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PS 96 Students Could Be Moved to Accommodate Classroom Construction

The Department of Education is considering a plan to temporarily relocate some PS 96 students while classroom construction is underway, reports Next fall, first graders and some second grade classes will be moved to a school building on Lydig Ave., while a new wing of the public school is being built. The temporary location is about a mile south of PS 96.

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Bronx Moms Meet Up for Halloween Costume Swap

After spending hundreds of dollars on Halloween costumes in past years, a dozen Throgs Neck mothers participated in a costume swap to economize during an expensive holiday.

At the Brew Coffee House on Philip Avenue on the afternoon of Sept. 29, costumes covered tables, plastic pitchforks and scythes filled a basket and a bowl of candy sat near the door. A clown was ready and willing to paint faces. Children ran around and played in the cozy space while their mothers chatted and drank coffee. A Halloween-themed Pandora station played from speakers, filling the coffee house with the sounds of “Thriller” and “The Monster Mash.”

Geanine Petraglia, editor and publisher of the Macaroni Kid, an East Bronx blog geared towards local mothers, organized the event with Elizabeth Trempert, owner of Brew.

“Costumes are expensive,” Trempert said. “Kids never want to wear the same costume the next year, so every year – it just gets really expensive.”

Mothers reported that some costumes they purchased for their children in the past cost more than $50 including accessories and makeup.

“So now when you have two and three and four kids and you have to put all of them into a costume that’s almost half a month’s rent, pretty much,” said Trempert.

Petraglia recalled purchasing a costume for her three-month-old daughter that ran over $100, only to see it go into storage on Nov. 1. This inspired her to use her blog to bring the mothers of community members together and trade costumes.

“I thought there has to be so many other moms out there spending hundreds of dollars on costumes and they’re never seen from again,” she said.

Anyone who wanted to participate in the swap could drop off a costume ahead of time, or pay just $5 to enter and grab a costume. Many extra costumes were donated by community members and other local bloggers before the event. Petraglia recalled receiving two large boxes from a friend in Queens. She said she plans to donate any remaining costumes to a Bronx children’s hospital.

Trempert said that the holiday is very popular in the suburban neighborhood, and that many houses were already decorated for Halloween. Decorations, costumes and candy can add up to an expensive night for an area where the median income is just over $50,000, according to the 2010 American Community Survey for Community District 10.

Christine Destefano, a stay-at-home mom who brought her 5-year-old daughter to the costume swap, was very happy to leave with a new costume. “She got a Tinkerbell costume,” Destefano said. “She’s very excited. We swapped out a clown costume that she wore two years ago.”

Rukiya Shannon, a director of college advising at the Bronx Collegiate Academy in the South Bronx, and her 15-month-old son, Ryan, traded in a Native American costume for a tiger costume. She found the costume swap had other benefits besides a new costume.

“I got to meet a lot of other moms and families in the area, which I had not met before,” said Shannon. “Again, the event was free, and supports local businesses.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, East Bronx, Multimedia, Slideshows2 Comments

Morris Park Business Alliance Unable to Fund Holiday Lights

Morris Parks residents probably won’t be enjoying holiday lights this winter, reports the Bronx Times. Morris Park Business Alliance leader Bobby Ruggiero says the organization lacks $22,000 necessary to put on the lights presentation in six weeks.

Ruggiero raises the funds from local business owners and says that the influx of national chains made fundraising more difficult.

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Pelham Residents Take Security into Their Own Hands

Residents of the Pelham Parkway Houses participate in a candlelight vigil and crime-prevention event. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

In August, Adrian Garcia, 25, was shot and killed in the Pelham Parkway Houses in the Bronx. Two months earlier,  88-year old Evelyn Shapiro was bludgeoned to death inside her apartment in the public housing project, which was until recently relatively peaceful.

Both cases are still unsolved, leaving some residents fearful and others angry enough to act.

“Every week this summer there’s been some type of violence in my development,” said Herma Williams, who was Shapiro’s neighbor for many years.

Williams is in the process of organizing a residents’ watch for the 23-building complex that houses 2,500 people. She does not want to wait for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to install security cameras it has promised for next year. “I don’t need to wait for somebody else to come in and say, ‘This is what you need to do in your community,’ ” said Williams, who has served as the project’s tenant president for 19 years.

The number of violent crimes at Pelham Parkway Houses and its surrounding neighborhood are up in 2012 according to data for the 49th precinct. Seven murders were recorded in the precinct so far this year, up from three in 2011. Armed assaults are up 13.3 percent from the previous year.

Longtime residents described growing up in the Pelham Parkway Houses when it was possible for kids to sit on the benches in the center of the complex’s buildings talking with friends until 1 or 2 a.m.  “Now, I wouldn’t sit there at 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” Cathy Kiler, 50, said.

Yvonne Lewis, who has lived in the Pelham Parkway Houses for 18 years, said the violence made her consider moving, but adds that she thinks a residents’ patrol could make a difference. “I would even participate sometimes,” she said. “I think that would help.”

The residents’ watch would be a volunteer effort to encourage neighbors to look out for one another. NYCHA offers resources to facilitate the volunteer resident watch program. “They do outreach, they do recruitment and they provide the training,” explained Williams.

Housing authority regulations require that able-bodied residents do eight hours a month of community service. Participating in the watch could be one way to fulfill that requirement. Once a coordinator is hired and details finalized, residents would likely be asked sit in their lobbies of buildings, stroll through their halls and report suspicious activity to the 49th precinct.

Since the first murder in June, police patrols have increased around the housing development, but Williams hopes that residents who work as corrections officers, school safety officers and security guards will volunteer. “We look to them as professionals in law-enforcement.”

On Friday, September 7, the residents council organized a candlelight vigil for the victims and served as a prelude to the watch program. A group of residents, uniformed police officers, and supporters from the surrounding neighborhood gathered at the location of Garcia’s death to send a message that crime will not be ignored. “It impacts the good members of the community and the not so good members of the community,” said Police Captain Andy Johnson.

Inspired by the Occupy the Street Corners anti-violence movement that originated in Harlem, the group of about 30 adults and 15 children made a circuit around the housing project. “Take back your community!” shouted Williams, addressing residents still inside with a megaphone. “What you see tonight is just the beginning.”

Posted in Crime, Housing0 Comments

Newcomer Trounces Incumbent in Bid for Bronx State Assembly Seat

Mark Gjonaj becomes the first Albanian American with a chance to serve in the 80th State Assembly District. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

A Bronx ballroom filled with supporters of political newcomer Mark Gjonaj erupted in cheers near midnight Sept. 13 when poll numbers pushed the real estate developer over the top in the race for the Democratic state assembly nomination in the 80th district.

Gjonaj, 43, is poised to become the first Albanian American in the Bronx to hold a seat in the assembly. He toppled two-term incumbent Naomi Rivera by a margin of 11 percent (513 votes).

More than one hundred supporters celebrated the successful campaign with food, an open bar and DJ at Maestro’s Catering on Bronxdale Avenue in Van Nest. “I’m feeling loved,” Gjonaj told the crowd, with relief. “I’m feeling blessed and I’m grateful and I’m humbled.”

Rivera, his opponent who has held the 80th assembly seat since 2005 had the backing of the powerful Bronx Democratic Committee, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. She faced criticism after political scandals surfaced during her most recent term. Most recently Rivera came under fire for placing  boyfriend Tommy Torres on her state payroll as a part-time consultant. Another investigation involving a different ex-boyfriend is also underway.

Gjonaj won the backing of social conservative New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. He outspent Rivera by about 62 percent. Gjonaj thanked his campaign volunteers and supporters in a speech, saying “without them, there’s no me.”

“This is about progress,” said Gjonaj in a speech last night. “It’s about change. It’s about moving forward.” He also acknowledged Rivera’s public service in the district for the past eight years. Gjonaj grew up in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue and Pelham Parkway, the son of two Albanian immigrants. He has worked as a realtor and businessman, and has served as a member of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

A homemade poster supporting Mark Gjonaj. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

According to campaign manager Emmett Hare, Gjonaj currently resides in at Eastchester Road in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood with his wife and two sons, ages 12 and 13. He used his business acumen to his advantage, and raised $227,893 for his campaign according to financial disclosure reports from April to August. His backers included several realtors, construction companies, insurance agencies, contractors and law firms, as well as many individual donors. Rivera raised $140,697.69 between March and August.

Community outreach was a key aspect of Gjonaj’s campaign. On Sundays throughout the summer, he hosted free barbecues for residents of his district. He launched a street-cleaning initiative called “Gjonaj Cares” along 204th Street in the Norwood area of the Bronx and on Lydig Avenue in Morris Park. His Morris Park campaign office opened to the public as a cooling station during the summer, he donated school supplies to the children of the Pelham Parkway Houses development and facilitated the donation of unsold food from local restaurants to shelters.

Gjonaj’s campaign team, dressed in signature yellow shirts, was out in full force in the weeks before the election, handing out pamphlets and talking to community members. Volunteer Troy Coleman said that “the experience was fantastic.” The day of the primaries, he campaigned outside of Tracey Towers, where Gjonaj was active in preventing a rent increase.

Gjonaj promised to work hard for the future of his district. “This means the 80th assembly district will have somebody that represents their best interests,” he said. “I’m going to wake up each with them on my mind and before I lay my head down to sleep. I’m going to think about them and how I serve them.”

Mark Gjonaj stands with his family and supporters after the primary results are announced. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Politics0 Comments

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