“A Little Piece of Paradise in the Shadow of BQE”

On July 15, Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) Commissioner Jeanne B. Mullgrav and NYC Chief Service Officer Diahann Billings-Burford visited Center for Family Life’s 64th Street Community Garden project to mark the launch of the third annual Summer of Service Initiative. The project, led by the Center’s PS 503/PS 506 Neighborhood Center Director John KixMiller, engages youth and adults inSunsetPark to renovate and maintain the garden, including beautifying the area, fixing gardening beds, and planting, tending to and harvesting crops. The project also hosts a series of events, including the “Fresh Food Festival” in August, to raiseSunsetPark residents’ awareness of this green space and the importance of healthy nutrition.   Continue reading

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Celebrating Community 2011

Join Us at Center for Family Life’s  Celebrating Community 2011 Event on May 26!

At this year’s fundraiser, we’ll be honoring:

Adepero Oduye, Life Lines alumna and one of the breakout stars in this year’s Sundance Festival. She earned a standing ovation and rave reviews for her role as 17-year old Alike in the coming-of-age drama Pariah. A daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Adepero was born and raised in Sunset Park. She first fell in love with theater as a participant in the Life Lines program at Center for Family Life.


Martin & Gaudencia Rodriguez, owners of MimoMex Farms, part of the Sunset Park Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. MimoMex Farm cultivates over 80 different types and varieties of vegetables, including crops that are standard fare in Mexico but are uncommon in North American grocery stores. Their quality and selection of vegetables has earned the family  much acclaim at the Sunset Park CSA and New York City farmers’ markets.

Date: Thursday, May 26, 2011

Location: Why-Q – 75 Greene Street, 5th Floor, New York City

If you’d like to attend or to support the Center’s work, please print, fill out and return the following form to us: Reply Form.

For more information, please contact Bela Rex-Kiss at 718-788-3500 or brexkiss@cflsp.org

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Sundance Star at Home in Sunset Park

Photo: NY Daily News

One of the breakout stars in this year’s Sundance Festival, Adepero Oduye earned a standing ovation for her role as 17-year old Alike in the coming-of-age drama Pariah. Adepero is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants who was born and raised in Sunset Park.

Adepero first fell in love with theater as a participant in the Life Lines program at Center for Family Life. She went on to pursue a medical career, but her passion for acting was rekindled in her senior year at Cornell. Her part in Pariah and the rave reviews she received suggest that she’s on the path to stardom.

From the NY Daily News:

“It’s like a role I was born to play,” said Oduye, an Edward R. Murrow High School graduate who got her start doing improvisational theater in schools and community centers through Sunset Park’s Center for Family Life.

“[Alike’s] an outsider and doesn’t belong. I immediately related to that. Part of that is being Nigerian. Part of that is being poor,” said Oduye, who said she remembers being teased for not having the right clothes. “If you don’t fit in, kids will let you know.”

Center for Family Life Director Julie Stein Brockway said she remembers Oduye, who worked as a youth counselor at the center, as someone who was emotionally reserved, but had real empathy for others.

“She had a smile that would light up a room – but it wasn’t easy to get that smile.”

After college, Oduye took a job at the Center for Family Life, but quit to pursue her acting fulltime. “I was telling the kids to pursue your dreams and not be afraid, and I had to listen to my own advice,” said Odyuye.

“[Doing the movie] solidified in my mind what my purpose is in life,” said Oduye, “and it’s to act.”

You can read an interview with Adepero with Indiewire here. The Center is extremely proud of Adepero and excited to honor her at our annual Center for Family Life fundraiser in May 2011.

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Symposium: “Changing the Frame – Rethinking Child Welfare in a Community Development Context”

Each year, Center for Family Life organizes a symposium, dedicated to one of our founders, Sister Mary Geraldine, that brings together experts and practitioners for a discussion of a topic relevant to the work of the Center. This year’s symposium, which took place on February 7, focused on child welfare in a community development context.

Jennifer March-Joly, Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children, gave the keynote address, and Belinda Conway, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services, provided commentary. Three workshops followed the opening presentations, discussing promising practices in:

  • Child welfare and community development, led by Paul Di Lorenzo, Senior Director of Casey Family Programs.
  • Child welfare and public education, led by Julie Stein Brockway, Co-Director of Center for Family Life, and Carrie Stewart, Family Counseling Supervisor at Center for Family Life.
  • Child welfare and workforce development, moderated by Gary Carter, Executive Director of Little Sisters of the Assumption, with Vanessa Bransburg, Cooperative Coordinator at Center for Family Life, and Priti P. Kataria, ACT Director at Lawyers for Children.

Thank you to everyone who came to the Symposium, and especially those who provided the informative and inspiring presentations.  Ms. March-Joly’s presentation was the highlight of the event: she offered a cogent and thoughtful analysis of the relationship between childhood wellness, broadly defined, in communities and community-level participation in child welfare services. You can view an outline, including lots of interesting and eye-opening data, by clicking here (pdf).

For an interesting discussion of economic, social and racial factors in child welfare, we recommend this excellent article about a recent conference of leading child welfare professionals at Harvard University.

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Our Presentation in Connecticut

by Vanessa Bransburg, Cooperative Coordinator at Center for Family Life

A few months ago we were invited to visit Wililmantic, Connecticut to discuss the story of our cooperative development project. This is a short video from that day:

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Another great lesson from one hot tamale!

by Julia Jean-Francois


Margarita, Mexican super chef


In my last cooking adventure with Margarita, she drew me into her web of Mexican delicacies with her savory, tart and green tasting Pipian Verde and spicy, red Caldo de Camaron . As she was packing up her kitchen tools and dusting off her apron she casually threw out a line that was aimed to reel me in for another culinary quest. “Have you ever made tamales?” she asked me, knowing full well that I had never done any such thing but would surely like to. “No, never!” I responded, “let’s try them!” And so we were off to the proverbial cooking races setting a date for our Tamal de Frijole fiesta.

Tamales are simple to make and look cute as a pack of buttons sitting upright in their steaming pot transforming in their stovetop sauna into hearty, stick to your ribs mouthfuls that happily take the place of simple tortillas or an uninspiring hunk of bread as a fortifying anchor for a plate of saucy pork or chicken. The tricky part, though it’s a pretty low level of trickiness, is to roll up the dough like a jelly roll without having the whole business fall apart. Luckily, my childhood experiences of wrestling with that dough that pops out of a can when you smack it on the edge of a counter, spreading it with cinnamon sugar and making my own version of cinnamon rolls, served me well as I successfully coaxed the springy dough off of the countertop and into a tidy log.

The second trick in the recipe is how to tell when the tamales are done. When fully cooked, the dough, which starts off a lot like a moist glob of play-doh that has just been taken out of its plastic bottle, should be almost crumbly and should have no springy, plastic quality to it. Margarita sent the tamales into cutie-cute orbit when she twisted one end of the corn husk wraps and poked them into the base of the tamal forming a little pig tail. It was all I could do not to pinch their little corn husk cheeks! Tamales are very versatile and can be filled with beans- as in this recipe- or with pork, cheese and green sauce, or any combination of ingredients that complement their corny base-flavors.

Thanks Margarita for another job well done! You have proven once again that you are one hot tamale in the kitchen!

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Vote for Sunset Park’s Do-Gooder!

Julie Brockway, Co-Director of Center for Family Life, has been nominated for the Brooklyn Community Foundation‘s Do Gooder Awards. The awards celebrate the altruism, philanthropy and commitment of individuals who are helping to make Brooklyn communities stronger.

Please help Julie win! You can vote for her online here. Voting ends on Friday, October 15, 2010.

Five of the nominees will be selected to receive the Brooklyn Do Gooder Award. The Brooklyn Community Foundation will donate $5,000 on behalf of each winner to a recognized charitable organization in Brooklyn of his or her choice. Winners will be honored at the 2010 Brooklyn Does Good celebration on November 3, 2010.

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Sunset Park Alliance Celebrates Adult Literacy Week

Last week was National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, an initiative that seeks to raise awareness and foster discussion about issues related to reading, numeracy, and English language learning. To celebrate the event, the Sunset Park Alliance, a coalition of community agencies, held an event to showcase the work of its members in providing innovative ESL and adult education services. As part of the event, participants from Alliance programs shared the impact these services had on their lives. Among those who spoke were members of the Center-supported cooperatives who are currently participating in ESL courses to improve their work-related language skills and earning potential.

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott presents the mayor's proclamation to Alliance Director Stacie Sanchez. Photo: Laina Yoswein, SPA

Attendees at the event included Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Fatima Shama, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs, along with other city officials from the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education, the Office of Adult and Continuing Education of the NYC Department of Education and the New York City Workforce Investment Board.

The Sunset Park Alliance is a collaboration of six agencies, including Fifth Avenue Committee, Center for Family Life, Lutheran Family Health Center, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, Turning Point and Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corp. The Alliance provides comprehensive case management services, engaging youth in training programs and social services to help them achieve their educational and career goals.

Below is a slide show of pictures from the event. For more photos, check out the Alliance’s Facebook page.

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Si Se Puede! in the Brooklyn Rail

In its September issue, the Brooklyn Rail magazine profiles the Si Se Puede! Women’s Cooperative. In recent years, the coop has been an outstanding success: it has provided its members with a steady source of income and drawn attention by the media and community groups seeking to replicate its model. With growth, however, members have come to face new challenges as they deliberate how to meet the ever-increasing demand for their services:

Like all coops, membership in Si Se Puede! requires participation in the day-to-day management of the business and there is work to be done beyond the payment of dues. For one, members must spend three hours a month promoting the coop to potential clients. This might mean staffing a table at a summer street fair or handing out Si Se Puede! literature in upscale Brooklyn neighborhoods.

This old-fashioned, grassroots outreach has paid off; the coop now has more than 1,300 people in its database—from one-time users to weekly clients. What’s more, they’ve scored work not only from individuals but also from yoga studios, stores, and a Fort Greene bed & breakfast.

In addition to doing outreach, members are also required to attend weekly meetings where business decisions are hashed out. (…) Current hot topics include how fast Si Se Puede! should grow. Should membership be capped, so that the coop remains small, or should it be opened to new members? If they choose to expand, will increased numbers inhibit participatory democracy? Can they avoid a more traditional hierarchical structure if they double or triple in size?

Not easy questions, these, but Si Se Puede! members and CFL staff agree that change is inevitable if the coop is to continue to thrive, and all are confident that the business is strong enough to weather growth spurts and challenges. In fact, [Cooperative Coordinator Vanessa] Bransburg says that interest in the Si Se Puede! model is burgeoning and groups like Make the Road New York and Catholic Charities are looking to CFL for help in establishing similar projects in other parts of the city.

Read the entire article here.

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Losing Ground in Sunset Park

Mahmoud Farraj (photo: Kristofer Ríos/The Brooklyn Ink)

In the spring, the threat of drastic cuts to the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) mobilized New York City teens and community organizations concerned over the loss of opportunities for youth to gain work experience and earn money over the summer. Thanks to their enthusiasm, the loss of job opportunities turned out to be less than feared, but still significant. While initial plans to cut funding by $35 million would have resulted in just 17,200 SYEP jobs, down from 52,000 in 2009, the program eventually received funding for 35,000 positions city-wide. With job opportunities reduced by about a third, only one in four of the 143,000 students who applied for SYEP were selected in the lottery. In Sunset Park, Center for Family Life can provide only 800 SYEP jobs this summer, compared to 1,300 in 2009. A recent article in the Brooklyn Ink profiles a Sunset Part teenager whose dreams of working during the summer and easing the financial burden on his family were dashed. After spending last summer as an assistant engineer at Lutheran Medical Center through SYEP, Mahmoud Farraj was disappointed over missing out on the opportunity to build on his experience this summer. “I would make engineering my passion,” Mahmoud says, “but since I didn’t get the job I can’t figure that out. When I worked last year, I helped my Mom pay the bills and stuff, but I can’t really do that this year.” The article quotes Center for Family Life Co-Director, Julie Stein Brockway, about the impact of the SYEP funding cuts on our community:

“When students don’t get these life experiences, they are losing ground in terms of being marketable in the workforce,” said Stein-Brockway. “This is a stepping stone to college.” […] Stein-Brockway understands that these are difficult times, but the cuts to the summer employment program are still frustrating. She remembers what the neighborhood was like before the youth employment program was available and knows how important the program is to low-income neighborhoods like Sunset Park. “It puts us back. We’ve been moving gradually to help increase the number of youth with a college trajectory,” said Stein-Brockway. “Cuts erode the connections [between youth and their communities at a time when these supports are most desperately needed].”

Read the entire article here.

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