Tag Archive | "East Tremont"

Skepticism over East Tremont Initiative to Fight Crime with Whistles

East Tremont residents have been worrying about the rising crime rates in their neighborhood, but they’re not too thrilled about a new plan for fighting the bad guys: whistles.

On July 27 on the steps of Borough Hall, community board leaders and elected officials — surrounded by cameras and expectant seniors — proudly launched their latest proposal: “Senior Citizens Whistle Blowers Public Safety Initiative.” The program aims to distribute whistles that elderly citizens will blow if they are in danger.

The first set of emerald-colored safety whistles were paid for by the medical group Healthfirst. (JUANITA CEBALLOS/The Bronx Ink)

The medical group Healthfirst paid for the first set of emerald-colored safety whistles that showcase their logo on the strap and the whistle. According to Laura Vialva, Healthfirst public relations manager, “roughly 11,000 whistles have been distributed.” Each whistle cost the company 95 cents.

But residents like Rebecca Alexander, 67, a long-term East Tremont resident, are skeptical. “Are they planning to solve the issues we have with a bunch of whistles?” said Alexander.  “It´s just a waste of time and money. Senior citizens will probably leave the whistles at home when they go out.”

That attitude isn’t the only problem. Yolanda Negron, director of social services at Casella Plaza, a housing facility that is home to over 1,000 seniors, is still waiting for the whistles that Healthfirst promised would give to the senior facility. “We gave them advertisement in exchange for 20 whistles,” said Negron. “It’s not my job to chase them and beg for the whistles they promised. If you start something, you have to finish it.”

When asked about Negrons’ complain, Laura Vialva said that there “has been a delay in the delivery of the whistles.” She said that instead of sending the whistles to directly the senior centers, Healthfirst sends them to the Community Boards. “If they don’t receive the whistles they can contact us or Ivine Galarza, Community Board 6 District Manager,” said Vialva.

Residents like Grayling McGinner, 56, say there wasn’t much publicity for the initiative. “I have not heard anything about it,” she said. “And now that I know, I can say that it has no sense. How are senior citizens supposed to blow a whistle if many of them have asthma and other respiratory diseases?”

Larcenia Walton, Bronx Borough senior services director, said community awareness is critical. “Kids play with whistles all the time,” she said. “If residents don’t associate the sound of a whistle with a senior in danger, this program is simply not going to work.

East Tremont retirees like Grover Fuller, 64, a member of Tremont Community Garden, is suspicious of the Community Board’s motives. “Initiatives of this kind are merely distractions from what is really going on,” he said. “It is just politics, nobody really wants to tackle the problems.”

Hellen Leda, director of Mt. Carmel Senior Citizens Center, agrees with Fuller. “It can be a good initiative as long as it is not a political strategy,” said Leda. “At this stage of the year,  you have to be really skeptical about politicians.”

Ivine Galarza, said that the raising crime rates numbers led her to launch the initiative. “I came up with this program because of all the crime that has been taking place in our community, particularly in the areas surrounding senior citizen buildings,” said Galarza.

Neither Galarza nor officers in the 48th Precinct have heard of a case where a whistle was used by a senior citizen to prevent a crime.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, East BronxComments (0)

Bronx Robber Threatens Five More Victims with Hypodermic Needle

A robber who uses a hypodermic needle to threaten his victims was linked to five more incidents in the Bronx. The recent robberies make a total of eight reported incidents in the East Tremont area.

The police released a video of the man who is described as about 40 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall and 120 pounds. His victims, all male, and as young as 14 had iPads, cell phones or other electronics stolen when they were stopped, NBC New York reports. The man was last seen wearing a black leather Yankees hat, a black hooded sweatshirt, gray jeans and black sneakers.

Anyone with information in regards to these incidents is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS or atNYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

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A ministry for a hurting community

Pastor Rebecca Vega (right) and her sister, Jacqueline Quinones (left), start the first service in the House of Healing's new location. (KIRAN ALVI/The Bronx Ink)

 

The worshippers who crowded into the living room of the two-bedroom apartment on Marmion Avenue in East Tremont had known more than their share of losses and hardships. Their neighborhood has been through some tough times.

On Aug. 24, a stray bullet on East 174th Street killed Yaritza Pacheco, 24. On Aug. 30, three people, ages 5, 2 and 20, were shot on 180th Street.  The next day, Phillip Richards, 35, was gunned down on East 181st Street. On Sept. 17, India Durant, 3, died after being found unconscious in her family’s home on East 180th Street. Kurt Lawrence, 17, was found with a gunshot wound to his chest on Nov. 26 on East 175th Street.

But Pastors Anthony and Rebecca Vega, both 35 and married for 14 years, offer hope and healing in their ministry, which recently moved from their apartment into a location four times the size at 921 East Tremont Ave. On most Sundays, it was a struggle to fit the usual 60 worshippers into their apartment so the new location offers new opportunities for serving the community, they say.

“We’re here to help everyone,” said Rebecca Vega, who has two boys of her own. “There’s especially no place for the youth to go around here. Nothing is free, and we want to give them things to be happy about.”

Those things include preaching to youth members at a Juvenile Detention Center in Westchester once a month and hosting community events geared towards children. On Nov. 12, they hosted a glow-in-the-dark service in Tremont Park, the same location where they handed out book bags and school supplies to anyone who came back in September—all funded with their own money and church donations. The Vegas even let youth members lead services on Fridays.

“What else do they have?” Rebecca Vega said. “It’s hard growing up in an environment where not only do you not have a lot, but then things, people get taken from you too.”

The Vegas know what it is like. In 2005, their seven-year-old daughter, Abigail, died of acute metabolic acidosis, a condition in which the body either produces too much acid or the kidneys do not remove enough from the body. But after a part of their family “broke away,” Anthony Vega said, they were able to help join others.

Rebecca Vega and her sister, Jacqueline Quinones, start the service with Spanish-language religious songs. Neither is shy with volume. And as some congregationalists play tambourines and drums, others loudly sing along, falling into a trance with the rhythmic melodies. The hand-holding, emotion-filled room gears up the church for the equally lively sermon given by Anthony Vega and Quinones’ husband, Melvin.

“It’s like a family here and they really care about us, it’s like they’re our friends,” said Joanna Garay, 15, who joined the church in 2010 after stumbling upon a picnic the ministry had outside the apartment building. “There are so many kids doing the wrong things around this area but kids like it here so they come and can stay out of trouble.”

“The church brought my family together,” said Garay, who did not come from a churchgoing family but has not missed a service since she first attended. “And now it feels like the church and everyone in it are my family.”

Garay’s mother went with her daughter one day and then forced her other daughter, Valerie Lovo, to come. Today, Lovo is also an active member and led a service in the orange-painted living room on Oct. 14.

Joanna Castro, 30, of Staten Island said that the living room in the Bronx changed her life.

She found out about the House of Healing through a friend in 2006 and used to make the hour-long drive on Sundays. The pastors helped her find the confidence to get out of an abusive 13-year relationship in a year ago. On Oct. 2, after packing up the painful memories of Staten Island, she moved into an apartment Rebecca Vega helped her find, just four blocks away from the ministry.

“I held on too long to the pain and the hardships I endured,” Castro said. “The pastors just told me that God has bigger plans for you and they helped me get out of it.”

The neighborhood is home to many residents who have a lost many things, including hope, Anthony Vega said. “Then they end up making the wrong choices, and through God and positivity we want to help them find the strength to get through it.”

Instead of walking through their apartment door every weekend, the ministry’s more than 60 people—almost half of whom are under 12 years old—will now be walking into a building and onto the second floor of a new House of Healing.

“We’ve moved into our new location, but we don’t want the feeling to change,” Anthony Vega said seated in his now-empty living room. “We’re going to put a sign outside that reads ‘Welcome Home.’”

“We’re not healed,” he  said. “So we want to help others heal and maybe we can all heal together. Not all is lost.”

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MS Ventura sits at table with cabinet

Running for president of the Dominican Republic–from the South Bronx

Ventura standing in front of the salsa club

Real estate broker turned Bishop turned presidential candidate of the Dominican Republic, Roberto Quevedo Ventura, stands outside a salsa club before his party's Saturday night meeting. (KIRAN ALVI/The Bronx Ink)

Every Saturday night, 27 local residents meet in an abandoned salsa club in East Tremont to discuss Dominican Republic politics. The various clergymen, business people, and housewives are intent on getting the Bishop in their midst elected as the island’s next president in May.

These Dominican expatriates have little campaign money, and even less political clout. Still they feel so strongly about the the chaos and poor education choices back home, they have convinced themselves that Bishop Roberto Quevedo has the moral backbone and business experience to win.

“I trust Quevedo because he cares about the country the most,” Orgilia Palmo, one of the campaign volunteers, said minutes before the meeting began. “He’s a strong man who can help the D.R. that’s falling into pieces.”

Others believed his experience as a volunteer is enough to convince voters of his suitability for president.  “He sends boxes of food, supplies, HIV testing material, everything to the country all through donations here, sometimes his own money,” said Nestor Rodriguez, Ventura’s friend of more than 30 years. “He organizes all this stuff to help the community here and now look at him – helping by running for president.”

Besides, Ventura said he has always dreamed of going back.

“There’s so much corruption with all the revenue the D.R. has,” said Ventura, 56, a real estate broker and Bishop of East Tremont. “I want to see the money spent on the children, not the government.”

To run, however, a candidate needs a party endorsement. So, Ventura and his comrades established one called Partido Para El Pueblo Dominicano (PPPD) on August 13. Their key platform is to redirect funds into education and social services for the elderly. Since 30 others are running for the office, and since only two parties–Partido Revolucionario Dominicano and Partido de la Liberación Dominican–have led in the polls since the early 1960s, Ventura’s bid is hardly a given.

For one thing, he has lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years. Born in 1954 in the Dominican Republic to a father who was a grocer and a mother who worked in a textile factory, Ventura grew up around hard working people. He came to the U.S. in 1969 and spent his teenage years in an apartment on a tree-lined block on Manhattan Avenue in Harlem. He said even as the fifth child of nine, he wanted to take charge in the house.

After immigrating to New York City with his grandmother, he got his real estate license in 1973 from North Country Community College in upstate New York. He still works as a broker in the South Bronx. Like his parents, he is self-employed. Ventura, a resident of Morris Avenue, owns two properties now. But it was one on 229 East Tremont that changed his life when a boiler exploded during installation in 1998.

“My whole body was burned and a piece of the boiler went straight into my forehead,” Quevedo said. “The doctor said only a miracle could save me, and that’s what I believe it was.”

The religious epiphany prompted Ventura to join a church and devote more of his time to God. By 1992, he became a pastor at the New Covenant Baptist Church in the Bronx and was ordained a bishop in 2008.

Through the Baptist Church of all Denominations, a church he opened in 2008, Ventura runs community-wide drives to collect clothes and canned food to send back o the Dominican Republic. He ships the merchandise with his own money, so they only send boxes every couple of months, he said.

“He’ll help anyone and he does it only because he wants to,” said Pastor Luis Coriano of the church Quevedo started. “Now his faith makes him want to help more. But I was surprised that he was running because religion and politics don’t mix.”

The mix happened in 2006.

Ventura took up an interest in politics after he attended a meeting in Manhattan with the General Council of the Dominican Republic that year. “There’s instability and a bad administration there, and the money isn’t being spent on the people, my people,” he said.

Indeed, the World Bank loaned the government $300 million for social programs; Inter-American Development Bank loaned another $500 million  for the same purpose in 2010; and the government entered into an $8.6 billion trading partnership with the U.S. in 2009. These combined cash sources placed the Dominican Republic as the largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region, according to a 2011 report from the Congressional Research Service. Still, more than 40 percent of its people live below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Ventura did not call it “corruption” of funds but others did.

Transparency International, a nongovernmental organization that publishes annual reports on international corruption, gave the Dominican Republic a score of 3 out 10; 0 being the most corrupt. The island was ranked 101 in a list of 178 countries, the highest ranking as the most corrupt.

His campaign has a Facebook page with almost 200 friends and two YouTube videos with about 150 views combined. Ventura does not see the timid online presence as foreshadowing.

“My biggest challenge will be the election,” said Ventura, a tall man with graying hair and calm speech. If his Facebook following of 200 is any indication, the challenge is nearly insurmountable.

“I want this from the bottom of my heart. If I don’t get it, I will persist and resist until the day I die.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Politics, Southern BronxComments (1)

Puerto Rico in East Tremont

Wanda and Nester Rentas opened Taino Mayor in 1980 on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. After 20 years of selling merchandise straight from Puerto Rico, and serenading passersby with live music, it has come to be known as “Little Puerto Rico.”

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Razing a graffiti shrine to make room for billion-dollar housing

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On a brilliant fall day, 25 students on a social justice field trip from Bowling Green, Ohio, visited the South Bronx, but not for the zoo or the Botanical Gardens.

Led by Julian Terrell of the Bronx faith-based group Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, the students made their way to the graffiti Wall of Fame stretching between East 174th Street and West Farms Road. They watched as Long Island-born graffiti giant Phetus, balanced on a ladder, put the final touches to his new mural.

This artistic history, which has existed for decades, is slated to be demolished to make way for a multi-billon dollar housing project by developers Signature Urban Properties. It will be the biggest project of its kind since Co-op City was built in Baychester in the sixties and is expected to provide 1325 units, half of which will be built as subsidized, affordable housing. Building work will begin next year and is planned for completion in seven years.

“This is literally where the Bronx was burning in the seventies,” said Signature principal Robert Frost. “Our goal is to turn around a non-functioning industrial zone by developing affordable workforce housing.”

The project, which allocates land for a new elementary school, children’s playground and two open public spaces, has the support of locally elected official Joel Rivera.

“Affordable housing is one of the biggest issues faced within our community,” said Rivera. “We are excited that this project will help to address this need.” With poverty rates in the Bronx hitting 12 percent and the fear of foreclosure growing as families get priced out of their own homes, the need for affordable housing is growing.

The Bronx borough president said he is pleased that the apartments will provide jobs and housing for a balanced, mixed income community.

But not everyone welcomed the news. “In trying to provide affordable housing, they’re smacking people in the face and stealing their culture,” Julian Terrell told the visiting students. “We call this a shrine, people come here from all over the world.”

The East Tremont and West Farms area has long languished with derelict manufacturing warehouses and graffiti culture. But some locals fear this housing project may be too pricey and will serve to push out the longtime low-income residents.

Terrell believes that the area became attractive to developers because groups like Youth Ministries worked hard to make it that way. On the other side of the Sheridan Expressway, the locally designed Starlight Park is nestled on an old industrial site by the Bronx River.

The 10 high-rise buildings proposed by Signature Urban Properties on a five-acre area could block local residents’ view of the park and the river. The development company, headed by former City Council member Gifford Miller, also promises to provide over 400 jobs in 46,000 square feet of retail space.

David Frost, a principal of Signature Urban Properties, said this location was chosen from a portfolio of possible options that had the necessary open space, transportation links and “ease of assemblage” – or buildings and land that could be bought easily from current tenants. “There are no jobs there; there’s no business there,” said Frost. “Our land is vacant.”

While Frost insists that the developers have support from the local community, some residents think otherwise. Cerita Parker, a retired Board of Education worker who lives on Longfellow Avenue, is worried that the community will be destroyed by the new plans.

“Throughout the Bronx we have seen a rebirth of communities with new building going up and lots of them are not affordable,” Parker said. “When you start building housing that’s out the price rage of local residents, these residents get kicked out.”

At the department for city planning, which is currently receiving funding to research ways to decommission or modify the nearby Sheridan Expressway, the new development is big news. “The way we think of this whole area is different because of this project,” said Ryan Singer from the Bronx office. “We asked Signature if they were worried about the Sheridan and they said they were prepared regardless.”

Plans to decommission the 1.2 miles of the Sheridan Expressway, which links the Bruckner with the Cross Bronx Expressway, reached a stalemate last year when the state cited a study that showed local traffic would worsen if it were removed. Frost, of Signature Urban Properties, refused to speak out against the Sheridan but did say: “Depending on how the Sheridan was decommissioned, it could be something we could get behind.”

The volunteers at Youth Ministries have been lobbying for the removal of the highway for over a decade. “We don’t want their support,” said Terrell at the suggestion that Signature might be able to help.

As for the graffiti, Frost said Signature is thinking of finding a small space in the new plans to designate a canvas. “That’s one of the coolest things up there,” he said.

When the squat manufacturing warehouses, which currently include towing merchants and a hog dog vendor, have been removed, it may be too late to save the graffiti culture here. At Da Bakery, a world-renown graffiti shop on the corner of the site, artists had no idea of what was planned.

Parker said that’s because the developers have not tried hard enough to reach the local community. “The only people that Signature has courted is the community board and the assemblymen,” she said. “They haven’t consulted the community whatsoever. It’s another example of money talking and everyone else following.”

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fist of fight back program

Fighting their neighborhood

The Fight Back Program is a 10-year-old jiu jitsu and self-defense program run out of the Mary Mitchell Center in the East Tremont and Crotona neighborhoods. Its senseis have trained hundreds of local kids to use martial arts to resist negative pressures all around them.

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Tenants sue landlord for moldy building, NY Daily News

Tenants in an East Tremont building announced Thursday that they were suing their landlords over the living conditions in their apartment, reports the New York Daily News.

The building at 2097 Webster Avenue, they say, has been plagued by leaks, cockroaches and rats.

The tenants are hoping for a Bronx Housing Court to appoint an administrator to manage the building. Housing court judges can appoint private administrators to unsafe buildings under state law.

 

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