Posts Tagged ‘Washington Heights’

City Teens Tour College and Dream Big

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

By Alice Kenny
Shepard_Hall_1Underprivileged teens from Washington Heights received a guided tour of City College of New York last week, thanks to La Plaza Beacon After-School Program.

Fifteen students learned the history of this college, founded in 1847, in the Howard E. Willie Administration Building. Momentum and interest grew as they next toured the Grove School of Engineering, the North Academic Building, the book store, the library, the computer labs and the Marshak Science building. Finally, they toured stone-hewn Shepard Hall, the castle-like building where students graduate and dreams become reality.

Participants peppered tour guides and teachers with questions about careers choices and about the bottom line, the availability of scholarships and financial aid.

La Plaza Beacon is part of Catholic Charities’ Alianza Division. During after-school hours, La Plaza Beacon’s school-based community center transforms a local school into a thriving neighborhood center. It provides a safe, supervised place where youth go for recreation, cultural activities, homework help and tutoring.

“We accomplished the main goal of our visit,” La Plaza Beacon  Director Leonardo Ivan Dominguez  said, “that with education the sky is the limit.”

Free Film Festival for Children and Families

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

KidCinemaFest Film Festival returns to New York October 22 – October 31 with more than 50 of the most exciting, smart and reflective movies of this decade  for children and adults produced in Europe, Latin American, North America, Asia and Africa.

The film festival takes place at Catholic Charities Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center (530 West 166th Street and Amsterdam), Casita Maria, an affiliate of Catholic Charities in the South Bronx (928 Simpson St at 163rd Street), The United Palace (4140 Broadway at 175th Street), and public schools throughout Washington Heights, Inwood, Marble Hill and the Bronx.

Films include kid-friendly highlights such as Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature Film Ernest and Celestine,  Dominican film Los Super (The Superheroes), Argentinian comedy Caido del mapa and Japanese animation Welcome to trhe Space Show.  

Back for its sixth installment, KidCinemaFest aims to enrich children’s appreciation for filmmaking and cultural diversity through its excellent line up of programs.

Cine Art Entertainment Productions is a collaboration between Catholic Charities, its Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center division and Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez.

The event is free and open to anyone and everyone who wishes to attend!

For a complete list of films and show times visit www.kidcinemafest.com.

Haircuts, Pizza and Socks: Back-to-School Basics for These Bronx Boys

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

haircutBy Alice Kenny

Led by Catholic Charities staff, boys from the low-income Highbridge Gardens neighborhood in the Bronx crossed the East River, hiking over the Madison Avenue bridge that separates them by income, race and expectations from affluent Manhattan.

Their back-to-school adventure included free haircuts — high tops, Mohawks and zigzag parts, whatever they wanted — at the All Star Barbershop in Washington Heights.  It also included pizza and ice cream, t-shirts and socks and tips from barbers who remember what it’s like to struggle.

For many of their Manhattan peers, this may seem like only the basics for expensive back-to-school prep that extends to designer clothing, tutors and college-planning consultants.  But for these Bronx boys, ages 10-18 who mostly hail from single-parent families in a local housing project, it was essential.

The day’s adventure was one of many children participating in Catholic Charities Highbridge Gardens Cornerstone Alianza Division took part in during its free, seven-day-per week summer program. Catholic Charities Alianza Division provides a variety of services for youth ages 5 to 21 years old, promoting a world view that extends far beyond the streets where they live.

Trading Places: From Food Pantry Recipient to Volunteer

Friday, August 29th, 2014

IMG_6725smBy Alice Kenny

Once a food bank recipient, today a volunteer at the same food bank, Margarita Peralta knows firsthand how much better it is to give than to receive.

Evolving from recipient to volunteer, she offers a special perspective on the benefits and challenges related to each role.

She likes it so much, she added, that she plans to transfer to a city college so she can continue volunteering for Catholic Charities, complete her studies and care for her dad.

“I remember as far back as when I was eight, when my mom would take me to the Catholic Charities food pantry in Washington Heights and, unlike at the store, they’d give us all this stuff for free. Then we’d go home and my mom would line everything up on the table – tuna, chicken, rice, beans.

“We were happy but still it felt weird. I wondered what it would be like to be on the other side, to be the one giving the food instead of getting it.”

Now she knows.

The first in her family to go to college, Margarita took time off from her junior year at SUNY Potsdam to nurse her dad whose health has been eaten away by diabetes.

To fill out her days, she volunteered at the same food pantry she and her mom used to visit.

Evolving from recipient to volunteer she offers a special perspective on the benefits and challenges related to each role.

Her parents were hard working immigrants from the Dominican Republic who never wanted to ask for help, she says. But illness diverted their race towards the American dream.

Her mother, a home health aide, had to quit her just-above minimum wage job to regularly rush Margarita as a child to the E.R. for treatment for sickle cell anemia, a chronic disease shared by one out of every 20 Dominican New Yorkers.

Her father, meanwhile, once a supermarket delivery driver, had his vision and much of his kidney function stolen by diabetes, another illness that strikes 10-percent of New York state’s population.

“He was always a working man but lost his license because he can barely see,” Margarita says, grabbing a napkin to cover her tears. “It’s a shock to see him go from being so active to just lying in bed.”

She inherited her parents’ work ethic, donating more than 100 hours to the food pantry during the winter months.

“I like the environment, the way staff and people served are so close and friendly,” she says. “It feels like a big family.”

She likes it so much, she added, that she plans to transfer to a city college so she can continue volunteer for Catholic Charities, complete her studies and care for her dad.

“It brings joy when I know that I’m feeding someone that can’t feed themselves. Because my mom, dad and I have been in that position, it’s interesting to now see how for others, also, a bag of food can make someone so happy.”

It Takes A lot to Humble Yourself

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Lizzie  Sister ShyneBy Alice Kenny

Moms and children hungry, struggling and embarrassed by their need: these are some of Lizaura German’s earliest memories.

Lizzie practically grew up at the Catholic Charities food pantry  in Washington Heights.   Her mother, the site’s longest volunteer – 36 years and counting – brought Lizzie along when she was just past kindergarten age to help out in their neighborhood center.

Those served felt comfortable sharing their fears and tears with the then-little girl.

“It takes a lot to humble yourself to let people what know what you’re going through,” Lizzie says, recalling what she learned from an early age.  “There is a lot of pride involved because people want to fix things themselves.  When people finally express their need you don’t want them to lose hope.

“A food pantry,” she adds,  “is not just a bag of food, it’s a doorway for helping clients.”

As program manager for Catholic Charities Feeding Our Neighbors program, Lizzie enters this doorway daily, sometimes seven days a week.  She oversees nearly half of Catholic Charities food pantries plus three soup kitchens – more than 30 all told – commuting from the Catskill mountains to Staten Island along with the Bronx, Manhattan and, of course, Washington Heights.

The job, she says, relies nearly as much on diplomacy as it does on knowledge.  Most food pantry staff are volunteers including retirees from Wall Street. So while they are committed to helping their community, these volunteers are also accustomed to taking charge.  Lizzie makes sure volunteers feel appreciated while guiding them to listen to those on food pantry lines and make sure they connect them to the breadth of services Catholic Charities offers.

“Clients come in for a bag of food,” Lizzie says as she exchanges smiles with an elderly woman entering the food pantry.  “But meanwhile, their lights are being turned off or they’re being evicted.  We need to make sure the client feels comfortable enough to express that to the volunteer.”

With a masters degree  in public administration from Baruch College, a background that includes a stint at the United Nations, and a dad who works as executive sous chef at the famed Carmine’s restaurant in Greenwich Village, Lizzie could likely land a job almost anywhere.

But her commitment, she says, is to those she serves at Catholic Charities.

“My job is to be the voice of the client,” she say, “because there is nothing worse than losing a client or knowing that a client was not fully helped.”

Lean In

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

impactdaycollageBy Alice Kenny

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

At Catholic Charities Alianza Division in Washington Heights where per–capita income is half the New York average, Deloitte volunteers staged mock interviews with students, provided resume-writing one-on-ones and offered personalized job skills training. Meanwhile, low-income women who study at Grace Institute, a Catholic Charities affiliate that provides tuition-free job training took advantage of similar mock-interviews, career panels and networking opportunities thanks to Deloitte volunteers stationed there. “I volunteered here today because this is something I’m passionate about,” said Deloitte Consulting LLP Director Oliver Siodmak in the once grand but now aging George Washington High School auditorium where the student program was held.

“Everyone has potential.” Help people meet their potential. Share your talents, time or voice.

Struggling Students Score Scholarships that May Change Their Lives

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Senior Awards Dinner 6-12-14By Alice Kenny

Three students from Washington Heights where the per-capita income is half that of the rest of New York City received a surprise at their Senior Awards Dinner last Thursday, June 12, that may well change their lives.

The students, former participants in Catholic Charities Alianza division GPS program, short for Graduate, Prepare, Succeed, were each handed $20,000 Presidential Scholarships to attend City College in the fall ’14. As the scholarships show, the GPS program designed to provide key support to promote higher education for low income teens clearly succeeded.

Guillermo Rivera, admissions counselor at City College, gave the awards to High School for Media and Communications Seniors Katherine Burgos, Nestor Ramos, and Jordi Caceres, praising them for their resiliency and perseverance.

“The night was filled with pride, joy, and a lot of excitement,” said Catholic Charities Alianza GPS Program Director Pierina De La Cruz. “And the night could not have ended on a better note!”

Struggling Teens Explore Careers in Engineering

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

By Alice Kenny

Teens from Washington Heights, where per–capita income is half the New York average, balanced on scaffolding, learned the rudiments of how to build a high rise that won’t fall down and took their first steps towards becoming engineers at Liberty Science Center last Saturday, April 19, 2014.

The event, hosted by Catholic Charities Alianza Division and sponsored by the Society of Hispanic Professionals in Engineering, was designed to motivate minority students to explore the possibility of pursuing careers in engineering. Students from the High School for Media and Communications GPS program – short for Graduate, Prepare and Succeed – that participate in Catholic Charities’ Alianza Dominicana were bused from Washington Heights to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. There they met with engineering professionals who answered questions and peeked students’ curiosity as they explored the 300,000 square foot learning center.

Next up for these students is Engineering Day on Saturday, May 10. Also held also at the Liberty Science Center, teens will team up to build their own machines. These engineering immersion experiences fit the mission of Catholic Charities Alianza Dominicana, to assist children, youth and families break the cycle of poverty and fulfill their potential as members of the global economy.

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.

Teens Trade in Washington Heights for Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

By Alice Kenny

Trading in their Washington Heights neighborhood for a tour of Washington, D.C., more than three dozen low-income teens checked out monuments and colleges in our nation’s capital during their recent winter break, thanks to Catholic Charities Community Services-Alianza Division.

The tour, funded through a grant from the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation and collaboration with the High School for Media & Communications and Catholic Charities Community Services-Alianza Division, offered the students a glimpse of a future outside their neighborhood, a reason to study, and a step-by-step outline of how to apply for and get accepted by top-tier universities.

The visit included stops at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington and Lincoln memorials, a tour of Georgetown, George Washington and Howard universities and photos and selfies in front of the White House.

The trip was one of – and many say the most fun – of numerous offerings  Catholic Charities Alianza Division offers young people in the Washington Heights school community.

All the offerings share the same goal:  to inspire students to dream big and give them the resources to make it happen.