At Project Renewal, honoring Black History Month Takes on Many Forms.
Most of the people that Project Renewal serves are engaged in putting the pieces back together and moving on to renewed lives. It can entail daily—sometimes even hour by hour— focus and struggle. Yet even so, staff and residents alike throughout our 16 sites and numerous programs are finding time and ways, this month, to honor, recognize, observe and celebrate black history.
In some cases, like at Renewal House, our transitional housing program for men recovering from substance abuse, observance is a grassroots thing, initiated by the residents themselves. “We noticed that a lot of our people were very interested in it this year,” reports Renewal House Assistant Director Monica Diaz. In response, she hung posters and biographies of notable African Americans from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X on the walls, and added black history as a running theme in the four group discussions staff and residents engage in each month.
Residents at our Third Street Men’s Shelter enjoyed the holiday celebrations so much that Assistant Shelter Director Aluta Khanyile’s continued a seasonal theme by highlighting Black History Month. “The response to all the activities and events we had over the holidays was so positive,” he explains, “that we thought, why not have another celebration, centered on Black History Month, this time?” Posting them in the common areas of the 200-bed facility, Aluta intends that even in passing the images of—and quotations from—notable Black Americans will raise staff and residents’ awareness, as well as open the door to further cultural exchange. “Next,” he declares, “we need to recognize and celebrate the Hispanic people’s heritage.”
The most elaborate observance of Black History at Project Renewal this year has is in our 200-bed Fort Washington Men’s Shelter for men diagnosed with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. Here, Recreation Therapist Joseph White has cooked up a month-long string of related activities and events, including special crossword puzzles, trivia matches, field trips and guest speakers, all centered on Black History Month and culminating in a grand, evening-long talent show featuring staff and resident actors, singers, and musicians, in performance. It is a tradition White has cultivated over the years.
Likewise, when the Geffner House Recreation Director Ellis Eisner was first hired eight years ago, she decided to invite a guest speaker to the 20-story, 307-unit building for formerly homeless men and women. “I grew up during the movement,” confides Ellis who upholds this tradition February. “I was eight years old when they assassinated Martin Luther King. So this is an important holiday to me.” This month’s activities include a group day trip to Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, a visit from poetess/therapist Barbara Bethea, better known to her fans as the “Afrikana Madonna,” and, new this year, construction of a black-themed Papier-mâché community “quilt” assembled from individual panels created by staff and residents.
In the depths of this winter’s brutal cold snap, a looming crisis: a homeless shelter in the Bronx is suddenly rendered uninhabitable due to broken water pipes. An emergency call from the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to Project Renewal’s new, state-of-the-art Bronx Boulevard Shelter provided the solution.
“It was in the evening. I was on my way home after my shift when my cell phone rang,” recalls Ana Charle, Director of Bronx Boulevard. The shelter wasn’t yet fully open so Ana quickly scrambled to make sure that there were enough staff, goods and services in place to make her unanticipated visitors as comfortable as possible.
“DHS told me 20 clients were coming, so I put in a call to Comfort Foods (Project Renewal’s catering company) to rush over 20 meals” says Ana. “Then they called me back and told me the number was closer to 90. I had to get right back on the line and order another 70 meals.”
Our staff pulled together that night, stepping outside their regular roles to help wherever needed - ensuring that the facility was clean and that sheets, blankets and toiletries were on hand. Although employees were called in to work unexpectedly, many volunteered to stay for 14 and 21 hour shifts to make certain that our guests’ needs were met!
Tania Santiago wasn’t focused on getting something this Valentine’s Day. What she wanted was for this February 14th to be about giving. Tania called up Project Renewal and asked what she could do. She was put in touch with our Medical Van Outreach Coordinator, Jennie Mejia, who made a few suggestions as to how she could help. Thanks to Tania’s initiative there were plenty of warm winter coats to go around, Renewal Kits with essential toiletries for patients on our medical vans, cookies, as well as a generous $200 donation—all collected from friends and family Tania had recruited to the cause!
(Source: The New York Times)
Our hats are off to Emily Brown, Elizabeth Fasanya, Shanira Griffith, Aluta Khanyile, Jackie Moore, Jana Pohorelsky, Mizraim Reyes, Rosalind Williams, and Brittany Zenner. These nine Project Renewal staffers volunteered to be DHS HOPE surveyors. So, on Monday, January 27TH, they were out in the frigid night, traveling some of this city’s meaner avenues, looking for anyone living on the streets.
As Emily Brown, who recruited our volunteers explains, DHS (NYC Department of Homeless Services) purposely chooses January to do the annual HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) count, so that they can identify chronically homeless individuals living unsheltered, who tend to tough it out during the colder nights rather than use the shelter system.
HOPE count data factors into how the city allocates resources. An undercount could result in an shortfall of services and/or facilities and supplies on hand. So we are proud of our PRI staffers who braved the chill themselves so that when vulnerable New Yorkers seek help in the future, they will not get left out in the cold.
One of them, Mizraim Reyes, of our Medical Department, went a step further when she encountered a man who hadn’t eaten in a while. “I offered to call the DHS Van for him,” she recalls, “but he didn’t want to go to a shelter and leave behind his two shopping carts full of his possessions, which the shelter can’t accommodate. So I asked him, ‘Well what do you want us to do for you?’ and he said ‘I’m hungry,’ so we went to a deli and got him something to eat.”
A huge thanks to you all, our Project Renewal Champions of HOPE!
Lawmakers did not include an extension of long-term unemployment benefits in the recent budget passed before breaking for the holidays, causing 1.3 million Americans, including more than 127,000 New Yorkers to be cut off. But the effects of this inaction trickle down to those who are most vulnerable.
Last week Labor Secretary Tom Perez told reporters that many of the unemployed who lost their benefits have gone from a “position of hardship” to one that is a “catastrophe.”
"They have been looking day in and day out for work," Perez said. "They are trying to feed their families. They are trying to stave off foreclosure. They are making judgments between food and medicine -judgments that no person in America or anywhere should have to make."
The 700 clients served annually by Project Renewal’s Next Step Employment Program arrive in need of a full spectrum of employment assistance — including education and skills training, job placement, and retention support in the comprehensive “one stop shop” setting we provide.
Many Next Step clients have lived in a state of crisis similar to the current situation described by Secretary Perez. They face additional hardships to attaining jobs and a steady income stream as many struggle with poor health caused by mental illness or addictions, and according to Project Renewal Deputy Director Stephanie Cowles the recent cut in unemployment benefits will only worsen their situation.
The recent loss of unemployment benefits will clearly affect our work at Next Step. Although very few Next Step clients receive unemployment benefits, we anticipate a large number of people whose unemployment benefits were discontinued will flood the job market causing strong competition for low level jobs and negatively impacting Next Step clients chances for obtaining these jobs.
Geffner House celebrated National Recovery Month with the Addiction Professional’s Day Community Celebration.
We had over 60 attendees both professionals, consumers and community members. Presenters included Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, MSOWS, Addictions Institute, HAI, Lantern Organization, Emerald Water and Huron Health Care.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for National Addiction Professionals Day on September 20 to recognize their important work in the field of recovery and treatment. Coinciding with National Recovery Month. NAADAC held its first Addiction Professionals’ Day on June 11, 1992 (originally called National Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors Day). It was established to commemorate the hard work that addiction services professionals do on a daily basis