It’s been 10 years since Allison Farina, FCRH ’93, LAW ’99, moved from New York City to South Carolina. But the Queens native brought more than just her accent when she moved to Charleston. At heart, “I’m still a total New Yorker,” she says.
After graduating from Fordham in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Farina turned her internship at the Union Square Partnership into her first full-time job. She went on to work at several nonprofits and in urban development positions in New York City.
“I loved community improvement, seeing the physical changes of individual neighborhoods, seeing how places transform and grow,” Farina says. But she felt a law degree would give her more opportunities to contribute to these kinds of endeavors.
So she returned to Fordham for law school, a place where “the Jesuit traditions and Catholic values come across in the culture of reaching out to the people,” she says.
Farina completed a law school internship at the Landmarks Preservation Commission and, after working at a zoning law firm, landed a position at New Yorkers for Parks, where she really hit her stride. There, she helped draft the first crime-tracking bill to pass in New York City, a bill that mandated that all crimes in the city’s parks be tracked and made publicly accessible via an online database. She also helped develop the first web-based policy action center for community groups and advocates, and she was part of the team that significantly increased city funding for parks for the first time in over a decade.
“It was an amazing job. Who doesn’t love parks?” Farina says. “Real estate owners win, kids win, people who are poor win, people who have money win.”
When she moved to Charleston in 2006, Farina found plenty of green space. What she couldn’t find was the food she used to get on Arthur Avenue. “I couldn’t get the cheeses and the bread, and that’s a problem for an Italian, I’ll tell you that much,” she says, only half joking.
So while she was studying for the South Carolina Bar Exam, she and her parents (who had moved to the area shortly after Farina) opened a small gourmet Italian food shop.
The store slowly transformed into a coffee shop and Italian tapas restaurant serving family recipes. The ingredients came directly from Arthur Avenue. “It was a way to keep a little bit of New York,” Farina says. And it was a great way to meet everyone in her new community.
Farina also met many South Carolina residents through Fordham’s alumni office. After realizing that the Fordham Alumni Chapter of South Carolina, Low Country was several hours away, near Savannah, Georgia, she requested a list of Fordham alumni in the Charleston area. “It wasn’t long before I was having two hour phone conversations with some these people,” she says. So she founded the Fordham Alumni Chapter of Charleston, South Carolina to bring them together.
Now the ever-growing club is a tight-knit group that meets for dinner, drinks, coffee, sports, and other events several times a year. “It’s the strangest thing,” Farina says. “You walk into a room with Fordham folks and people just seem to know each other already. There’s some thread, like we all lived a former life together. It’s an easiness.”
Terry Brennan, GABELLI ’89, helps Farina run the chapter. “It’s awesome being New Yorkers down here together,” and Charleston has definitely become “a melting pot,” he says, adding that Farina’s “dynamite attitude” helps her connect people easily.
After running the store for four years, Farina now focuses completely on her 9-year-old son, Spencer, and on her estate planning practice.
“Everyone needs a will,” Farina says, “and everyone needs to be taken care of—including children and pets.” Sometimes people also want to give back to charities or public organizations, as Farina herself has done with Fordham (she is a member of the 1841 Society). “So I see it as a public service in that sense,” she adds. I say it’s ‘handing forward the future.’”
Since Farina now has clients both in South Carolina and New York, she travels back to her native city relatively often. And when she does, it’s like coming home.
Soon Farina will be back in New York for a Regional Chapter Leader Summit at Fordham, scheduled just before Homecoming on September 24. She’s particularly excited because it will be her first Homecoming in more than 20 years.
“Fordham and New York are home. My son was born [in South Carolina], but he has a mixed Southern and New York accent, and he wants to go to Fordham. I think I’ve brainwashed him,” laughs Farina. “He just eats it all up.”