Posts Tagged ‘Harlem’

Meet a Few Faces of Hunger

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

By Andrew Burton (GETTY)

By Alice Kenny

Timothy Cardinal Dolan joined a small army of Catholic Charities staff, board members and volunteers mobilized to hand out turkey and all the trimmings at the Catholic Charities annual Thanksgiving distribution to more than 400 needy New Yorkers on November 25 at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Community Center in Harlem.

Recipients filling their shopping carts with everything from sweet potatoes to stuffing and fruit included Brenda Hugee, 53, a mother of four and former bank teller who is now disabled by Lupus, arthritis and three strokes.  They included Minerva Vega, 58, a widow who lost her job as a sanitation collector when she broke her neck lifting a garbage whose bottom, it turned out, had been filled with cement. They included Jose Costillo, 51, a former warehouse worker who lost his job last year.  And they included Elizabeth Vargas, who waitresses and babysits to support her three children, ages seven, one-and-a-half and six months old.

These are just a few of the faces of hunger who turn to Catholic Charities for help.  They include the unemployed and underemployed, families with children, seniors and the disabled.

During this historic time of need, more than 3 million people in New York State now turn to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to meet their family’s basic needs.

“I try not to ask for help and to make it on my own,” Ms. Hugee said. “If it weren’t for this we’d have rice and beans for Thanksgiving.”

Meet these faces of hunger in this powerful video:

 

 

 

Celebrating Health Ambassadors and Queens and Kings for a Day

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

kennedy_centerBy Alice Kenny

On June 6, one hundred and sixty volunteers from the national consulting firm Deloitte fanned out to more than a dozen separate site locations affiliated with Catholic Charities. Below is the fourth installment in a series about their adventures and a glimpse at the large amount that together we can accomplish.

Hobbling on walkers with shopping carts dragged behind, 60 low-income elderly men and women served by the food bank and senior center at Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Center in Harlem were turned into health ambassadors and Queens and Kings for a Day.

At this Healthy Food and Fun event, 15 Deloitte volunteers pitched in with Catholic Charities staff to convert the Kennedy Center auditorium into a health fair and fitness center.  There were exercise stations, hands on cooking presentations in Spanish and English and, best of all, a luncheon feast.

“This is outside the box,” said Catholic Charities Division Director Dianne Johnson as she helped stuff participants’ goodie bags with colanders, cutting boards, vegetables and more.

“Today was not just talking about nutrition but experiencing it.  It ties together everything we do.”

Join us in Feeding Our Neighbors.

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.

Lott Seniors Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Catholic Charities Junior Board members partied with seniors at Catholic Charities’ Lott Residence, a home for the elderly in Harlem, in celebration of Mardi Gras.

They danced to a wide range of Bayou beats, feasted on fruit platters, and threw beads while their faces were masqueraded.

“This was a great opportunity for Junior Board members to socialize with our friends at the Lott Residence and spend time with those who are eager to share their stories and listen to ours,” said Catholic Charities Junior Board Member Kellen Dougherty.

“Although our friends at the Lott live in an assisted living facility, the amount of energy and joy that emanates from these residents is incredible, and an inspiration to all of us on the Junior Board.  We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Lott so we can maintain and strengthen the friendships we have made with so many residents there.”

The event marked one of dozens of volunteer opportunities available this Easter season.

Check them out; Join us and let the good times roll.

President Obama Announces “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative, a Mantra Here at Catholic Charities

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

By Alice Kenny

High unemployment rates.  High incarceration rates.  Worst of all, sky-high murder rates among black men gunned down in their youth.

President Obama takes on these key issues in his just-announced “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, issues long-tackled by Catholic Charities.

This past month, for example, Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Center in Harlem held its third annual Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. basketball tournament.  Run during the February schools break, it provided recreation during the winter recess to keep teens off the streets and inside a supportive environment.

Manhattan District attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (son of former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance. Sr).  presented trophies and ribbon medals to the team members who are residents of Juvenal Justice System Homes. Each home comprised one team.

A special five-foot trophy was given to the one player who exhibited the best sportsmanship throughout the tournament.

The motto resounding through each of the five days was “Put down the guns, pick up a  ball and recreate. ”

And that’s what they did.  Each day different speakers addressed these youth with testimony and advise about how to survive adverse climates. Speakers included Inspector Rodney Harris, commander of the 32nd precinct, Deacon Rodney Beckford, director of Catholic Charities Community Services Kennedy Center and  numerous officers from NYPD.

Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. (Stop Another Violent Act) that helped sponsor the event was founded by Jackie  Rowe-Adams and fellow mothers who lost sons to gun violence. The group meets and holds events at Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Community Center.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,”  President Obama said when he announced the initiative named after the biblical phrase he often uses to share his belief that society must help those facing challenges.  “I made bad choices…I made excuses, sometimes I sold myself short.”

The time to change the cycle is now, President Obama continued.  His “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will work with nonprofit agencies, churches and political leaders to fight back against the drum beat of violence and addiction that has plagued too many for too long.

Freedom Isn’t Free

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Deacon Rodney Beckford, Director of Catholic Charities at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Center in Harlem, took on the tough issues of broken families, estrangement from the Church and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. when he shared his personal testimony  at St. Gregory the Great Church in Crown Heights.

Deacon Beckford served as guest speaker at the January 20th event that celebrated the birthday of Dr. King.  The deacon spoke about  growing up in the time of Dr. King and becoming estranged from the Church for a time after the civil rights leader was slain.

The full story is published in this recent issue of The Tablet.

“God always sends a prophet to bring light into darkness,” Deacon Beckford said. “In our time, it was Dr. Martin Luther King.”

 Like many biblical prophets, he said, Dr. King heard the Good News in a dream, and he proclaimed that truth throughout his life. 

“That truth is that freedom isn’t free, that you have to pay the price for your liberty. Dr. King taught us that it is possible to make a way. He made hope our shield and faith our weapon of choice against evil, against sin, against the devil.

“What enabled him to march on?” asked Deacon Beckford. “It was the truth – the truth of knowing that the Lord was his shepherd, the truth of knowing that nothing is impossible for He who walks on water.”

Prayer, he told the congregation, was at the root of everything Dr. King did to bring about social change before his life was cut short.

“But don’t think that because Martin is in his glory that the battle is won,” the deacon said. “The devil is still in the ’hood.”

He spoke about the breakdown of family and society as evidenced by thirty-somethings becoming grandparents, siblings with different fathers, children being raised by grandparents, youngsters wearing improper attire and an overall shift toward self-absorption. 

In these “confused times,” he said the way to “get back on track” is to walk the walk of the One who walked on water, starting with the Word.

He challenged the faithful to learn some Scripture by heart and further memorialize Dr. King by spreading the Good News and volunteering in their local community.

“If you want to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, take what he has done and make something of it,” Deacon Beckford said. “Turn the dream into reality.”

Dinner Theatre Morphs into Magic

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Dennis Scimone, Director of Residential Services for Beacon of Hope House with Denise Bauer Director, Beacon of Hope House

By Alice Kenny

Hosted by and for consumers with mental illness, the Catholic Charities Beacon of Hope annual talent show and dinner theatre– now in its twenty-eighth year — is always packed with creativity, comedy and fun.

But this year’s show held at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Center in Harlem on May 1 went over the top thanks to a last-minute rendition of “God Bless America” belted out by the Harlem Alumni Boys and Girls Choir.

Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Center is always a hopping place.  Dance classes, music, theatre and social service programs fill this central Harlem meeting spot day in and day out from its basement to its top floor.

Sometimes the synergy morphs into magic, as it did on Talent Show night.

Ninety consumers along with family and friends from Beacon of Hope residential programs and its vocational club house had already feasted at the dinner theatre event as fellow consumers emceed and regaled them with a fashion show, songs, dances, original poetry, and outstanding music played on the guitar, drums and harmonica.

A special night like this, however, seemed to need something extra, said Damian Buzzerio, who helped coordinate a team of five volunteers that helped at the event.  That’s when the Harlem Alumni Boys and Girls Choir that had been training in their usual rehearsal room, made their surprise appearance.  As their special gift to this special group, the choir trooped on stage and belted out God Bless America.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to find such a special and safe place for events such as these to flourish,” says Debbie Ciraolo, an American Sign Language interpreter with Beacon of Hope who assisted with the show.  “I cherish this experience.”

Join us to find a “special, safe place” that recognizes your talents and creativity.

 Click here to find a volunteer opportunity tailored just for you.

Harlem Mother Fights Back After Losing Two Sons to Gun Violence

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

 By Alice Kenny

February is the toughest month, Jackie Rowe-Adams tells Msgr. Kevin Sullivan during their conversation aired on JustLove on February 23.  Her two sons were shot dead in Harlem, one 15 years ago, one 30 years ago and both in February.  They died for no good reason, just crazy gun violence.

“Who’s giving our kids all these guns?” she asks.  “We have to take charge, take back our kids, take back our community.”

To fight back, Ms.  Rowe-Adams co-founded Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. (Stop Another Violent Act) in 2006.

The group meets regularly at Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Community Center in Harlem.

Ms. Rowe-Adams confronted National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre at the group’s convention in April, she told Msgr. Sullivan, and heard back from him this month after the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school shooting.

Listen to JustLove, the Catholic Channel, to learn more about how Harlem mothers are fighting gun violence and the support they receive from Catholic Charities.

JustLove airs weekly on Saturday at 10 am EST on SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio on The Catholic Channel 129.

Transition to Adulthood Program Celebrates Students’ Success

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Forty-five high school juniors and graduating seniors from the Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) gathered for an end of year celebration at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Center on June 29 to celebrate the year’s successes and to honor those who made the program so meaningful in their lives.

Christy Mathurin, right, congratulates a Transition to Adulthood Program student at the 2012 end of year celebration.

The program, based at the Kennedy Center and funded through the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, helps high school students from the Harlem community and beyond prepare for college and careers through leadership development classes, workshops, college visits and summer internships.

“All of the students who attended the event commented that they felt that the Kennedy Center was like a second home to them – a place where they truly belonged – and that program staff was like family,” said Christy Mathurin, youth program coordinator at the Kennedy Center.

At the event, program staff members awarded certificates to the rising seniors who completed one year of the program, and to the graduating seniors who had completed the program and are going off to college this fall. The celebration also welcomed back five TAP graduates who are currently attending college. Program graduates were awarded stipends to help cover college tuition and other expenses, and awarded certificates in recognition of their successful completion of a year in college.

Performances by members of the Kennedy Center’s African dance, modern dance and drumming groups followed the awards presentation.  As a special touch, TAP students, graduates and their families were invited to join these groups on stage and participate in the performances themselves.

“The event was very touching for students and all attendees. It brought something magical,” said Mustafa Tabakovic, Catholic Charities program director. Tabakovic said he hoped that the creative performances would inspire students and community members to get involved in the diverse activities offered by the Kennedy Center, and enrich the Harlem community through their energy and participation.

This is the second year that the Kennedy Center has hosted this end of year celebration for its students and performers, and it promises to be a long-standing tradition.

“We were told by everyone who attended the event that we need to hold this celebration every year,” said Mathurin.

GET INVOLVED…

Viacom Corporate Volunteers Refresh a Harlem Community Center

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is more than just a buzzword. As more and more for-profit companies become directly involved in community stewardship, charitable organizations can benefit from meaningful support that goes beyond philanthropic dollars to include cause-based awareness building and group volunteering.

Check out a photo album on Facebook featuring our Viacom volunteers: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151536650910494.842472.302103665493&type=3

On April 20, Catholic Charities welcomed volunteers from Viacom’s annual ViaCommunity Day, in which Viacom employees join forces to support community projects in cities around the world. Thanks to the energetic team, a long-awaited and much-needed painting project was completed at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Center in Harlem.

The Kennedy Center’s fourth floor Alumni Conference Room, a multipurpose room used for activities ranging from Bible study classes to choir rehearsals, offers great acoustics for music rehearsals – but the mustard-yellow walls have been in need of a refreshing paint job. Luckily for the Kennedy Center, roughly 25 volunteers from Viacom, the parent company of Paramount Pictures and media networks including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET, dedicated their day to painting the room a crisp, bright white.

Lead by Staci Bruce, Catholic Charities Director of Volunteer Services and former Viacom employee herself when she worked for Showtime, and Tara Clark, the project’s team leader, the painting project was able to get completed by lunch time.

“I always look forward to [ViaCommunity Day]. This is a great way to build camaraderie and also help the community,” said Tara, who works for Nickelodeon.

And help the community they did. A painting project of this magnitude could be very costly and take three times longer if contracted with a private company. During times when nonprofits must contend with reduced budgets and limited funding, volunteer projects like this are often the only way these community-based charities can keep serving their clients. This is especially so for the Kennedy Center, which serves more than 6,000 people every month, operating services ranging from college preparation workshops to a food pantry for the elderly.

Stacy Katz and Kelly Sherman of Comedy Central discussed why ViaCommunity Day is of particular importance to them:

“I like to give back but I don’t always have the time to do something like this. Viacom takes charge in setting this up each year and actually encourages people to show up and help.”

The Kennedy Center wasn’t the only site that benefited from today’s event. While most Viacom volunteers painted the room, a dozen split off to work on painting a mural that will be presented to the Beacon of Hope House, a Catholic Charities Community Services program that serves physically and emotionally challenged individuals.

Viacom was named the overall leader in CSR practices by PR News in 2011.