CHLDC will honor a longtime community leader who has partnered to make the neighborhood safer, an activist who has fought for better schools, and two staff members who have helped children succeed in school and persist and graduate from college. The four will be recognized at CHLDC’s annual Celebration of Community Progress and Annual Meeting on February 20.
“All of our honorees are truly remarkable people,” said CHLDC Executive Director Michelle Neugebauer. “All of them in their own way have made wonderful contributions to improving the quality of life in our neighborhood and our collective work in revitalizing Cypress Hills.”
Karen Armstrong, assistant commissioner of Kings County Adult Services for the New York City Department of Probation, will receive the Community Partner Award. Over the years, Karen has championed initiatives such as the Weed & Seed program and Cypress Hills Promise Neighborhood. She has led efforts to have probationers participate in community services and improvement projects and probation officers take part in community training sessions on working with court-involved youth and counseling youth in gangs.”It’s an honor to be recognized by the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation because I believe so strongly in community-based initiatives and solutions,” Karen said. “The organization has made such a difference in the community and my staff and I have been proud to partner with residents over the years. It’s when all of us work together that real and positive change can take place.”
Yris Fernandez will receive the Cypress Hills Neighborhood Activist Award for her leadership of Cypress Hills Advocates for Education (CHAFE). Yris’s struggle to ensure that her autistic son be placed in a school with the resources to support his learning launched her activism. That effort awakened in her the need to help other parents realize that only through collective strength could victories be attained for allchildren. As a leader in CHAFE, she has been a tireless advocate whether attending community meetings, helping organize events for parents, or making speeches. As a mother, immigrant and activist, Yris has continually given voice to the concerns and dreams of Cypress Hills parents.
Erica Oquendo, director of CHLDC’s ExpandEd Program, is this year’s recipient of the Staff Distinguished Service Award. Erica has been part of the CHLDC family since her days in the afterschool program at PS 290. Erica soon became a “CHLDC kid,” a fixture in the program and one of its heartiest ambassadors. She joined the staff after graduating from high school as a program aide at PS 7. After several positions in our youth programs, she became the director of the Cypress Hills Community School afterschool program in 2009. The school is one of only five in NYC that are part of a national demonstration project pioneering the ExpandEd model. As part of ExpandED, school leadership and a community-based agency collaborate to plan an extended school day integrating academics, arts and athletics.
And Jamel Burgess will receive the Next Generation Youth Leadership Award. Burgess
is the senior College Coach in the College Success Programs. College Coaches are current college students who are graduates of our college access programs in high school. Jamel works with dozens of college students, checking in on them every week, providing everything from moral support to making sure they’ve completed financial aid forms and other paperwork. “So much of it is that the students-like me-come from low-income, high-risk backgrounds,” Jamel said. “What I try to do is relate to them because I’m right there with them, and then just listen and let them know that there’s someone here at Cypress Hills who cares, who’s on their side, and is going to try to set them on the right path.” He will earn an associate’s degree from Queensborough Community College in May.