Tag Archive | "Morrisania"

Closing the gap between health and education in a Morrisania public school

The school health coordinator, Barbara Alicea  speaks to a parent outside P.S. 140. (SWATI GUPTA / Bronx Ink)

Barbara Alicea, a new school health coordinator speaking to a parent via cell phone outside P.S. 140, the pilot site of a national health and learning initiative. (SWATI GUPTA / Bronx Ink)

Elpida Vlachos routinely takes her four children who attend Morrisania’s P.S. 140 on Eagle Avenue for regular doctor check ups. She said she felt confident that none had health problems. So it came as a surprise to the 38-year-old Bronx mother when her children came home one day from school with a note indicating they needed eyeglasses.

P.S. 140 in the South Bronx, an elementary school is the site of a new, national pilot program intended to make sure that students who need treatment for everything from poor vision to chronic asthma receive holistic health care coordinated at the school level. Called Healthy and Ready to Learn, the initiative was launched in September by Children’s Health Fund in three schools, two in the South Bronx and one in Harlem.

All the students in P.S. 140 who failed the vision screening are expected to be provided with two pairs of glasses – one to keep in school and one for home. These children will meet with an optometrist for free and choose the glasses they like, said Barbara Alicea, the school’s health coordinator, who acts as liaison between the health center and the school to bring together local health services for the children.

Also known as the “eye lady” in the school, children rush to hug Alicea as she explained her role. As health screenings continue in the school, Alicea will work with parents to help connect them to  basic needs like housing, insurance, public assistance, domestic violence and immigration issues.

Poor vision is just one of eight health-related barriers to good learning identified in this new initiative aimed at helping schools, parents and health center practitioners triage knowledge and treatment. According to a study conducted by The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools,  an estimated 22 per cent of children aged 6 to 11 have a vision problem.

The eight health issues to be targeted by the Healthy and Ready to Learn program include asthma, dental issues, hearing loss, hunger, behavioral problems, anemia and lead poisoning. Phoebe Browne, the director of the initiative, said that the organization chose these eight issues because they are fairly common, relatively easy to screen, preventable and manageable. The program will measure these health indicators over time next to school measures such as attendance and test scores to assess the program’s impact over time.

Once a child is identified with a particular health issue, the parents are informed and coordination will begin to provide the child with primary care. The program’s next hurdle is to figure out a way to screen for anemia and lead poisoning in school, two conditions that require blood tests to diagnose. “We do not provide primary care, but our school health coordinator will help the family to connect to primary care,” said Colby Kelly, communications director at the Children’s Health Fund.

P.S. 140’s assistant principal believes teachers are pleased to be part of this pilot. “We are monitoring the effects of the program,” said Assistant Principal Kevin Greene. “Eventually, over time, the teachers and parents will see the benefits.” The two other schools in the pilot are P.S. 49 in Mott Haven and P.S. 36 in West Harlem.

Finding local resources for the parents such as dentists, optometrists and primary care physicians is another work in progress. The next step after vision screening in P.S. 140 will be dental check ups and training for asthma control, Alicea said.

Children play outside the main building of P.S. 140 on Eagle Avenue. (SWATI GUPTA / Bronx Ink)

Children play outside the main building of P.S. 140 on Eagle Avenue. (SWATI GUPTA / Bronx Ink)

Poorly controlled asthma is one of the leading reasons children miss school through exhaustion or hospitalization.

Tonette McWilliams, a teacher at P.S. 140, said that she had a student who used to miss an entire week at a time due to chronic asthma since she had to be hospitalized. Severe attacks cannot be treated at home or in the school clinic. Under the new program, once a student has been identified with average or chronic asthma, the school health coordinator will work with the family to provide educational materials and training to train them in avoiding environmental triggers and exercising caution in physical activities. .

“We are looking for a scalable solution to these problems,” Kelly said. “Parents do not know about the triggers and it is a process of discovery, finding out the why.”

Asthma and behavioral problems represent the top two health barriers to learning, according to a 2013 survey of principals and assistant principals administered by the Children’s Health Fund and the city’s school supervisor’s union. In high poverty schools, 67 per cent of school officials identified asthma as a moderate or serious barrier to learning.

“P.S. 140 is located in the poorest congressional district in the country and there are social issues related to poverty and lack of insurance,” Green said. “We felt that having this program would provide us with assistance in some of the issues.”

Around 18 to 20 percent of P.S. 140’s 640 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students live in homeless shelters; a few more live in foster care homes or transitional housing, said Greene.  As he spoke, a school administrator, Tuesday Brown, brought in a five-year-old boy who was extremely agitated. Greene reassured the child, and returned him to Brown after five minutes, saying he was a cancer survivor, who suffers from hyperactivity.

“Realistically, some students have underlying issues,” said Greene. “To get them ready for high school, college and future careers we have to work hard and build their self esteem and that is where Children’s Health Fund comes into play.”

Health and Ready to Learn is funded by international organizations like H&M Conscious Foundation, Jaguar Land Rover and individual donors. Both corporations have committed to providing the funds that are required for the screenings, trainings and equipment. P.S. 140 is currently working without corporate funding but Children’s Health Fund is in the process of identifying donors. Along with funding partners, it is collaborating with various organizations and experts who are providing valuable data and research.

Children chat with each other as they walk out of school on a Thursday afternoon. (SWATI GUPTA / Bronx Ink)

Children chat with each other as they walk out of school on a Thursday afternoon. (SWATI GUPTA / Bronx Ink)

The Children’s Health Fund was co-founded 27 years ago by singer/songwriter Paul Simon and Columbia University’s Dr. Irwin Redlener. The organization set up two dozen national network programs and 50 mobile units that bring medical care to children in poor neighborhood. One of the oldest national networks is located in the South Bronx in partnership Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The South Bronx Health Center located at 871 Prospect Ave, provides a medical home for underserved children and families.

Healthy and Reading to Learn was launched in response to the need to do more to reach out to more children who need care. Hospitals and mobile vans proved to be insufficient. Organizers believed that going directly into public schools was the next logical step.

School officials at P.S. 140 hope the program will help improve attendance rates, which were 89 percent last year. The goal is to reach 93.5 percent, said McWilliams. “When it comes to education, I’ll try anything,” said Ligia Perez, a second grade teacher at P.S. 140. “And if this program can help then I am on board.”

“If something is going to work,” said Greene, “it can be only through communication between the teachers, parents and the community.”

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Curry comes to Morrisania

Hungry Bird on East 164th Street, the newest restaurant to open in Morrisania, introduces Indian cuisine to the neighborhood for the first time. (SWATI GUPTA / The Bronx Ink)

A steady stream of customers wandered into Morrisania’s Hungry Bird one September evening, drawn inside the brand new restaurant accompanied by the unusual aroma of curried chicken. Indian cuisine was practically unknown on East 164th Street and Morris Avenue until local entrepreneur, Azizur Rahman, decided to open the quaint eatery three weeks earlier.

Wooden spoons hung on the painted walls behind him as the 47-year-old owner, originally from New Delhi, India greeted his customers.

Rahman’s life-long dream had been to introduce Morrisania to his native cooking. In addition to traditional Indian dishes, he plans to include Dominican and American menu items to ease the transition. “One step in, and people can get whatever they want,” said Rahman.

Local residents know Rahman as the manager of Dunkin’ Donuts four blocks away on 161st Street, where he has been working for the last 15 years. His plans to set up his own business finally took shape two years ago when his family in India was able to provide $100,000 in start-up capital. His younger sister Sabrina Khan and her husband Mahatab Hussein help out with the cash register and overseeing the kitchen.

The Hungry bird stands out among the very few restaurants that are scattered around a neighborhood mostly populated with grocery stores and 99 cent stores.

Small businesses have been opening up slowly in Morrisania in the past few years. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, the number of restaurants has nearly doubled in the South Bronx between 2010 and 2011.

Michael Nixon, a business development officer at the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation said that his office received around 10 to 15 requests for new business loans every month. Most of those businesses like Rahman’s, he said, are financed by a close network of friends and families,.

Rahman, who immigrated to New York 16 years ago, still works at Dunkin’ Donuts, putting in 18-hour days working two jobs, and commuting back and forth from Brooklyn where he lives with his wife and two teenage children. His normal workday begins at 6 a.m. at Dunkin’ Donuts, and ends at 11 p.m. after he closes Hungry Bird. It’s a schedule he believes will pay off eventually. Early customer counts have already exceeded his early projections. He planned for 40 food orders a day and is currently seeing 70.

One customer agreed to talk only after he wiped his plate clean of the chicken and rice. As he paid his check, Sylla Boubacar said he was going to keep coming. “It is just the beginning,” said Boubacar, a long-time Morrisania resident.

Rahman has depended mostly on discount offers, incentives for referrals and word of mouth to encourage local residents to come through the door. Besides his family members, Rahman hired two local residents to distribute menus to passersby and do deliveries. One man, 43-year old Jeff Hargrove, is studying to become a food inspector eventually.

Rahman believes that one of the reasons his opening weeks have gone so well is the generosity from the people in the neighborhood. “People have been forthcoming whenever I have asked for help,” he said.

When asked why he chose the name “Hungry Bird”, he paused and said, “A bird has no job besides finding food. So, when humans get hungry, their characteristic changes to mimic a bird.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, FoodComments (0)

Cuevas Family Faces Robbery Suspects In Court

The Bronx District Attorney charged three robbery suspects with homicide in the death of bodega worker Reynaldo Cuevas, shot by police as he tried to flee the robbers. SADEF A. KULLY/Bronxink)

The family of the bodega worker shot and killed by a police officer two weeks ago reacted with strong emotions yesterday as they faced in court the three suspects accused of robbing the Morrisania grocery.

Police claim the officer shot 20-year-old Reynaldo Cuevas by accident when Cuevas ran out Natalie Deli and Grocery on the street in the Bronx and collided with Officer Ramysh Bangali.

All three suspects–Orlando Ramos, 31, Ernesto Delgado, 28, and Christopher Dorsey, 17–have been charged not only with robbery but with the murder of Cuevas. All three suspects have pleaded not guilty.

After the first, and the youngest, suspect appeared in court, the Cuevas family left the courtroom and burst into tears, holding each other and crying as Assistant District Attorney Theresa Gottlieb tried to explain the case to them.

One family member was so hysterical that she needed medical attention explained a court officer in the court hallway.

The Assistant District Attorney had no comments on the case and family members did not speak to the press.

The case has stirred some already heated emotions in the community against the New York City Police Department. 

The Cuevas family did not stay behind for Ramos and Delgado’s court appearances. Delgado smiled and winked at his family members who sat in the back of the courtroom.

The suspects were assigned Judge Miriam Best to oversee the trial, and their next court date was scheduled for Oct 26.

 

 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Morrisania, MorrisaniaComments (0)

Goodbye to St. Augustine’s

Up in the attic of St. Augustine’s Church in Morrisania, Danny Torres, 46, looked through papers and files scattered across the floor. Torres, a fine arts teacher at Cardinal Hayes High School and Morrisania native, now lives in Queens, but often visits his mother who still resides a few blocks away in the house were he grew up. “This was the mother church of the South Bronx and this here is history going out the window,” he said, as he picked up a torn marriage certificate from the floor. Among papers that will soon be garbage, Torres rescued the original blueprints of the church, which he plans to frame.

The century-old church is a landmark on Franklin Avenue. The façade of the building is beautiful and inviting, but on the inside, the roof  is falling and the walls are crumbling. After years of attempts to save the church, long time parishioners are saying their final goodbyes. The building is scheduled for demolition this month.

During Mass on Aug. 19, the Rev. Thomas Fenlon invited parishioners who now attend services a mile west at Our Lady of Victory to go into St. Augustine’s for the last time and take any remaining items to sell or to keep.

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Among those who accepted that invitation was Brother Giles Naedler. “For me it’s been more like a wake,” he said. “And then when it’s gone it will be the funeral.” Naedler, 63, is the director of religious education at the parish and has worked with St. Augustine’s since he first arrived in the South Bronx in 1976.

“We at St. Augustine’s are troopers,” said Denise Wong, 58, as she decorated the aisle of Our Lady of Victory with white plastic bows for an afternoon wedding. Wong is strongly attached to the church where she was baptized and got married; she describes the St. Augustine’s congregation as an anchor for the community and hopes that it will be just as strong in Our Lady of Victory.

Mass has not been held inside St. Augustine’s since 2009 when pieces of the ceiling began to fall, and it was no longer safe to use the premises. Fenlon, 78, who is the head of St. Augustine’s and Our Lady of Victory, has accepted the loss of the church and says that it is time to move on. “It’s just not worth keeping, the repairs would cost close to $6 million,” he said. The land’s estimated value is set between $3.2 and $4.6 million. According to Fenlon, the demolition will cost about  $3 million.

Marva Crocker, 73, a retired schoolteacher who has been attending mass at St. Augustine’s for over 40 years, says that even though she and her fellow parishioners have been working to keep the church open for some time, the final decision to tear down the building came as a shock. “It was a low blow,” she said. “We had no idea it was really going to come to this.”

Leaving St. Augustine’s has been hard on some of the longtime attendees. Crocker explains that getting used to a new church, with different traditions and different people, has taken time. But, she said, church is about community.  “And as our father always says, ‘The building is not the church; we are the church.’”

 

Correction: A previous version of the story implied Danny Torres taught high school in Queens. Torres lives in Queens but teaches at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx. 

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Culture, Rituals, Slideshows, Southern BronxComments (1)

Bodega Robbery Suspects Charged with Murder in Cuevas Shooting

Christopher Dorsey’s aunt said her 17-year-old nephew was pressured by the older suspects in the robbery and ultimate death of a bodega worker in the Bronx.  (SADEF A. KULLY/ Bronx Ink)

Three Bronx men arrested for robbing the bodega where worker Reynaldo Cuevas ended up shot and killed by a police officer were arraigned Friday in Bronx Criminal Court on charges of both armed robbery and murder.

Defendants Ernesto Delgado, 28, Orlando Ramos, 31, and Christopher Dorsey, 17, appeared before Judge Villages yesterday.  Family members of the suspects argued outside the courtroom that the murder charge was not fair.

“Honestly, I feel like he shouldn’t be charged – he was committing a crime but he didn’t shoot him,” said Antonio Rodriquez, 21, brother of Orlando Ramos, about the death of Cuevas. “I think this is a way for the state to clean their hands – that cop shot him.”

The Bronx District Attorney’s office has no comment on the case.

Police said an officer accidentally shot Reynaldo Cuevas, after the 20-year-0ld Morrisania bodega worker stumbled out of the armed robbery scene on September 7.  Cuevas’s family members dispute the claim that the officer’s gun discharged accidentally and have called for an investigation.

The youngest of those charged in the incident, Christopher Dorsey, 17, looked anxious and emotional in court.

“He was the first one that came out,” said his grandmother, Anna Cabrera. “He surrendered. He was so scared that day. He is not doing well inside.”

“He is actually a good kid, he gets good grades, and he was definitely peer pressured into this. He has never held a gun.”

Dorsey’s aunt. Jadeira Cruz, 39, said that her nephew had been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed.

“I think the older men took advantage of his mental status,” said Cruz. “He has the mind of a 13-year old.”

Dorsey’s lawyer. Cesar Gonzalez said that it was his first appearance in court with the defendant and that he would have to review all the material before making an official statement on the case.

Maria Tobia, lawyer for Orlando Ramos, did not give any comments on the case.

All three defendants are scheduled to be back on court on Sept 20th.

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PHOTOS: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

9 September, 2012- Bronx - Reverend Que English (left) holds prayer for Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle on Friday morning. (The Bronx Ink/Jika González)

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Further reading: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

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Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

Clergy works to calm activists as anti-NYPD feelings rage

Rain began falling Saturday night just as Rev. Ruben Austria led a passionate prayer for justice and healing in the aftermath of a botched robbery that left a 20-year-old bodega worker dead from police gunfire.

Huddled in a tight circle at 169th Street and Franklin Avenue, roughly 50 mourners — family members, friends and community activists — turned out Saturday night in honor of Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle early Friday morning.

“We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage. That it doesn’t cause us to consume ourselves and tear one each other down,” Austria told the group, with he and fellow clergy starting a chorus of “Hallelujah.”

Rally participants gathered around a makeshift memorial draped with flowers, rosaries and hand-scribbled notes across from Aneurys Daily Grocery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Cuevas worked six nights a week at the store, often staying for 16-hour shifts.

Community activists joined cousins of Reynaldo Cuevas in a prayer vigil Saturday night. “We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage,” Rev. Ruben Austria said. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

The memorial included a few dollar bills, some cigarette butts and a lottery ticket — the type of loot the armed robbers tried to make off with in a backpack before police arrived.

Around 1:50 a.m. Friday, Cuevas, in an “understandable panic to get away from the gunman as fast as possible,” ran outside the bodega to escape the masked robbers and collided with a police officer, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and the officer accidentally fired his weapon, striking Cuevas in his left shoulder. He died at St. Barnabas Hospital.

“I want to extend my condolences to the Cuevas family for their loss,” Kelly said in a statement Friday. Kelly emphasized the events had transpired in “split seconds.”

Some came to the Saturday night rally simply to mourn the loss of Cuevas, described by relatives as a kind-hearted young man who’d been saving to send money to his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“He was hard-working and humorous and caring,” said Ashley Rodriguez, 14, a cousin of Cuevas. She said she last saw Cuevas two days before his death, when he helped her get through some issues she was facing with high school. Cuevas was a good listener, she said, and he urged her to stay focused on her studies.

Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, worked nights at the bodega, saving money for his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“How many parents got to bury their kids? When is this really going to stop?” said Juanita Young, an activist with Families of Stolen Lives and Parents Against Police Brutality. “I am so angry at what just happened here — that young man just trying to make a life for him and his family … When is enough enough?”

The candlelit vigil, announced via a cardboard sign at the memorial site and on a Facebook page for Cuevas created Saturday, also drew activists from the New York Civil Liberties Union and Stop “Stop and Frisk” Freedom Fighters, who oppose the NYPD’s controversial tactic of searching people on the streets over concerns police disproportionately target people of color.

“People are out here not just for this incident, but because I think what everybody feels and knows and understands is there’s been years of police harassing and targeting young black and Latino men,” Austria said.

Ashley Rodriguez said she’s not sure her cousin’s death represents a bigger problem; she just wants to see an investigation into the officer who shot him. For now, she wants that officer suspended.

“It’s uplifting to know that even people that didn’t know him are supporting us because they know this wasn’t right,” said Mary Rodriguez, 24, another cousin of Cuevas who was wearing an anti-“Stop and Frisk” button.

A downpour dispersed the crowd on Saturday, with some activists announcing plans to reschedule a march for Wednesday, and to attend a funeral for Cuevas on Monday.

Saturday’s event was the second emotional vigil honoring Cuevas this weekend. On Friday night, after the news vans and most reporters had left, the crowd erupted into angry shouting at the police, who stood quietly across the street. Austria was there, too, working to calm the small crowd for several hours and prevent the scene from escalating into a violent confrontation with the officers.

“The police have to be held accountable when they use excessive force, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. The community’s got to hold each other accountable because the violence between us is unacceptable just as well,” Austria said. “Nobody gets a pass for doing wrong.”

Staff writers Sadef Kully, Adam Perez and Jan Hendrik Hinzel contributed to this report.

The makeshift memorial included a few dollars, cigarette butts and used lottery tickets–booty found on the suspects after their arrest, said police. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

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Evacuation expert fights to rescue Morrisania

Two days before Hurricane Irene slammed into New York City, evacuation expert Maria Forbes was told by city’s emergency coordinators to prepare for a possible disaster.

The next day, the Bronx mother of three raced around her neighborhood of Morrisania in the Bronx recruiting last-minute volunteers and making sure the emergency shelter at Toscanini Junior High School on Teller Street was stocked with nonperishable foods, flashlights, and batteries.

It was the emergency work that Forbes, 48, trained herself for after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans. But evacuation training is only part of Forbes’ long list of volunteer duties. She’s a natural rescuer. She’s been sticking her neck out to rescue others since she was a young child, even when she was in need of help herself.

In 2002, a power outage left an entire block near 169th Street in Morrisania, where Forbes lives, without lights. The community’s lack of preparedness during the blackout became a catalyst for her to seek solutions. “I became real, real hungry and real, real thirsty to find something that could address the need for emergency disaster,” said Forbes, jumping from phone call to phone call days after Irene pummeled the East Coast. Her black curls bounced as she hollered to a reluctant vendor over the phone from her tenant organizer office on 168th Street.

But initial attempts to set up a disaster response team were met with refusal from the city’s emergency management office. Forbes kept calling various organizations to ask for grants. “I called back the Office of Emergency Management again and said, ‘I really want to have this program’,” Forbes recalled. “They said no.” Eventually, the intrepid organizer won an initial $500 community grant from Citizens Committee for New York City, a non-profit organization that supports grassroots initiatives. The grant helped her assemble the first batch of 40 volunteers for the 11 weeks of training required for certification.

In the course, Forbes learned how to jump start a generator, bandage wounds, and find “go bags” with clothes, flashlights, and medicine. She learned about hygiene and mental health issues. She finally earned her certificate to become Bronx Chief for the Community Emergency Response Team in 2006.

Forbes was born on Oct. 29, 1962 in Manhattan. Her father, William Smith, had immigrated to New York from Belize 15 years earlier and worked as a merchant seaman. Her mother, Velma Thomas, was a great-granddaughter of slaves from North Carolina. The family moved to Highbridge in the Bronx before Maria was born, and she has always called the Bronx her home. She is the youngest of seven.

Forbes’ older sister, Eileen Avery, who owns a medical billing business in Queens, sees a lot of their mother in Forbes. Their mother, Thomas, was a mental health therapist and foster mother to 28 children while she organized a play street along Plimpton and 172nd Avenues, planned block parties, and managed a private housing development. Following in her mother’s footsteps, the ever-busy Forbes has done it all except she is not a foster mother.

“I’m really proud of her, she took what our mother left and ran with it,” said Avery. “She’s overcome difficult obstacles to be where she is today and she is always helping people in the community and fighting for their entitlement.”

Forbes’s schedule leaves little room for family outings. But the sisters spend Thanksgiving together every year with few visits in between. “Every time I visit, I sit her down, tell her no phone, and close the door,” said Every.

Forbes acknowledges her demanding schedule. But she’s always considered helping others — a life mission even at a young age when her life was precarious. At 13, in 1976, she gave birth to her first son, Lenny Jones, and still had the wherewithal to speak at a mayoral event about resource entitlement and the plight of young mothers. Later, Mayor Abe Beame’s aide wrote to her saying, “It was beautiful to see the poise with which you addressed the audience. We hope you will stay in touch to let us know of your future triumphs.”

The road to future triumphs was strewn with roadblocks. Forbes dropped out of 10th grade, because there was no support for mothers at the overcrowded Walton High School. She then took a paid internship at the city’s medical examiner’s office where she identified dead bodies. In 1981, after a traumatic encounter with the body of someone she knew, Forbes left her job and started going full-time to Westside High School in Manhattan. The school took her on college tours and gave her instruction on career options. Forbes, who by then was battling addiction to cocaine, couldn’t pass the GED test required to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. She beat addiction to cocaine in 1988 with the help of a support group called Narcotics Anonymous.

By 22, she was a single mother of three.

Her election as the president of Clay Avenue Tenants Association in 1990 brought some tranquility to her life until she lost her mother in 1995. Forbes’ mother was the caretaker of her kids.

The responsibility of tending to the children’s needs fell solely on Forbes’s shoulders. In 1990, her unsteady marriage to Timothy Forbes, father of two of her sons, fell apart six months after the wedding. Then her apartment caught fire and she lost almost all of her belongings. She kept cool and took a job first as a methadone addiction counselor at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and later as intervention specialist at the Police Athletic League.

The struggles Forbes has had to overcome inform her advocacy. She now devotes much of her time to the emergency preparedness program. At her corner office, pamphlets and flyers about the program lie everywhere. Emergency tool kits, cleaning supplies, and boxes take up most of the space. Two generators can boost power up in case of a blackout. Once a year, she organizes an emergency disaster day event that brings various community service agencies to the neighborhood where residents sign up for programs and services.

On a recent Wednesday, as she walked down to her office, children and neighbors stopped to greet her. “Maria has been a passionate and strong advocate for this community,” said Laura Brown, a long-time tenant at one of the buildings that Forbes manages. “I can’t speak for everyone but most people here love her.”

Hurricane Irene was not as damaging as predicted but Forbes believes you can never over prepare. Since becoming chief of her community emergency response team, she’s seen two blackouts.

“It pays to be prepared,” she said. And that’s what she’s been teaching her tenants and neighbors – how to prepare for an unforeseen disaster.

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