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This year, the Coalition for Community Advancement has worked tirelessly for a fair and just rezoning process, with a recent march through the neighborhood serving as a powerful demonstration of our community’s commitment to social justice and to keeping our community intact as the rezone proceeds.
Read on for the latest updates on the rezone process and about expanded programming for young people through Summer Youth Employment and at the Franklin K. Lane campus.
As the East New York rezone proceeds, real estate speculation is heating up, and so are the risks to community members. Signs posted by companies such as “Quic Evic”, which promises help getting speedy eviction of renters, and signs from speculators promising “Cash for Homes” have become ubiquitous in the streets of our neighborhood.
Real estate speculators often call homeowners repeatedly to entice them with offers of immediate cash if they sell their home – usually for far under the market value. Financially strapped homeowners are particularly vulnerable to these offers. Landlords often become eager to increase their rents or sell their buildings with no occupants inside. They may resort to attempting to evict tenants with rent-stabilized units or Section 8 vouchers, or make conditions in their building so uncomfortable (with harassment or failure to make repairs) that tenants move out on their own.
On December 10th, the Coalition for Community Advancement and dozens of community members protested these forms of harassment with a march down Atlantic Avenue. Protestors removed the “Cash for Homes” and eviction-related signs and chanted “Quic Evic has got to go!” and “Housing is a human right!”
The march ended with a press conference attended by several elected officials, including Council Member Rafael Espinal, Public Advocate Letitia James, State Senator Martin Dilan, and Comptroller Scott Stringer. Local residents spoke about their experiences and described being offered cash to move out of their apartments, or being served with eviction notices as part of a maneuver to clear the building of Section 8 tenants.
“It was an impressive and heart-felt demonstration of the community’s pride (and desire to stay) and anger at harassment of owners and tenants,” said Michelle Neugebauer, CHLDC’s Executive Director.
To get continued updates on rezone activity, follow the Coalition for Community Advancement on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CoalitionforCommunityAdvancement/). To get involved, contact Julia Watt-Rosenfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“In the past, the Franklin K. Lane Campus had kind of a bad rap, but it’s a very different dynamic now,” said Barbara Moronta, the Community School Director for the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC). “I think it’s important that people know all the wonderful things that are going on here.”
CHLDC has just started its second year as the lead community partner for Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep and Multicultural High School at the Franklin K. Lane High School campus in Cypress Hills, as a part of the Community Schools initiative. Initiated by Mayor Bill de Blasio two years ago, the Community Schools Initiative aims to provide a more holistic educational experience to students in New York City by integrating academics, services, supports, and opportunities that work to improve the lives of students, families, and communities.
In order to increase student and parent engagement, Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep and Multicultural High School have expanded their out-of-school offerings. Community Schools use a lengthened school day that includes expanded learning time. That time now includes electives suggested by the students themselves, such as basketball, slam poetry and drumming as well as additional tutoring and academic supports. Barbara says that attendance at Extended Learning Time went up significantly when students were offered more choices. The longer school day has helped students feel engaged and involved, and as if they have a voice of their own in school.
Roger Pichardo graduated from high school at Lane in 2010. He’s now returned to the school campus working as a Program Assistant in the Community Schools office. He says the vibe of the school is very different than it used to be. “It’s more welcoming. We’re able to foster students’ interest in art, music, other creative and career fields. We didn’t have that before. Students feel safer now, and they can stay longer hours and participate in all these activities.”
In addition to keeping students active in school, Extended Learning Time helps them learn practical skills. One of the most popular electives has been driver’s education. “Everyone in the class was able to get their license,” Roger says. “It’s an opportunity to help students build the skills that everyone needs on a day-to-day basis.” And with classes like training for lifeguard certification offered, “We are also creating employment opportunities.”
To meet the needs of parents, the school building is now being used to offer free classes to community members so that parents may secure their high school equivalency diploma or improve their English. “Parents now email us to get information about their own needs,” Barbara explains. Her staff has created a resource page for parents so that they will be fully informed about all the services being provided at the school campus. The goal is for the Lane campus to function as a service hub that addresses the needs of the whole family. The Community Schools operate on the principle that student achievement increases as families become more involved in school life and activities.
In addition to being the lead community partner at Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep and Multicultural High School, CHLDC is a participating partner with activities at the Brooklyn Lab School, another Community School located in the building run by Henry Street Settlement House. They share space and co-host activities that are open to students from all schools. They have partnered with the PTA to host larger meetings for parents serving hot food at the end of long days, which has boosted attendance.
These efforts are paying off, with the two schools seeing remarkable improvements in attendance and graduation rates over the past year.
If you are interested in one of the Community Schools at the Lane campus, contact Barbara Moronta at email@example.com or Nolvia Delgado at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Summer Youth Employment Program had a tremendous year in 2016, with a record 700 young people placed in jobs over the summer. Through SYEP, young people got the experience of paid employment and served their community – working with local seniors and children and learning about important community issues ranging from food justice to gentrification to police brutality. 200 of these young people were able to return in the fall through our Work, Learn and Grow program.
Here are what young people who participated over the summer had to say about what they learned:
“I learned how to be a leader in my community. A leader is someone who has a powerful voice and speaks up for their beliefs.” – Jinnai
“Summer Youth Employment is a vital part of getting used to being on your own and handling money accordingly.” – Eugene
“It helped me manage my money.” – Dayna
“It prepares you for future jobs.” – Natalia
“This summer we learned about things going on in the world and the community.” – Kyle
Here are some photos of our young people out and about, with many working as summer camp counselors and with the community’s seniors.
In this issue of our newsletter, we’re celebrating accomplishments, achievements and bright futures unfolding in Cypress Hills!
In June, our Youth LEAD, Building Works, COACH and Potencia NOW programs honored the achievements of dozens of community members making progress towards their professional and educational goals. Whether it’s earning their High School Equivalency degree, completing an internship or a pre-apprentice program in carpentry, or improving their English skills, these hard-working, ambitious people have proven to us and themselves that they have what it takes to succeed.
The youngest Cypress Hills residents also have reason to be proud! With the end of the school year, our afterschool students showcased their artistic talents and commitment to the diversity and sustainability of their neighborhood.
And we’re celebrating the accomplishments of our Business Partners program, which supports local businesses that help Cypress Hills thrive. In this newsletter, you’ll hear from Felix Bello of Bello Travel, who describes CHLDC’s Business Partners program as “a light and a guide for small businesses in the area.”
More than Business
“In my 29 years here, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation is the only organization I have seen that represents the interests of small businesses on a daily basis,” said Felix Bello, owner of Bello Travel Service and one of the first business owners to join the Cypress Hills Business Partners program. Along with a number of other small businesses owners in Cypress Hills, Felix was recently honored at our biannual dinner celebration, at which we celebrated the success of our Business Partners program. Over 80 small businesses participated in this informative and festive occasion and the night was marked with lots of energy and excitement about the work that the program has accomplished in allowing small businesses in the area to flourish. As of right now, 35 businesses have already committed to hiring locally through the Business Partners program.
Cypress Hills Business Partners seeks community-friendly businesses who can partner with us to strengthen the local economy and expand workplace opportunities in Cypress Hills/East New York through local hiring. Local hiring is important both for strengthening small businesses in Cypress Hills as well as providing employment opportunities to neighborhood residents. Ultimately, this commitment will strengthen our local economy and make our neighborhood a place where people can flourish. CHLDC is especially committed to helping local small businesses thrive and withstand displacement pressures in light of the rezoning.
In his 29 years of working at the same location in Cypress Hills, Felix Bello has come to learn firsthand about the importance of partnering with the community. “It’s fundamentally important to understand how your business can help the community,” said Felix, who has watched Cypress Hills change drastically over his time as a business owner. “Although there is obviously an economic motive—because in the end we are a for-profit institution—if you are not motivated by this sense of service for the community you just can’t maintain your business.”
While Felix’s many successes are clearly the result of his tireless effort and unrelenting passion, he is also incredibly grateful for the presence of Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation in his life. “[CHLDC] is what links business owners and the community to elected officials and the city,” he explained. “Because for some—and especially for Latino business owners—we are sometimes afraid of navigating these institutions. So CHLDC is like a light.” Felix also reflected more directly on the role that CHLDC has played in his success as a long-time business owner: ”I remember once in the middle of this terrible snowstorm, someone from CHLDC had the confidence to come and sit down with me, to clarify a few concepts, look at a few things, give some advice—and with humility. For me, that’s incredible. I feel so supported. So supported.”
Cypress Hills Business Partners is made possible by the generous support of the Change Capital Fund. If you want to learn more about becoming a Cypress Hills Business Partner, contact Lowell Herschberger at email@example.com or (718) 676-1544.
Potencia NOW Celebrates Student Successes
As the summer starts to heat up, we are celebrating all the successes of our school year programs!
Potencia NOW, CHLDC’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, celebrated the end of the year with an awards dinner at the Franklin K. Lane campus. “This has been a year of growth for Potencia NOW,” said Program Director Nicole Sanchez in her opening remarks, explaining how the program was slated to have only four classes this year but ended up having 14 classes largely as a result of the incredible support Potencia NOW received from community partners.
Many of the participants of the program also took this time to reflect on the growth that they have seen in their English speaking abilities as a result of participating in Potencia NOW. Divinia Herasme, who has participated in other ESOL programs, praised the instructional quality: “My teacher is great. She never wants to lose a minute. She is always bringing in something new.”
Others reflected on what this high quality of teaching allowed them to do. “When I started I didn’t know how to communicate with others,” said program participant Dorca Fransisco. “Now we can communicate with other people. Now I can apply for a job.” Dorca also gave some words of advice to others who may be considering participating in the program: “It is important to do this program because you can learn so much. You can have a better life. A better job. Better opportunities.”
Program participants celebrated the night by exhibiting their new language skills in a series of performances that highlighted the cultures of the participants’ home countries as well of the United States. The performers were met with lots of applause from their proud teachers, family, and other community members.
CHLDC thanks its partners in the program: United Community Centers, Bangladeshi American Community Development & Youth Services, and recognizes the generous supporters of the services: National Council of La Raza, NYC Department of Youth and Community Development and NYS Department of Education.
At PS 7, students and staff in our afterschool program celebrated the end of the year with a series of performances paying tribute to Hawaiian culture. The room went wild as students from K-5 performed dances wearing leis and hula skirts, read poetry, and transported the audience to the tropics on the rainy June afternoon. The afterschool programs also showed off their project-based learning in an exhibition of artwork made from recycled materials that were brought from home. Sandy Ramrattan, the program director for the Afterschool programs at PS 7 said, “This year’s culminating show presented our program’s ideas and beliefs to build an inclusive and diverse community.”
Meanwhile, the talented youths and staff at the Cypress Hills Community Learning Center at IS 171 celebrated the culmination of the school year in an incredible showcase that included mathematical equations turned into teddy bears, soil-less gardening, a step performance, a professional-quality hip-hop music video, and presentations about the positive impact of local food on our community. The wide variety of talents demonstrated at the event stands as a true testament to the incredible work being done by youth and staff alike at the Community Learning Center.
CHLDC’s afterschool programs are supported by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, and the NYS Education Department.
The end of the school year also gave us the opportunity to honor the hard work of YouthLEAD and Building Works participants. The graduation from our YouthLEAD program, which provides adults with instruction to prepare for the High School Equivalency Exam, was a joyous celebration of overcoming adversity. The ceremony was a tribute to 20 young adults who earned their High School Equivalency Diplomas—5 of whom are off to college and another 10 with jobs secured—through a lot of grit and determination and the love and support of the YouthLEAD staff.
The occasion also honored the triumph of 11 Building Works graduates who completed the intensive pre-apprenticeship program with the Carpenter’s Union and are on their way to union construction jobs and a stable long-term career. The graduation was a touching culmination of the incredible perseverance that the Building Works participants exhibited throughout the year.
Congratulations to the amazing YouthLEAD and Building Works program participants, staff, and supporters! CHLDC also want to thank the supporters of YouthLEAD and Building Works: the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Tiger Foundation, HSBC, and the NYC District Council of Carpenters.
We also want to extend our congratulations to the 25 young adults who just finished internships and job readiness training through our COACH program and are now being placed in jobs. During the graduation ceremony held at HSBC Bank’s corporate headquarters, Morris L. Churchill, Jr. Head of Community Reinvestment for HSBC, shared his “Keys to Success”: dream big, have a plan (and a plan B), and commit to your path with your whole heart. Congratulations, graduates!
The COACH program is part of the Young Adult Internship Program of the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development. Thank you HSBC for supporting our workforce development initiatives and engaging your employees in inspiring and educating our young adults!
Spring has arrived in Cypress Hills! And with it comes our annual spring benefit, Cypress Celebrates, which took place on May 11th.
Over 200 people attended the event at The Park in Chelsea, and in total we raised over $77,000! We honored two outstanding contributors to the strength and resilience of Cypress Hills: Citi, for their decades of generously supporting CHLDC’s affordable housing developments, economic development, financial education and housing counseling work, and Onyx Walker, for his passionate leadership in Future of Tomorrow, fighting for restorative justice in schools.
The funds we raised are essential to covering our basic program and operating expenses and responding to ever-changing neighborhood challenges. CHLDC puts the revenue right back into serving and educating young people, supporting young adults to gain admission to and succeed in college, helping residents secure good living-wage jobs with career ladders, engaging youth in fun, educational afterschool programs and summer camps, building and preserving affordable housing, greening the neighborhood and mobilizing Cypress Hills/East New York to fight for justice.
We are incredibly grateful to our host committee, and to our generous sponsors. You can visit our Facebook page to see photos from the event: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1154701667915251.1073741849.172326982819396&type=3
More in the newsletter: As the school year begins to wrap up, we want to recognize some great achievements that our students and staff have seen in schools this year!
Read more about how our Middle School Student Success Center is a game-changer for students applying to high school, and see the beautiful results of combining advocacy with art.
Cypress Hills Fights for Food Justice
Take a look at this beautiful mural! This art project was created through a collaboration between the public art group Groundswell, CHLDC, and students from Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep and Brooklyn Lab School.
With the help of Groundswell artists Raul Ayala and Alison Rutsch, students produced a four-panel mural providing a visual narrative about food justice in Cypress Hills – showing the impact that fast food has in our neighborhood and on our bodies, balanced with the dedicated work that community gardeners are doing to produce fresh, healthy food for our community.
The end result – a 20-foot-long mural – was unveiled in February at a schoolwide assembly and will be permanently displayed in the halls of Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep.
Congratulations to our hard-working and talented student artists, and thank you to Groundswell and LISC for supporting this project!
To learn more about CHLDC’s healthy eating and urban agriculture initiatives, click here.
This project is part of our Communities For Healthy Food Initiative, supported by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) with funding from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.
A Welcoming Space
“It’s a welcoming environment.” “No matter what you want to talk about, you can come into the Middle School Student Success Center and find support.” This is what New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña heard from students when she visited IS 171 in Cypress Hills in April. She came to learn more about the MS SSC, a unique and highly successful CHLDC program that helps middle-school students with their high school applications.
New York City 8th graders participate in “high school choice”, where they apply to up to a dozen high schools across the city and rank them in order of preference. Schools set their own admissions standards, and their graduation and college enrollment rates vary dramatically.
This can be daunting for anyone, but especially for parents and students who aren’t fluent in English or don’t have time to visit high school open houses. The MS SSC opened in the fall of 2013 and provides targeted counseling, workshops and prep classes to students at IS 171 and Highland Park Community School, located in the same building. It uses a peer mentoring model where student Youth Leaders advise their classmates through the application process. Strong support from school Principals Indira Mota at IS 171 and Jamilah Seifullah at Highland Park has helped expand the MS SSC’s programming.
Parastoo Massoumi, the MS SSC Director, says: “In just three years, the culture of choosing high schools at IS 171 has changed dramatically. The students here have historically been under-matched to high-performing, selective, and specialized high schools. Now students are attending schools all over the city with high graduation and college enrollment rates.”
Jaya Mangra, a seventh-grade Youth Leader, is excited about her role as a peer counselor at MS SSC, saying, “The MS SSC alumni feel that they wouldn’t have gotten into such good schools if we weren’t here.”
This year, the MS SSC helped 300 kids with their high school applications – and the results are in.
For the first time, over half of the students (56%) will attend high schools with four-year graduation rates of 75% or better. Just two years ago, a mere 14% of students went to such schools – an indicator of just how much the MS SSC has been able to open doors of opportunity. Students will attend schools such as Brooklyn Tech, LaGuardia, Manhattan/Hunter Science High School, and other high-performing schools throughout the city.
Eighth-grader Cindy Illas describes how the MS SSC provided valuable support during the application process. “The MS SSC offered a lot of programs, like SH SAT prep and Art Prep, which helped me build my portfolio.”
Cindy got terrific results – acceptances at three highly-coveted and prestigious high schools. She was accepted at LaGuardia High School and Manhattan/Hunter Science High School in Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Latin School. This was very exciting for Cindy, but led to a tough decision. Ultimately she chose to attend LaGuardia High School. “I decided to pursue my interest in art, and I picked LaGuardia because of the program and the atmosphere.”
CHLDC congratulates all of the soon-to-be high school students and our dedicated MS SSC staff for their hard work!
The MS SSC is supported by the New York City Department of Education, New York State Higher Education Support Corporation and the Change Capital Fund.
Winter Greetings from Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation!
As 2016 begins, we’re reflecting on all the progress that we’ve achieved in the neighborhood, together with our many supporters and partners. While there are many things to celebrate from 2015, here are our top 5.
Click here to read the full list:
Table of Contents:
Winter Afterschool Activities at PS 65 – A Few of our Favorite Things!
You Can Do This: Opportunities Abound at the Student Success Center
Community Rezone:The Latest Updates from Cypress Hills
Winter Afterschool Activities at PS 65 – A Few of our Favorite Things!
Activities at our afterschool programs are in full swing! At PS 65, the kids are creating screenplays in the style of “Into the Woods,” to be filmed and produced for June. Students will be reading and writing scripts and songs for their final product, combining all they learn in dance, music, drama, and writing classes.
We checked in with some our students about their favorite activities and here’s what they had to say!
Some of the students’ favorite activities are where they get to let loose and have fun with their friends.
CHLDC’s afterschool programs are supported by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, NYS Office of Children and Family Services, NYS Department of Education and ExpandED Schools.
“You Can Do This: Opportunities Abound at the Student Success Center”
In early January, alumni of CHLDC’s Student Success Center (SSC) at the Franklin K. Lane High School returned to their old stomping grounds to present to current high school students about the college process and pass on advice they have gathered from their experiences in college. All alumni noted how CHLDC’s Student Success Center helped them navigate the college admissions process, encouraging the current students to use the resources provided to them.
Nelcy, a Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep alumna and junior at SUNY Buffalo, said, “I came to SSC almost every day my senior year,” and encouraged her friends to do the same. SSC provided time and resources to research colleges, write essays, work on financial aid, and check in with colleges about application statuses, she said.
Diana, a Brooklyn Lab School alumna and a sophomore at Queens College, is the first person in her family to go to college and was worried about navigating the confusion of college by herself. With the help of Remy, a close friend and Summer Bridge coach, Jon, a College Persistence counselor, and Maggie, the assistant director of the College Persistence program, Diana was able to apply for scholarships and register for classes with ease. Now, she works as a College Coach with CHLDC’s College Persistence Program, helping other students work through the challenges of transitioning to college life.
College Persistence counselors regularly reach out to the alumni to check in on grades and workload, providing guidance and ensuring that their students are successful beyond SSC’s doors. Diana and other alumni stressed how lucky the students at Franklin K. Lane campus are to have access to the Student Success Center and the resources that come with it.
Kaylena, a senior at City Tech said, “I’m grateful for SSC and College Persistence,” because they taught her not to limit herself. “If it weren’t for SSC, I wouldn’t have known there were so many opportunities for so many things,” she added.
So many students question how they will get to college without understanding the application forms or processes to get financial aid, Kaylena said. “SSC and College Persistence says, ‘You can do this. You can get there.”
Community Rezone: The Latest Updates from Cypress Hills
Cypress Hills and East New York are in the midst of a rezoning process, led by the NYC Department of City Planning. This initiative will have huge implications for the neighborhood with increased density, increased demand for services, additional stress on our infrastructure and rising property sales prices/values. On Wednesday, January 6th, hundreds of people gathered at the Brooklyn Borough Hall to testify to the City Planning Commission about the rezoning. The members of the Coalition for Community Advancement: Progress for East New York & Cypress Hills, a grassroots coalition of houses of worship, community-based organizations (like CHLDC) and residents were among those represented. Coalition members presented testimony in opposition to the City’s rezoning initiative and called for adoption of the Coalition’s Alternative Community Plan. The desired changes to the City’s proposal include commitment to deeply affordable housing, substantial anti-harassment policies to protect low income tenants, homeowners and small businesses, preservation of manufacturing land, local hiring, additional services and schools and accountability measures.
CHLDC Executive Director Michelle Neugebauer spoke on behalf of the Coalition for Community Advancement to highlight five major areas of concern with the City’s plan:
- There is not enough deeply affordable housing committed in the plan – – housing that is affordable to current residents;
- The anti-displacement policies specified in the plan are insufficient to protect renters in small homes, small businesses on our local shopping corridors and low income and senior homeowners who are vulnerable to scammers.
- The current needs for schools and other services of the community are not addressed in the plan.
- Local hiring provisions are weak.
- Accountability to maintain the measures offered by the plan is not included or enumerated.
Michelle emphasized that if the rezoning is to have a long-term positive impact for Cypress Hills, we need long-term commitment from the city to ensure that promises to residents are kept and positive outcomes achieved. She said: “Too many communities have been promised great things by developers and City officials alike, only to realize that pledges made at zoning hearings, promises made to Council Members, and even agreements worked out by the City are rarely enough to secure meaningful community benefits. This is why we have urged the City to modify its plans to enshrine more commitments within the zoning text and commit to high level coordination, accountability and an Evaluation Plan.”
Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna spoke on behalf of Borough President Eric Adams, emphasizing the urgent need for more amendments to the city’s plan. She too emphasized the importance of implementing anti-displacement and anti-harassment policies, citing the repeated harassment of current residents to sell their homes as one reason why they are at-risk for displacement. The two issues are deeply linked and the City needs to address both with great attention, she said.
Both spoke to the potential of the rezoning plan being largely beneficial to East New York, provided that the City listen to the community. 40% of area residents have incomes below 30% of Area Median Income, but the City is proposing just 10% of units be placed in that category of affordability.
Moving forward, the community will continue to advocate for support of the Coalition’s Alternative Plan. Join the Coalition for Community Advancement and allies from New York Communities for Change, Churches United for Fair Housing and Make the Road New York, for a Town Hall meeting at Blessed Sacrament Church at 108 Pine Street on Thursday, February 18th at 6:30 pm and hear where our elected officials stand on the issues of affordability, displacement prevention policies, services, local hiring and accountability as relates to the rezoning of Cypress Hills/East New York. There will be public actions and opportunities to get involved throughout the next few weeks and months – culminating in a City Council vote sometime in April/May of this year. Contact Julia Watt-Rosenfeld, Director of Community Organizing at CHLDC at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.