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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Filed under Center for Family Life, Community Development, Education, Immigrants in NYC, Worker Cooperative Project, Youth Development

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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Gang Awareness Forum in Sunset Park

The presence of gangs in Sunset Park remains a serious problem. Police know of about 400 gang members in the neighborhood, and gang-related violence appears to be on the rise again. To provide an opportunity for Sunset Park residents whose life has been affected by gang violence to speak out and share their concerns, Community Board #7, the 72nd Precinct and local community organizations and churches will hold a Gang Awareness Forum on June 17.  Police will also give a presentation to help parents protect their children from the influence of gangs. The event will be held at 6:30 pm onThursday, June 17, at  Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 545 60th Street.

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Vanessa Lionheart

The coordinator of our Cooperative Project, Vanessa Bransburg,  has been nominated for a Lionheart Award. Offered in collaboration between the promotion campaign for the upcoming new Robin Hood movie and the Robin Hood Foundation, the award recognizes individuals who make a positive impact in society. Winners are selected through online voting. The three winners receive $5,000 and they can direct another $5,000 to the charity of their choice. Please support Vanessa by visiting her profile and clicking on the “I support this Lionheart” link! Voting ends on May 16.

Congratulations, Vanessa, and good luck!

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Filed under Center for Family Life, Fair Work, Immigrants in NYC

Center Receives Award for Organizational Excellence

Center for Family Life recently received an  Organizational Excellence Award from the National Network for Social Work Managers (NNSWM). The award was accepted by by Co-Directors Julie Stein Brockway and Julia Jean-Francois (see photo).

We are honored to be chosen for this award, which recognizes human services agencies that achieve a high standard in management and service quality, and we are particularly thankful to Laurie Dien, Senior Program Officer at The Pinkerton Foundation, who nominated the Center. We appreciate her deep understanding of social group work and its relevance to agency administration.

Since 1985, the National Network of Social  Work Managers is the only social work organization dedicated to management. It seeks to support social work managers and foster the development of a nationwide network through annual conferences and by setting management standards.

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Color Me! Cooperative Launches

by Vanessa Bransburg, Cooperative Coordinator at Center for Family Life

In March, fourteen immigrant women from Sunset Park came together to start a worker-owned interior painting business. They began a 10-week cooperative orientation and training to prepare for the launch of their business.  As the Cooperative Coordinator, I designed the curriculum and helped recruit the founding members, but what I did not expect was the high intensity of enthusiasm and focus from the members.

During these first 10 weeks before the launch, we covered the fundamental principles of the cooperative movement, communication skills for group work, decision-making strategies, the infrastructure development of the business and of course- interior painting basics. Week after week, the members expanded their set of skills, including practice painting sessions decorating several rooms at the offices of Center for Family Life. This not only provided them with the opportunity to develop their painting skills but also to learn how to work effectively as a team.

By the end of the 10-week period, members developed a good rapport with each other and gained confidence as newly minted business owners. During the last two sessions, members met with Maria Parodi, a marketing specialist from from a consulting agency, Vidal Partnership, to learn about branding and marketing. Ms. Parodi also helped them develop their business name and positioning. These trainings were filled with energy and geared the members towards a more focused path, getting a better sense of who their target audience would be and the best ways to approach them.

On April 28th, we held a graduation ceremony for the Color Me! Cooperative. The room was filled with family members, friends and CFL staff, all of whom felt proud of the members for having come such a long way to start their very own business enterprise. As a symbolic acknowledgement of this big moment, each coop member received a certificate. We also celebrated the event with delicious food.

The Cooperative is now offering Sunset Park residents and friends of the Center a promotional offer to paint your home or apartment at a 50% discount. The promotion is for a limited time only, so give us a call today for an estimate. You can reach us at (718) 633-4823.

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Filed under Center for Family Life, Fair Work, Immigrants in NYC, Worker Cooperative Project