Neighborhood Coordination Officers Help Restore Historic Brooklyn Church

Neighborhood coordination officers (NCOs) from the 79 Precinct are partnering with 500 Men Making a Difference, a neighborhood nonprofit organization based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 500 Men works to achieve one ambitious goal: restore, repair, and renovate a neighborhood institution in just 72 hours. This year, as part, Police Officers Michael Devonish and Matthew Librizzi worked with the organization to renovate the Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, a historic landmark built in 1894.

The organization has taken Dr. King’s “call to service” to heart, engaging in work that directly impacts the lives of people living and working in Bed-Stuy, and throughout the New York metropolitan area. In addition to its annual renovation event, 500 Men organizes a range of community-based initiatives, including mentoring and tutoring services, charity drives and fundraisers, and revitalization projects.

“I have two roles: I’m a cop, and I’m also a member of the community,” said Officer Devonish.

A graduate of Boys and Girls High School on nearby Fulton Street, Officer Devonish was born and raised in Bed-Stuy and has volunteered for 500 Men for several years. In January, he received the organization’s Man of Excellence award in recognition of his work, both as a police officer and a neighbor.

“Helping out the old neighborhood feels great,” he continued. “I definitely feel that our work is having an effect on the community. We know that what we’re doing is making an impact on people’s lives—people I’ve known for a long time. It’s an amazing thing.”

His partner, Officer Librizzi, agrees.

“It’s always great to help out, especially when we work with organizations that we know do such great work for the community,” Officer Librizzi said.

“At 500 Men, it really comes full circle—when we help people in the community, they help us do our jobs as police officers.”

A former combat engineer in the United States Marine Corps, Officer Librizzi has plenty of construction experience, which helped the two partners during their 72-hour marathon session. Although the landmarked Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church underwent an exterior renovation in 2011, inside was a different story.

“We totally renovated the basement for the parishioners and clergy,” said Officer Librizzi. “We stripped old paneling, redid the sheetrock, and spackled, sanded, and painted the walls.”

“They say the first and last 18 hours are the easy parts because it’s just demolition and cleanup,” Officer Devonish laughed.

In partnership with other volunteers, the NCOs helped finish the job in time for 500 Men’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast, an awards ceremony recognizing partners and supporters within the community. This year, the organization recognized Officer Devonish, as well as Deputy Inspector Charles Minch, commanding officer of the 79 Precinct, for his commitment to the organization’s mission.

“In conjunction with groups like 500 Men Making a Difference, who have very strong ties to the community, we have collectively made the community a safer place,” said Deputy Inspector Minch.

“Our partnership with them has also helped build a stronger relationship between the community we serve and the Police Department.  It was an honor to be recognized by them at their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast and awards ceremony.”