If there is one Vincentian in the United States who has stood out over the years in providing a meeting place for myriad organizations, political parties and individuals free of charge, it’s Vaughan Toney.
And so, on Sunday, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves did not hesitate in honoring the “True Son of the Soil” with a “Certificate of Appreciation” for this exemplary service to the Vincentian community in New York.
“There is a gentleman in our midst who is quite an extraordinary Vincentian. He has been doing tremendous work in the Diaspora and here at this particular venue, at Friends of Crown Heights, and I thought that it will be fitting to present a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’— an indication of our love for him – to Mr. Vaughan Toney in recognition of his outstanding support and contribution to the developmental agenda of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Diaspora, and I sign this as prime minister,” said Gonsalves at a town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn to loud applause.
“I’m sure that this (award) would not be the last recognition or commendation, which Vaughan Toney will receive from the Government and People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but I wanted to say thanks very much on behalf of all Vincentians,” he added, perhaps inferring that Toney, who chaired the proceedings, may be among recipients of future Queens New Year’s honorees.
The Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center, of which Toney is the president and chief executive officer, has been the central meeting spot for most Vincentian groups and others in the Big Apple.
Last December, it also served as the staging ground, or “ground zero”, as some nationals dubbed it, for the gathering of relief supplies for shipment home in the wake of the freak Christmas storm that left at least seven people dead and a trail of destruction and damage, estimated to be millions of dollars.
Toney, nephew of late chief education officer Festus Toney and former UN ambassador Joel Toney, told Caribbean Life afterwards that he was “honored and humbled” to receive the honor.
“I’m inspired to continue to support the Vincentian community here and at home in every way I can,” he said.
Since 2001, Toney has presided over the largest expansion of Early Childhood Education services in the history of the 39-year-old Friend of Crown Heights Educational Center.
With a current network of 19 full-service centers in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island, Friend of Crown Heights Education Center has evolved under Toney’s leadership to become one of the larger providers of child care and early education., including Universal pre-K and after-school programs, in the City of New York.
He previously served in various capacities as a member and former chairman of the organization’s Board of Directors, in a relationship spanning about 30 years, as an advocate for safe, quality, affordable and universal early childhood education.
In addition to his extensive experience and expertise with Friends of Crown Heights, Toney holds a concurrent appointment as chairman of the Board of the Tabernacle Day Care Center in Brooklyn.
He is also currently a member of the Board of the Day Care Council of New York, and a former board member of Child Care Inc. In contract negotiations with day care workers, he is a member of the management team.
Together with his decades-long experience and expertise as an advocate for children, Toney has also enjoyed a robust career in public service, including substantial background in legislative policy at both the state and municipal levels.
On graduating from the State University of New York (SUNY) Albany in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Toney was recruited to the staff of the New York State Assembly Education Committee, where he served as legislative assistant to the chairman for six years.
In 1983, Toney accepted an appointment with the New York State Senate, serving as senior staff analyst and special assistant to Senator Leonard Stavisky.
In 1992, following the adoption of a new New York City Charter and an expanded, more representative City Council in New York, Toney left Albany to serve as Chief-of- Staff to Council Member Jamaican Una Clarke, the first Caribbean-born woman to be ever hold elective office in New York City. Clarke represented the 40th City Council District in Brooklyn.
Four years later, he moved on to accept the position of Chief-of -Staff to Belizean-born the Rev. Dr. Lloyd Henry, representing the adjacent 45th Council District in Central Brooklyn.
As a community leader and activist, Toney has served as a member of the sprawling Kings County Hospital Center Advisory Board.
He is a founding member of the Caribbean American Political Organization, immediate past President of the 42nd Assembly District Democratic Club in Brooklyn, and a member of the Carlos Lezama Archives and Caribbean Cultural Center, also in Brooklyn.
In recognition of his dedication to public service and his exemplary commitment to child-care advocacy, early childhood education and community empowerment, Toney has received numerous awards and commendations.
A large number of Vincentian, Caribbean, African American and other nationals earn jobs at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center through Toney.