizens in need across the North Shore.
“Somebody said they had donated meals or some boxes,” Donegan said. “I said, ‘Okay Pastor, I’m coming to the Life Center, give me a list of who I’m delivering to,’ and I had been in quarantine myself. I made a couple of calls and I went to Cassidy Place [NYCHA Cassidy/Lafayette Senior Center] and I delivered a couple of meals.”
And she made sure to make the delivery process as safe and seamless as possible at NYCHA and several senior facilities across the North Shore — making contactless deliveries to residents.
“I had so much fun delivering those meals with my face mask on and my gloves on, and delivering those meals to their front door,” she said. “When I say I had fun, it was the best afternoon. I was tired, I was exhausted, but it was the best exhausted I had. And that’s how outreach goes for me. I will be tired, just exhausted… but then I think about why I’m exhausted. It brings me joy.”
NORTH SHORE’S ‘POINT PERSON’
Donegan has long been known as the “point person” in the North Shore community. She identifies new community groups and public or private initiatives to build relationships, manages community partnerships, and organizes events.
She serves as a mentor by providing information to the community and encouraging residents to take care of their health and well-being. Donegan hosts a quarterly Women’s Empowerment Tea with guest speakers, treats and giveaways. She also offers programs and events around topics of domestic violence, breast cancer awareness and HIV/AIDS.
More recently, she has taken on the role of program manager of the Test and Trace Corps through NYC Health and Hospitals at Central Life Family Center, as part of a grant given to several community-based organizations citywide.
Donegan explained that her team at Central Family Life Center is focused in the Stapleton area, but has been going wherever it’s needed, especially during COVID-19.
“I’ve been organizing our team and reaching out to where we’re needed to the NYCHA houses. We’ve made sure we’ve had mobile testing [for the coronavirus] at the Life Center at least twice. I reached out to Northwell, which is Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH), to make sure we had flu shots in the Stapleton community because, as you know, there is no major drug store in that area,” she said.
A flu shot clinic event has already been held at the Central Family Life Center, and Donegan is planning to host a second one at a health and wellness event with partners in the community.
“That’s what I kind of do, we reach out, we coordinate with different partners, so that the community can have different resources in one place,” Donegan said.
After Central Family Life Center received a grant to be part of the city’s Test and Trace Corps to provide education and outreach in the community, Donegan was named the program manager. She is responsible for hosting town hall meetings, participating in outreach efforts and hanging posters within the community.
“I’m passionate about our health in the community, so it’s a blessing,” she said. “It’s not like it’s easy work, but it’s a blessing. And it was a blessing to hire people in the community to do the work… and to service the community.”
PARTNERSHIP WITH NYPD
She also coordinates and promotes anti-gun violence workshops and pro-social events, where community stakeholders and agencies partner to communicate and deliver services to targeted neighborhoods.
Donegan acts as a liaison between the community and the NYPD, making calls to the department’s Community Affairs team when members of the True 2 Life program plan or take part in an event.
True 2 Life — a part of the city’s Crisis Management System (CMS) and Cure Violence Movement and a program at Central Family Life Center — works year-round to resolve potentially violent disputes, while educating youth about their economic surroundings, the history of their community and the potential to break the cycle of crime and poverty.
In October, Donegan took part in a True 2 Life peace event, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as a farmer’s market-style table with fruits and vegetables.
“I put gloves on and I served the community, because that’s the way the fruit market does it,” she said. “And to prevent the spread, I just ask them what they want and I give it to them so I can make sure everyone stays safe. I find that Stapleton and New Brighton are in a health-food desert. There’s no place to buy these healthy fruits and vegetables for a reasonable cost, or at all. So they were very appreciative. Not only do they get PPE, not only do they get information about COVID, but they get fruits and vegetables for the time that we do these events.”
‘TIRED OF THE PANDEMIC’
Donegan said one of the biggest challenges during the pandemic has been getting the community to realize it’s not business as usual. The center and church have been dedicated to handing out PPE because no one is wearing a mask, she said.
“That’s disheartening as our community of color, and that’s black and brown, who’s hit the hardest. And that’s why we were given the grant [for Test and Trace], to service those that are challenged financially and challenged health-wise …,” Donegan explained. “They’re tired of the pandemic. They’re tired of the violence. They’re tired of their lifestyle. They’re tired of being poor. They’re tired of all that. This pandemic is just one more thing that’s beating them on the head.”
That’s why initiatives within the center are so important, because it gives the neighborhood joy, Donegan said.
“That’s why I said I don’t mind coming home tired, because there are so many things that these communities have to fight,” she said.