Archive for the ‘Protecting and Nurturing Children and Youth’ Category

Riding the River for Peace and Justice

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

By Alice Kenny

bxrivercanoeIt’ a sunny day in the South Bronx and David Shuffler climbs into a canoe. Hemmed in by four major highways – the Bruckner, the Cross Bronx, the Bronx River and the Sheridan expressways—his Bronx River neighborhood’s one-square mile houses the nations’ highest respiratory-illness rate, places one out of every two youth below the poverty line and is infamous as the spot where police shot dead unarmed Amadu Diallo.

But it also has a rare treasure that, until recently, was mostly abused; the Bronx River.

Mr. Shuffler, today the executive director of Catholic Charities affiliate Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ), was once one of the kids coming up on the streets here.  YMPJ started when drug dealers owned the neighborhood, burning down a church to retaliate for a prayer vigil held to close local crack dens’ doors.

Now, thanks in large part to YMPJ’s mobilization, residents are taking their neighborhood back. They got the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up three tons of debris–  including 15,000 tires, cars and filth –abandoned along the waterfront.  They took back a crumbling cement plant and converted into a public park. They replaced menacing streets with an arts and education outlets for teens.  And they are fighting back poverty by providing wrap-around support services for parents.

But nothing, Mr. Shuffler says, better symbolizes what YMPJ is accomplishing – or makes him feel better – than YPNJ’s canoe program.

As part of it, neighborhood teens are taught the camera’s intricacies of shutter speeds and angles. They learn how to monitor air and water quality.  And with their newfound expertise, teens that never before touched the river then tumble into YMPJ’s 10 canoes.  They snap photos and sample water purity as they paddle by the Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo, all the way up to the splendor and stonework of the Kensico Dam.

“As you go up river it’s a crazy experience to see how access to the river changes,” Mr. Shuffler says.  “In Kensico people just walk up and touch the river.  Our teens say ‘why isn’t that the case in our community,” why is it lined with fences and gates and bobbing with plastic bags and pollution?

“Our creative arts-based curriculum opens young people’s eyes to the issues of environmental justice, police reform and opportunities they have to make a real difference,” he adds.

David gets this deep down. He was 13, going on 14, when his parents pushed him into becoming one of the then-new agency’s early participants.  Begun in St. Joan of Arc Church basement in 1994, YMPJ gave him a safe place to hang out while fostering his skills in soccer, journalism, arts and culture.  He worked his way up from participant to youth organizer.

Now, nearly 20 years later, he serves as its executive director.

“There’s an army of other soldiers coming up now,” he says as his paddle gently splashes the water, “children who will ideally move on into the banking world, political scene and nonprofits where they will share the principles and values they learned with us of community and peace and social justice.”

Learn more about Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.

Create Hope This Easter

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Easter shows us that pain and suffering is not the final word. There is triumph. There is hope.

We’re here to bring new life to New Yorkers in need that conquers pain, sadness and suffering.

Join us.

Provide help. Create hope.

Transform lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washington Heights Students Go for the Gold

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

By Alice Kenny

Teenagers from the streets of Washington Heights grabbed first through sixth prizes in La Plaza Beacon’s Reading for Success Contest. Designed to develop students’ reading comprehension and expand their futures, the prizes tantalized more than a dozen participants, spurring students in this low-income neighborhood to score well on the annual New York State English Language Arts (ELA) exam.

For weeks, participants completed their homework at La Plaza Beacon, part of Catholic Charities’ Alianza Division.

Contest participants then broke into teams of three or four to complete reading and comprehension quizzes and perfect their skills writing essays.

The winner not only scored a top grade on the ELA exam but a restaurant dinner as well. Second-through-sixth place winners celebrated with a pizza party.

La Plaza Beacon teens are now readying for a math contest to prepare them for the upcoming New York State Mathematics Exam later this month.

La Plaza Beacon provides a safe, supervised after-school setting for neighborhood youth. Along with tutoring and homework help, it also offers cultural activities, arts and recreation.

An Inside Peek into a Volunteer’s Mantra and Motivation

Friday, April 11th, 2014

By Alice Kenny

Catholic Charities is rounding out National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, 2014, with a special interview on our Catholic Charities JustLove radio program with Takouhi Mosoian.

“At Catholic Charities, you can see the older volunteers foreshadow what the younger volunteers will be doing later,” says Ms. Mosoian who volunteered for Catholic Charities and now works in our Community & Social Development Department.

“It’s a dedicated group of people and they love what they do.”

Listen to this recent episode as the show’s host, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, interviews Ms. Mosoian about what motivated her to volunteer for Catholic Charities.

“When I graduated high school, we had a motto that went ‘leave your community better than you found it.’ That’s something that has always stuck with me.”

Please join us during National Volunteer Week and every week to help leave our community better than we found it.

Looking for a volunteer opportunity tailored just for you?

Tune in to JustLove on The Catholic Channel 129, SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio.

It’s NATIONAL VOLUNTEER WEEK – Let’s Celebrate!

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Two Ten Footwear Foundation paint murals to brighten group homes for the mentally ill.

By Alice Kenny

It’s National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, 2014, our opportunity to celebrate our volunteers’ dedication in helping others and encourage others to join the movement.

And while this is Volunteer Week, here at Catholic Charities, where the breadth of the services we offer depends on giving volunteers, every day is Volunteer Day.

We already have celebrations scheduled for our Refugee Resettlement and International Center volunteers on April 22 at 80 Maiden Lane.  And our Alianza division that provides artistic outlets for teens will hold their volunteer celebration on April 24 at La Plaza Beacon.

Join us in celebrating our wonderful volunteers.

Join us in helping change lives.

Getting started as a volunteer is as easy as 1-2-3.

Step One:
Browse our site

Step Two:
Sign up for an orientation.

Step Three:
Roll up your sleeves and join us.

 

 

 

 

Meet Ted Staniecki, Catholic Charities’ Unsung Hero

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

By Alice Kenny

Old women with walkers shuffled towards the Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Center in Harlem last month through a foot of snow and ice.  Moms with hungry children in tow herded towards its food bank.

Ted Staniecki, the center’s facilities manager, grabbed a snow shovel with Kennedy Center Director Rodney Beckford,  fellow staff Hector Estrella and Jose Crisostomo, and dug and scraped until they cleared a path.

Times like these are what Ted says he likes most about his job.

It’s Ted’s low key, hands-on approach facing down hurdles that make him a hero among those who know him best.

“I don’t think enjoying my job is work,” Ted says, “so I haven’t worked a day in my life.”

The son of a Waldorf-Astoria doorman, Ted, before transferring his talents to Catholic Charities, worked his way up from middle school teacher and coach to Washington Heights Incarnation School principal.

This was “back in the days,” wrote a Daily News reporter “when the streets outside were so dangerous team members would have to dive to the sidewalk when gangsters pulled out Uzis.”

Challenges Ted braved were so extreme that news outlets across the city covered them.  The Wall Street Journal wrote about how Ted, the founder, driver, assistant couch and all-around godfather of the Incarnation Angels girls CYO basketball team, brought them to city championship in 1997.  Meanwhile, the team shared their home court, the Fort Washington armory shelter, with 1,400 homeless men.

The same year, The New York Times covered a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing public school teachers to provide remedial instruction to students in Catholic school classrooms.  Sounds logical now, but for the prior 12 years, federal law forbid public school teachers from instructing students with special needs on Catholic school property.

So 200 of Incarnation School’s 520 students grades K – 8 would traipse out of the school for remedial help.  They studied in three trailers parked nearby as drivers idled the vans for power and lights.

“We finally got some common sense,” Ted told The Times.

After retiring from Catholic schools, Ted worked as director of the West Bronx CYO Center.  Then, five years ago, he came to Catholic Charities Kennedy Center.

Similar to its Harlem neighborhood, the Center, he says, needed reviving.

“Kennedy Center needed a paint job; it needed pictures; it needed people,” Ted says.

Deacon Rodney Beckford took over as Kennedy Center’s director, joining Ted and a host of supportive staff and administration to transform the once-sleepy center to one now exploding with activity.  From sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, activities ranging from Harambee dance to gospel choirs, from basketball games to social service programs, fill the four-story building with song and action.

Harlem, in turn, is undergoing a similar revival.  The famous Lenox Lounge reopened along with the Red Rooster restaurant.  Congressmen Charlie Rangel lives across the street from Kennedy Center.  Governor David Patterson and former Mayor David Dinkins live nearby.

“Kennedy fits in well helping the neighborhood heal from the tough times it’s been through,” Ted says. “Our staff is balanced – all nationalities – and people who come here just see someone who is here, who is going to help them, going to respect them.”

Read more about Ted in the New York Times.

Read more about Ted  in the New York Daily News.

Celebrating World Autism Day – and the Differences That Make Us Special

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

By Alice Kenny

Join us as we celebrate World Autism Day.

Through a network of specialized services, Catholic Charities empowers and cares compassionately for the most vulnerable New Yorkers – non-Catholics and Catholics alike. The developmentally disabled child, the senior adjusting to recent blindness and the emotionally challenged adult need the intensive care and support provided by Catholic Charities to live with dignity and in safety.

“Do not fear people with Autism; embrace them,” says Paul Isaacs, a young writer with autism.
“Do not spite people with Autism; unite them.
“Do not deny people with Autism; accept them for then their abilities will shine.”

Are you or someone you know facing a physical or emotional challenge and looking for help?
Visit us at Catholic Charities and find out more.

Need more poetry in your life?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Check out Open Mic Night to hear original work by inspired teens participating in Catholic Charities Community Services Alianza Division.

When:  Thursday, April 3/2014

Where: Alianza Cultural Center, 530 W. 166 St., 2nd floor, NYC 10040

Time:  5:30- 8:00 p.m.

Why:  It’s National Poetry Month — And there’s no better way to celebrate!

Alianza Cultural Center is a multicultural project celebrating Dominican, Latino, and Latin American cultures with a special focus on Afro-Dominican artistic traditions.

The Center’s physical space comprises a second floor gala/exhibition space, two performing arts studios and a large multipurpose space in the lower level, the lobby exhibition space, and a spectacular rooftop terrace.

Family Man Angel Rojas Gunned Down on Bus Ride Home from Work

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

DEBBIE EGAN-CHIN/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The last thing Angel Rojas said to his mother was “hello,” reports the New York Daily News today, March 24, 2014.

Angel Rojas, the 39-year-old father who was shot dead by a gangbanger on the B15 bus in Brooklyn Thursday, was calling his mom on his way home from work that night as he always did.

… Then the phone went dead.

Kahton Anderson, 14, who aimed his .357-Magnum pistol at a rival gang member but missed, instead accidentally shooting Rojas, was charged with second-degree murder.

Left behind are Mr. Rojas’ widow, Maria Lopez, and their children, April, 8, and Saury, 12.

An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Mr. Rojas was working two jobs to support his family.

With Mr. Rojas gone, his widow said she can no longer afford their modest, second-floor Brownsville apartment on the meager pay she earns as a part-time home attendant.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan attended Mr. Rojas’ wake at Ponce Funeral Home in Brooklyn yesterday.

As the Daily News reports, you can help the family by sending a check to Catholic Charities, 1011 First Ave., New York, NY 10022.

Online donations can be made at CatholicCharitiesny.org.

So far, the fund has raised more than $6,600, including two donations by phone for $1,000 each. A total of 52 people have donated so far.

Learn more about the Rojas family in this Daily News video.