Author Archives | dj2317

Restorations start at Soundview Park, The Epoch Times

Restorations started on Monday in Soundview Park known as the “Gateway to the Bronx River”. The bulk of the work will consist in bringing back parts of the 205 acres of wetlands, lagoon and forest to life. At least 5,000 trees will be planted to recreate  the forest.

According to the WSJ, the wetlands will not only improve the quality of the water in the area but also provide habitat for birds and marine life.

Half of the estimated $10 million restoration plan was funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Mentor Program helps schools tackle absenteeism, Norwood News

A city mentorship program helped many schools cutting down absenteeism such as the High School for Teaching and the Professions in Kingsbridge Heights.

“Success Mentors” program and  “Every Student, Every Day” will be expanded next year to include 4,000 students, up from 1,4000 in 2010-2011. The program will also start taking care of students who missed school for a longer amount of time, being in temporary housing, foster care or juvenile detention.

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Bronx native Sanford Garelik dies at 93, NYTimes

Sanford Garelik, a City Council president and former candidate to the Mayor’s office, died on Saturday.

In the 1970s, Garelik became NYPD’s first Jewish chief inspector, the highest uniformed rank at the time. As the economy was worsening, Garelik expressed his concerns about the cost of renovating the Yankee Stadium. Instead he thought the Yankees could join the Mets in their Shea Stadium in Queens and a garment center could be built where the Yankee Stadium now stands.

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Fordham University enrolls over 1,000 foreign students, NY Daily News

A recent report shows that Fordham University in the Bronx is competing with top ranked universities such as Columbia University and NYU in terms of attracting foreign students.

Last year the Jesuit school enrolled 1,064 students from abroad.

“When a foreign student comes to the Bronx, it enables our students to sit next to someone from India or Brazil,” said the president of the study Allan Goodman. “And it gives them a sense, at least, that we share the world and its problems.”

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Bronx mother admits putting innocent men in jail as she fights for her life, NYPost

Penny Denor Camerono admitted lying under oath in a 1991 trial that gave two innocent men a 25-years prison sentence for murder. The Bronx mother said she decided to come clean as she is fighting against breast cancer and wanted to rest in peace.

José Garcia, one of the two men, was released after 14 years, when his girlfriend convinced authorities that Garcia wasn’t even the country at the time. But Carlos Morillo, 49, was only set free earlier this month after spending 20 years in jail.

Camerono said a detective at the time threatened to go after her 14 year-old son, who refused to cooperate after allegedly witnessing the crime.

About the innocent men, the 60 year-old mother said: “Every day of my life, I thought about them. I was serving time with them.”

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Images of the Libyan conflict find a South Bronx audience

Images of the Libyan conflict find a South Bronx audience

World Press Photo award winner Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya on April 20, not long after he took the image above. (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

One image shows an elderly man and two boys posing with spent mortar shells. Another captures a family fleeing a wrecked building, terror etched on their faces. In still another, a young soldier brandishes a machine gun, bullets wrapped around his body.

These full-color photos from the recent civil war in Libya are on display in Mott Haven as part of “Visions: Tim Hetherington,” the inaugural exhibition of the Bronx Documentary Center that opened on October 22, to honor the slain photojournalist and award-winning director of the documentary, “Restrepo,” a feature-length film on a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan.

Some of the photos on display were taken on the fatal day, when Hetherington and his fellow photographer, Chris Hondros, were caught in a crossfire in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Misurata.

The grim images notwithstanding, the center buzzed with energy in anticipation of the opening.

The newly renovated Beaux-Arts building on the corner of Courtlandt Avenue and 151st Street is home to the new center, the first of its kind in the South Bronx, which seeks to educate students through photography and video, while serving as a venue for world-class photojournalists and filmmakers to engage an “underserved” local community.

“Despite his success, Tim never lost sight of the human dynamics behind the violence he documented,” reads the exhibition’s synopsis posted on the wall.

The gallery was the brainchild of Michael Kamber, 48,  a New York Times photographers and reporter, to honor his friend, the late Hetherington. “I came up here with Tim, and we thought this is a community that doesn’t see documentary photography,” said Kamber, 48, who renovated the historic four-story building with financing from Fractured Atlas, a non-profit organization for the arts.  “This is the place to build it.”

After the legendary photographer was killed in Libya, Kamber moved back to the Bronx after a 20 year absence, and rushed to finish the first-floor gallery space. The top floor of the building that Kamber bought for $614,000 serves as Kamber’s home.

Sebastian Junger, another award-winning photographer and friend of both Kamber and Hetherington, said the center is an important addition to the community. “The South Bronx obviously is a community that’s had some tough years in its past and I think it’s just amazing that the photo community has an outpost here,” said the author of the bestseller, The Perfect Storm. “Typically you think of that as being in Manhattan.”

For Kamber, a three-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize — twice for photography and once for reporting — it’s his way of enriching his own neighborhood.

“We want to get young people in here,” said Kamber. “We’re going to show them this work and explain them what documentary photography is.”

The Bronx's newly opened Documentary Center displays Hetherington's work (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

Aside from welcoming students, Kamber also plans to organize talks about veterans and post-war trauma – two of Hetherington’s most cherished issues.

It took five months of hard work for Kamber and his team to renovate the gallery. Photography students and friends, as well as fellow veterans of the war in Afghanistan pitched in to help.

On opening night, many of New York’s photography aficionados trooped north from Brooklyn and Manhattan for the event. Attendees huddled around the photo installations, while an overflow crowd packed its backyard. Spotted among the hundred or so attendees were veteran South Bronx photojournalists Mel Rosenthal and Ricky Flores, as well as Bronx artist Carey Clark from the community group, The Point.

Lawrence Scott, a 64-year old television producer, said he “fell in love with the concept” of a documentary center and decided to volunteer his time.

“A lot of people that would not normally come to the Bronx would come and realize that it’s a neighborhood just like any place else,” said Scott, who lives nearby.

Fanny Placentia, an 18 year-old Bronx native studying visual arts, said she was excited to learn that a new gallery was opening in her neighborhood. The young brown-haired teenager came with a classmate and their teacher to have a look at the 36-by-30-inch war photographs.

“I don’t have to go to great lengths to get to the center,” said Placentia, who found the exhibition inspiring, even though she had never heard of Hetherington. “It’s right there near my home.”

The photo exhibit runs until Dec. 2, 2011.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia, Southern Bronx, Video0 Comments

Caring for drug users in the South Bronx

(Audio Slideshow Diane Jeantet & Hazel Sheffield / BRONX INK)


Mary Hall was still too shaken to speak. Steven, a former patient she hadn’t heard from for four years, had finally called. “I just heard his voicemail,” she said as she sat at her desk, holding a sheet of paper with names and phone numbers scribbled all over it. “He was so sick; I thought he was dead.”

The dusty stack of files piled up on Hall’s tiny desk carries the weight of the years she has spent working as a case manager at CitiWide, a needle exchange program in Mott Haven. The 62-year-old mother of two arrived in 1997, two years after the HIV activist, drug user and photographer Brian Weil opened the program in the basement of La Resurección United Methodist Church, in the South Bronx. Hall never left and is now CitiWide’s longest serving staff member.

Some critics argue that needle or syringe exchange programs, which aren’t aiming at stopping participants from using drugs like abstinence-based treatment programs, are a waste of time and money. Others believe that the decline in HIV infections is mostly, if not exclusively, due to those initiatives. But that debate often overlooks another important function of these programs. For people like Steven and other drug users and HIV positive residents of the South Bronx, these community-based centers are one of the only places they can turn to for solace and comfort – or just a human connection.

“For some of us this is the one and only meal we get in the day,” said Ruben Denis, a 56-year-old heroin addict, while rolling a cigarette outside St. Ann’s Center of Harm Reduction, another syringe exchange program only two blocks away from CitiWide. Denis has been going to both centers for the past 10 years and like many who have made a home at both facilities, Denis knows the pros and cons of each.

St. Ann’s is particularly popular for its homemade food. Behind the massive blue steel gates on 310 Walton Ave., on the second floor of a dated and unstylish building, hides a great Puerto Rican cook, who can bring Jose Luis, a heroin user, all the way back to his childhood kitchen. “It’s like mama’s food,” joked Luis.

The doors are open at CitiWide in the South Bronx. (Diane Jeantet / BRONX INK)

Over the years, the Bronx needle exchange programs, also called harm reduction centers, have become a central social network for addicts living on the edge. A former participant, who goes by the name of J-D, still comes and visits now and then. “These are my homies. It’s like when you go to school to see your friends you know,” he said as he was waiting outside the CitiWide’s opaque glass doors for his friends to finish their lunch.

Free food is just one lure. Aside from clean needles, participants can shower, get clothes and counseling, or just stop by to use the bathrooms. Both centers also provide free MetroCards each time participants join one of the many groups  offering a wide range of workshops from learning CPR to photography and other creative therapies. Involving participants so they become active members is at the heart of these centers.

It isn’t unusual to meet staff members who used to come to the centers to get clean needles before rushing back to their spots – substandard apartments or street corners. With time and motivation – and regular check ups with a social worker – participants can get a small stipend for helping with food and condom distribution during the weekly street outreach tours.  This helps bring participants back to some sort of working life and it also benefits the programs by turning participants into volunteers. Center directors say it’s hard to raise funds so they can use the help.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed legislation lifting a 20-year-old ban on financial support for syringe exchange programs around the country, promising a brighter future for these centers. “But we haven’t seen a single penny of that yet,” frowns Robert Cordero, CitiWide’s executive director, who says no new money has been spent on syringe exchange programs in general. “So we have to continue our advocacy,” Cordero said. So far this year, he said he had raised more than $3 million in grants and donations.

Thanks to this money, CitiWide is now the only center open seven days a week in the Bronx. On the second floor, a medical health care unit is also under construction. “We want to be a one-stop shop,” said Valentino Hernandez, a 40-year-old case manager.

Like many other CitiWide staffers, Hernandez has a special passion for his job. He spends most of his lunch breaks chasing participants on their way out of the building with his hands full of oranges to make sure each one of them has some fruit. Hernandez quit his previous job at another public health facility because he said  that agency pushed case managers to meet weekly quotas. “But I can’t work like that,” Hernandez said. “I don’t like counting the minutes when I’m working with someone. I told them it’s either quantity or quality.”

The addicts who use the center appreciate that dedication. Valerie Cruz, a 46-year-old HIV positive mother of six has been addicted to cocaine since 1983. She has been coming to needle exchange programs for more than a decade and still goes almost every day. “This is also a way of getting your mind off the streets,” she said in between two group meetings. At night, when the centers close, Cruz goes back to her one-room apartment in East Tremont, where the rent is paid by the HIV and Aids Service Administration.

Drug users who aren’t HIV positive have a harder time finding a safe place to stay. At CitiWide, the average income of participants is under $9,000 and 75 percent are homeless. It often comes down to two options: sleeping in the streets or staying in a shelter.

For Robert Cordero, housing has become one of the top priorities. By 2013, CitiWide should own housing facilities to house both homeless and HIV positive people. At the moment, housing homeless people means dealing with a lot of bureaucracy – the city, real estate agents and real estate brokers. “We would like to be able to have our own housing so we can place people as we want,” said Cordero.

But harm reduction and efforts to prevent HIV infections among injection drug users remain the centers’ prime concern. Mary Hall remembers a time when participants used to die at a frightening pace of one or two a week. “When I first came here I was ready to leave because they were dying so quickly,” she said. But over the past 20 years, infection rates have decreased from more than 54 percent to a historically low 5.5 percent today.

“People still die,” said Hall behind a worn thick pair of glasses, “but it’s not a death sentence anymore. It’s a life sentence.” She still remembers twins who used to come at the center. Both were infected with the HIV virus; one of them died but she saw the other one a few days ago. “I said: ‘Oh God baby’ – I call them all baby – ‘You’re still around?’ And she said, ‘Yes, Miss Mary, I’m still here.’ And I think that’s the joy I get out of my work. When I see they’re still around.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Health, Slideshows, Southern Bronx0 Comments

An uncertain future for Morrisania’s post office

Inside the two-story post office on 167th Street and Park Avenue, the door slammed every few minutes on a recent Monday morning as customers filtered in and out. Only two of the five customer windows were open, and the lines snaked all the way to the entrance. Nothing unusual there, according to customers in line.

“I’ve been coming here for 47 years,” said Hassan Forrest, who arrived early at the Morrisania post office to pick up his mail. The Metropolitan Transport Authority employee still lives in in the apartment he grew up in on nearby Webster Avenue and has never gotten  around to closing his family’s post office box.

But Forrest and other Morrisania residents may have to transfer their mail to another address if the U.S. Postal Service is allowed to close over 3,500 post offices throughout the nation. The White House proposed these drastic cut backs after the post office became insolvent the end of September. It had reached a borrowing ceiling of $15 billion, and used the last of its cash reserves.

The Morrisania post office, located in a building recognized as National Register of Historic Places in 1988, is one of 17 branches in the Bronx scheduled to close. Neither customers, nor Morrisania’s mail carriers seemed to be aware of the proposed cuts. A staff member who was rushing out of the post office building on her lunch break  cut short a reporter’s questions, saying the place wasn’t closing. The only changes she knew of were the maintenance work recently undertaken in one of the second floor rooms.

“For me it’s not a major issue, but some older people are coming here,” said Forrest, who was on his way to work in his MTA uniform. One retired nurse from the Bronx said she comes to the post office at least three times a week.

Pakala Dingle, 63, said she depends on the post office to pay her rent every month. Money orders cost only $1 compared to $3 or more at the bank.  Dingle wakes up at 6:30 every morning to exercise and walks to the post office to collect her mail for the small business of organic products she started a few years ago after she retired. She also picks up her Social Security checks at the post office.

Like many others, Dingle and Forrest believe the Internet has affected the postal system, along with competition from other private mailing services. On a two-block radius around the post office, at least six stores sold stamps and two shops offered cheap money orders.

President Obama’s plan, which was announced earlier last month, did not include its initial promise that mailing costs would stay the same. On  Oct. 18, the postal service announced that stamps would cost 45 cents, a one-cent increase, starting next January. The plan also suggested that post offices could offer non-postal products and cut out Saturday deliveries as a way to reduce debt.

Jimi Perez, a postal union delegate, criticized Obama’s proposals as ineffective. Even though Obama is willing to pay back the postal service $6.9 billion for having overpaid a federal retirement fund for years, Perez complained that the federal government owes the workers still more. “In its plan, Obama proposed to reimburse only $20 billion out of the $80 billion USPS has overpaid,” he said.

The closest post office to Morrisania is on Westchester and St. Ann’s Avenue, about 20 minutes away on the BX41 and BX55 buses. “If this post office closes, the old and disabled people that come here everyday will have to commute to a much further place,” said Perez, 59, who said anyone working for postal service  was threatened by the budget cut. “And how will they come to pick up their mail? In a taxi?”

View Is your Bronx post office threatened by the U.S. Postal Service budget cuts? in a larger map


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Money, Multimedia0 Comments

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