Founder of Helping Hands Aids Rockland’s Homeless

New City, NY (July 12, 2018) – Raoul Cansino has spent the past 15 years helping homeless men and women in Rockland County find a warm bed and a hot meal on the coldest of winter nights.

The organization he founded, Helping Hands of Rockland County, has even grown to help people find permanent housing, jobs, and other services, and is the only organization in the county that solely serves our homeless neighbors.

“Thanks to the efforts of Raoul Cansino – and the thousands of volunteers who have partnered with him over the years – Rockland County transformed from a place with no shelter for some of our homeless neighbors, to a community that more fully looks after its own in a dignified and respectful way,” Legislator Cornell said.

For his contributions, Cansino was honored by the Rockland County Legislature Tuesday, when Legislator Cornell presented him with a Distinguished Service Award, the board’s highest honor.

Cansino and his wife, Sondra Stowe, an accomplished opera singer and singing teacher, are relocating to California, where their three grown children now live.

Cansino first became active in trying to help those grappling with homelessness in 2002 after participating in an outreach program conducted by Midnight Run, a Westchester-based nonprofit that reaches out to the homeless in Manhattan.

Cansino has described this experience as the start of a personal awakening, and he decided to start a Midnight Run chapter at Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge, where he has taught German and other classes for more than 20 years.

In 2004, he was invited to attend a meeting on homelessness by then-pastor Rev. Angela Boatright of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Spring Valley. There, Cansino said he met a man named Roy, who suffered from bipolar disorder, self-medicated with alcohol, and had been living in the woods in Nanuet for more than four years. It was Roy who introduced Cansino to other homeless men and women who were living in tents and lean-tos in the bushes and bridges along Route 59 between Spring Valley and Nanuet.

Within weeks, students from Green Meadow and members of the neighboring Jerrahi Mosque began making deliveries of food, clothing and other supplies. Cansino said they encountered more than 30 homeless men and women; they had been told by the county Department of Social Services that there were only six to eight homeless people in all of Rockland and that none wanted services.

By 2005, with deep snow on the ground and temperatures in the mid-teens, volunteers from the faith communities and nonprofit organizations made the decision to offer shelter to these homeless men and women. No shelter yet existed for single men and women in Rockland.

On Jan. 20, 2005, the first night was offered at the Sadirriyah Qaddiriyah, a small mosque in Spring Valley. Volunteers served meals and rotated the shelter between the mosque, the Louis Kurtz Civic Center and the Salvation Army, calling it “Safe Haven.”

This launched the first and still only organization dedicated solely to helping Rockland County’s homeless, and since that time, other vital services have been added:

  • 2009: The Thomas A. McCabe Outreach Center in Spring Valley providing year-round case services to help people find housing, jobs and assistance.
  • 2016:  Management of the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program, which serves a free breakfast every weekday morning for the community in Spring Valley.
  • 2017: With funding from HUD, started a “rapid-rehousing” program to house a small number of homeless people in subsidized apartments while they work toward self-reliance.
  • 2018: Formed a new partnership with the Spring Valley United Methodist Church to open a “Hope Center,” where all of Helping hands’ outreach services will have a permanent home.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Helping Hands and the County of Rockland developed a promising partnership and locating the Safe Haven in a county facility for the first time – the new Rockland County Emergency Warming Center – where we can all better serve people in need.

“The achievements of Helping Hands were made possible due to the commitment of Raoul and the devoted and hard-working members of the Board of Directors and the, literally, thousands of volunteers who have stepped up to find solutions to the challenges presented by homelessness in Rockland County,” Legislator Cornell said.

“Raoul often says that the story of Helping Hands could not be sustained without the abundant gifts of time and treasure of so many dedicated volunteers,” Legislator Cornell said. “He believes that life is service, and service is joy. We honor him for his service, his leadership and his abiding faith in the essential goodness of people.”

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