Monthly Archives: February 2009

At a Baby Shower

by Andrea Gonzalez

Andrea Gonzalez is a social worker at the Center for Family Life Family Counseling program. She was recently invited to her client’s baby shower ceremony, and we asked her to write about the experience.

My client’s oldest adolescent daughter is pregnant. After several months of pretending there was not going to be a baby shower, my client rented a hall, invited over 50 of her closest family members, cooked enough to feed a small army, hand made all the centerpieces and party favors and surprised her daughter. Continue reading


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Filed under Family Counseling Program, Immigrants in NYC

New High School for Sunset Park!

The newly constructed Sunset Park High School – our neighborhood’s first public high school – will open its doors to students in September 2009. In late January, the Department of Education approved a design, developed with community input, for a 1,500-seat school with three small learning communities focusing on the performing and visual arts, health and human services, and business and entrepreneurship.

Daily News

Sunset Park High School, 35th St. & 4th Avenue, February 6, 2009. Photo: Daily News

Sunset Park High School is the result of 40 years of advocacy by community residents and neighborhood organizations seeking equitable access to quality education for youth in Sunset Park. When promised funds for a school building were cut from the city’s capital plan again and again, the Sunset Park High School Task Force organized a successful campaign to secure funding. Construction began in 2006, and since then, the Task Force has worked to ensure that the long-awaited school responds to community priorities. The New York Daily News describes the community’s efforts in an article published this week:

An energetic group of old-timers, social workers, local leaders and high school kids banded together to take on the Department of Education and plan their own Sunset Park High School.

“It’s uplifting,” said interim principal Corinne Vinal, selected last summer to help design the school, which was officially approved last month. “They have questions. They’re informed. They have already rolled up their sleeves to ensure the school itself succeeds.”

SPHS will open in Fall 2009 with 324 9th grade students, and will add an additional grade each year to reach its full capacity of 1,500 students. Teachers and administrators will receive support from the Institute for Student Achievement, and community-based organizations – including Center for Family Life – will partner with the school to provide afterschool programming and supports for youth and their families.

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Filed under Community Collaborations, Education, Youth Development

In a Neighborhood Kitchen

by Julia Jean-Francois

Julia Jean-Francois is Co-Director of Center for Family Life. She is also a food enthusiast with a keen interest in the cooking traditions of the different cultures that make up Sunset Park’s diverse community. We will be sharing her stories about her adventures in the cooking underworld of Sunset Park. Here is the first one, wherein she learns the secrets of making authentic Chinese dumplings.

2007_0622isaac0056This month I attended an authentic Chinese dumpling-making lesson with Jing Kien. This is the kind of opportunity that I am always on the lookout for, and so when Jing Kien’s granddaughter Jackie, a caseworker in our Family Counseling Program, graciously invited me to her grandmother’s home to learn her family dumpling recipe for a cookbook we are writing, I eagerly accepted. Continue reading

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Filed under Food & Culture, Immigrants in NYC

Life Undocumented

Last fall, New York Magazine published a sobering article about the fears of undocumented families living in the New York area.  The long feature, titled Hiding in Plain Sight, follows the story of Alberto, who left Puebla, his hometown in Mexico, in pursuit of a better future for himself and his family. After a perilous journey across the border in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, he finally arrived in Sunset Park nine years ago, where he settled with his wife and two children.

“To keep pace with his bills, Alberto took a temporary night job and another on the weekends. He’d had no day off for weeks; you could see his fatigue in the worry lines between his eyes. His sole recreation was his Saturday-evening soccer game in Sunset Park, the swath of green that named the neighborhood. At 36, he still looked dangerous with the ball — “I’m a goal-scorer,” he told me, in a moment of braggadocio.”

Another article, published a week ago in The New York Times, reports on the challenges facing   15,000 immigrant teenagers in the New York City school system who have had little or no formal schooling and are often illiterate in their native languages. You can also read a selection of essays (pdf) written by immigrant students at at Bronx school about how far they have come and how much more they have to learn.

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We Can Do It! on Weekend America

Victor Castillo

photo: Victor Castillo

Check out this article in Weekend America about about the inspiring story of the ladies in the We Can Do It! Women’s Cooperative. You can listen to the audio report here.

The article is part of the Weekend Shift series, with profiles of interesting people doing interesting work on weekends, from human disco balls to part-time bakers.

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Filed under Worker Cooperative Project

In Community Service

by Frank Jimenez

Frank is Outreach Coordinator at our Community Service Program. He works with the most vulnerable of Sunset Park’s residents, connecting them with  emergency food, advocacy, financial and legal assistance, and other vital supports. We asked him to share his thoughts about what community service means to him.

It’s hard when people find themselves struggling to be heard because they are in need of the things in life, to sustain themselves and their families. In these days of economic crisis people need to be able to turn to one another and give each other information regarding all things available to help them and their loved ones. As we at the Community Service Program (CSP) of Center for Family Life continue the arduous work ahead of us, we cannot waiver or lose our perspective. We must remain focused and steadfast so that many do not fall through the cracks on our watch. With so many responsibilities in the workplace we tend to try and find the time to go inside, to find a peaceful place where we can be grounded and in touch with our inner selves during the work day.

The stressful times when we don’t have enough food to give to the needy, enough time to give individuals all the information needed for them to move forward, enough people to continue this mission that we have been given. In this time is when as a team we can share the minutes so that we can separate ourselves from the things that drain us and go inside to a tranquil place, whatever our mind’s eye chooses, perhaps a beach, a forest, the sea, a moonlit sky, etc. So that we may have a peace of mind and regenerate our ways of thinking through meditation and inward observance. In this way we can remain focused in the world and in touch with ourselves (inner self). Because it is said in order to clean up someone’s house we should clean our own, outwardly and inwardly. So these are important tools and ways to continue the fight and the many struggles we have in front of us in the community at large.

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A Tuesday with the We Can Do It! Women’s Cleaning Coop

by Vanessa Bransburg, Cooperative Coordinator

It’s a usual busy Tuesday and I am preparing for the 5:30pm Si Se Puede! Women’s Cooperative meeting. We drive over to the Center and I find a few members putting the chairs around the room, talking to each other, laying some snacks on the table, and preparing for the meeting. After about 15 minutes have gone by and the children have gone up to meet the babysitters, the Secretary begins the meeting in a soft voice. I whisper to her that she should speak up a bit and clarify the purpose and guidelines of the icebreaker for the others. She laughs nervously and speaks louder, with a confident voice. I can see that the members are quickly beginning to think of what their own responses will be. They are told to share two hopes or visions for the new year, one being personal and the other for the cooperative. As each member takes their turn, I feel that the room fills up with compassion and interest in hearing from each other.

We finish going around and continue with the agenda. Point number 2, voting on the legal decision. The discussion starts out with some concerned and tired looks, but eventually turns into a dynamic back-and-forth about the pros and cons of each option. Finally, the group comes to a consensus about the legal name that will be used from now on. The members speak proudly about the origins of the name and how important it is to keep it the same. Si Se Puede! is an empowering slogan and relates to a movement that resonates with most of them. Questions and comments fly all over the place regarding the legal structure at hand. After much debate, the members feel more than ready to vote. After so many months, discussions, meetings and questions, they vote unanimously for the Membership Cooperative Corporation structure.  Hooray!  Such a huge step forward… What an exciting moment to share with the members! The rest of the meeting is spent talking about childcare issues, new job orders, and community members who are interested in joining the Cooperative. There are times when passionate voices were raised and mediation took place, but at the end of the 2 ½ hour meeting, members looked mostly content to have completed a productive meeting, and have shared time with their fellow Cooperative co-owners.

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Filed under Adult Employment Program, Immigrants in NYC, Worker Cooperative Project