Bronx Community Solutions

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Bronx Community Solutions Hosts Appreciation Breakfast for Our Partners

by Shlomit Levy, Clinical Coordinator

On Friday May 20, 2016, Bronx Community Solutions hosted an appreciation breakfast to personally thank those agencies who have partnered with us over the years.  Our partners range from employment training, substance abuse treatment, Department of Veteran’s Affairs, health education services, Planned Parenthood, CASAC training institute, Community Service sites, and various other agencies.  Our preferred partners assist in providing group facilitation to our menu of social service groups, provide outpatient treatment and support services, and refer interns who are seeking learning opportunities.  The providers had the opportunity to hear from all of Bronx Community Solutions’ program coordinators as well as network and learn about each other’s roles at BCS.  Awards were presented to three providers that have served the clients of BCS for over 10 years: Arms Acres, Vertex and World Vision.  One provider stated “I never realized how many clients Bronx Community Solutions served and how many programs you have”.  
For more pictures of the event, check out the slide show above.   

Arms Acres drug treatment program received a certificate as one of BCS's longest partnerships

Monday, May 16, 2016

Talking Bail Reform at the Schomburg Center

by John Megaw, Director of Special Initiatives

The Vera Institute of Justice and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice hosted a forum on bail reform last week at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The forum, titled “Resetting Bail: the Price of Justice in New York City”, took a hard look at the current bail system – how it works, strategies for improving to make it more fair and effective and the pioneering practices already in place to inspire enduring change.

Speakers included Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Miriam Popper, Program Director of Alternatives to Detention and Incarceration at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Nicholas Turner, President and Director of the Vera and Honorable George Grasso, the Supervising Judge of the New York City Criminal Court Arraignments.

One of the pioneering practices highlighted is the new Supervised Release program that began on March 1 in Criminal Courts in all five boroughs.  Over 500 men and women who might otherwise be languishing on Rikers Island awaiting trial have already begun in the program in less than three months!  A video highlighting some of the success stories from the program, including a Bronx Community Solutions client, was well received by the 250 criminal justice reformers and community members who attended the forum.
 


 

National Reentry Week


by Ramon Semorile, Intake Specialist

April 24-30 was National Reentry Week--a week focused on bringing awareness to the needs of individuals returning home from prison.  On April 28th, Reentry Anonymous, a support group for returning citizens, was invited to participate in a forum called, "I'm Home, What's Next?" for inmates who were nearing the end of their sentences.  I represented Reentry Anonymous on the panel and answered inmates' questions.  Common questions were how to avoid negative people, places and influences and how to cope with the anxiety of supervised release, career and confronting old habits. 

Most of what I witnessed was the inmates' courage--the courage to change their lives.  I saw this in how they nodded their heads in approval and hearing what they believed or were attempting to achieve as returning citizens. 

The two other panel members were returning citizens and became inmates again but they recognized their mistakes.  They told the other inmates what errors they have committed, recognizing they needed another approach to keep themselves out of jail.  It was a great event  and I can't wait to go back for another opportunity to speak.  It is just as important to give returning citizens the opportunity to become productive members of society as it is to close prisons and jails. 
 



Friday, March 18, 2016

NYPD hosts BCS at Annual Community Partners Appreciation

by Moises Reyes, Community Service Coordinator and Jennifer Petersen, Deputy Project Director

On Monday night, BCS was escorted by 44th precinct Detective Carmen Tejada to the NYPD Community Partner Appreciation Day.  The event focused on thanking organizations like BCS for building and improving the relationship between police officers and the community through the NYPD's Community Partner Program.  The program assigns new Police Academy graduates to work with a group of local community partners who orient the officers to their assigned neighborhood--local leaders and the policing issues of greatest concern to residents and businesses.  Officers must introduce and get to know constituents of all ages and backgrounds in their patrol area, building trust and a sense of safety among residents.  

Since 2005, Bronx Community Solutions has maintained a positive relationship with the 44th precinct through the precinct's Community Affairs department, led by then-Officer (now Detective) Carmen Tejada.  Joint projects have included BCS clients assisting the precinct in graffiti cleanup, trash removal and event setup.  


Captain Brienza, 44 Precinct; Dr. Cary Goodman, 161st St. Business Improvement District;  Marie Forbes, NYC Housing Authority, Detective Carmen Tejada, 44 Precinct, Elyse Allbee, Daughters of Jacob Nursing Home; Jennifer Petersen, Bronx Community Solutions; Moises Reyes, Bronx Community Solutions; Cory Shaw, West Bronx Recreational Center; Officer Santos Collazo and Officer Brian Ortiz, 44 Precinct


Along with remarks from Commissioner William Bratton, we heard from an NYPD recruiter about their efforts to make the city's police force more culturally and ethnically diverse. The event closed with the night's community partner honoree, Music With a Message. This talented group of young people is spreading positive messages through song and has even recruited musically-inclined local NYPD officers to join their band.  Though many issues still need to be addressed, it was encouraging to see the results of NYPD's recent efforts to outreach and address the concerns of their community. 



Bronx-Based "Music With A Message" performs at the NYPD Community Partner Appreciation




Monday, March 14, 2016

Supervised Release: Bail Alternative Program Proves Early Success for Clients and Community


BCS's Supervised Release team: John Megaw, Latoya White, Elizabeth Swan-Taylor, Tracee Paige, Rosa Aguirre, Anibal Cortes and Mabel Jerez (not pictured: Shaina Adjei and Doreen Gonzalez)
Mayor De Blasio's citywide focus on bail alternative programming has allowed Bronx Community Solutions to expand its court presence through a new initiative called Supervised Release.  Designed to reduce dependence on unnecessary jail time and monetary bail, Supervised Release allows lower-risk defendants to remain in their communities, jobs and families while awaiting trial.  In addition to their court-required check-ins, all defendants in the program receive a thorough needs-assessment from BCS social workers and are referred to needed services such as vocational programs, housing or substance abuse treatment.

Early Success
David* was mandated to BCS's supervised release program through a charge for criminal possession of a controlled substance.  During his initial intake, the 28-year old male revealed that he was unemployed and was expecting his first child.  With a baby on the way and no employment prospects, David wanted to focus on creating a resume and finding a job.  BCS Director of Special Initiatives, John Megaw, referred him to Employment Works, a longtime BCS partner who assists individuals with criminal histories in finding employment.  Though David was mandated under "level 1" supervision requiring once per month contact, he chose to meet with John weekly to receive additional support and work toward his goals.  David was also without medical insurance and was able to meet with a Blue Cross Blue Shield representative at BCS's office to enroll in Medicaid.  Within a month of his initial intake with Supervised Release, David proudly reported that he had created his first resume and started full time work at a retail store in his neighborhood with the help of Employment Works.

David is just one of the 90 clients already assigned to Supervised Release and an early indication that bail alternatives can be a win for both individuals and the public. 


*name has been changed

To learn more about the citywide rollout of Supervised Release, visit
http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/336-16/mayor-de-blasio-citywide-rollout-17-8-million-bail-alternative-program

Friday, February 05, 2016

Career Talk With Our Court Clerks

Senior Court Clerks Jackie Oates and Anthony Dorsey (middle) with our BCS interns
The following post was written by Bronx Community Solutions' Compliance Coordinator, Lovis Nelson-Williams.  Among the many hats she wears, Lovis organizes a quarterly "Career Talk", an opportunity for BCS interns to learn about the many career opportunities within our court system. 
 
“Upward mobility”, “job security” and “lifelong friendships”.  These are key words used by Senior Court Clerks Jackie Oates and Anthony Dorsey to describe working for the New York Unified Court System.  Ms. Oates and Mr. Dorsey were invited to speak with Bronx Community Solutions’ interns as part of a quarterly career talk hosted by BCS.  The two clerks provided an overview of how they came into their careers and insight into their role in the courts.  Oates and Dorsey have both previously worked in the private sector and were able to lay out many benefits to working in the public sector.  From amazing health benefits to unionized protections (that provided job security even during the economic downturn), both recommended that our interns seek out employment in the court system.  In addition, BCS interns learned about the promotional exams that allow for a tremendous amount of room to grow in the profession of court clerk (which includes financial as well as task-oriented growth).

We learned that court clerks are also considered peace officers, can perform arrests and are able to carry firearms.  Mr. Dorsey and Ms. Oates work together in the Bronx’s arraignment court, which handles everything from approving search warrants to general arraignment work (seeing defendants upon their first contact with a judge).  Court clerks are known as “New York’s Smartest” because of the comprehensive knowledge required of the role; clerks must be well-versed in civil, criminal and housing court procedures.

Ms. Oates and Mr. Dorsey, like many court employees, have years of experience working in the court system.  In this time they have forged lasting friendships and familial bonds.  They expressed an appreciation for a work environment that “doesn’t even feel like you’re going to work.”  As with any family, there will always be rough patches but the general consensus is that embarking on their careers in the courts has been one of the best decisions that they have ever made.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Community Service Crew Brings Relief after Winter Storm

The mornings of January 25-29 were cold yet prosperous days for Bronx Community Solutions' Community Service crew.  The staff assisted in removing the snow that paralyzed the Bronx during the first blizzard of the season, and one of New York City's largest in history.  The areas of focus included the 161st Street and Sheridan Avenue strip.  With six BCS clients in tow, crew supervisor Anthony Gonzalez and intern Parnell Farrow took the lead in clearing snow around fire hydrants, opening paths for the handicapped to navigate and providing sidewalk space for pedestrians to travel smoothly and safely to their destinations.   

Snow removal at community partner site, West Bronx Recreational 

 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Taking a page from Midtown Community Court's playbook.


Last wee, Bronx Community Solutions met with court and community stakeholders to discuss concerns regarding the policing of the trans community in the Bronx Fordham area. The meeting was organized by Judge Poust-Lopez, the Bronx HTI Court judge and was attended by representatives from Bronx Defenders, Legal Aid, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, Anti-Violence Project (AVP), Monroe College, Congressman Serrano’s office, NYPD’s 52nd Precinct, and Councilman Ritchie Torres’ office.
Judge Lopez convened these stakeholders as a way to address a particular ‘condition’ in the neighborhood a strategy she learned from her time at Midtown Community Court,  participating in monthly conditions meetings.
The meeting provided an opportunity for officers and community representatives to share concerns of safety issues in the neighborhood, while Legal Aid, Bronx Defenders, AVP and BCS discussed reports from clients of unfair targeting for prostitution arrests and experiences of transphobic behavior during arrests. The meeting laid a foundation for continued collaborative efforts from all parties to fairly address concerns from both sides. In the following meeting, we hope to include additional representatives from the Bronx LGBT community in order to plan street outreach and preventative measures to improve issues in the neighborhood as an alternative to relying solely on policing

A special thanks to Charlotte Webber, our dedicated Safety & Empowerment social worker for nudging the judge and making this meeting happen.

Friday, October 30, 2015

BCS Launches DAT-Y Initiative!

We’re going into our third week of the DAT-Y (Desk Appearance Ticket-Youth) Program here at BCS and we couldn’t be more excited about the success we’ve seen so far!  The DAT-Y Program, modeled after the successful programing at BJI (Brooklyn Justice Initiatives), is an early diversion initiative specifically designed for adolescents' ages 16 and 17 years old issued a desk appearance ticket for non-violent offenses. This program allows compliant participants to receive a same-day  dismissal and seal for successful completion of DAT-Y programming!

Cases will be screened to ensure the appropriate DAT-Y eligibility criteria which includes: current non-violent arrest (including marijuana possession, theft of services, petit larceny), cases not involving orders of protection, cases with no current open misdemeanors or felonies, and cases with no warrant history or prior conviction.

Elizabeth Swan, Willie Bernardez, Justin Briggs, and Omar Camacho have all been vital BCS additions to our ADP program when it comes to facilitating and ensuring the success of DAT-Y. Elizabeth and Willie have been tasked with screening each case to determine further eligibility, explaining the initiative and compliance criteria, and identifying additional special needs. All cases accepted into DAT-Y programming are then adjourned for a 4pm second call. In the interim, all participants join in on the 3-hour (plus lunch) session with BCS staff. The 1st session includes components of community mapping (led by Omar and myself) and the 2nd session focuses on cognitive behavior and motivation for youth using illegal substances (led by Justin and myself). Within our first two weeks, we’ve had 25 program graduates from the DAT-Y Program. We look forward to bringing the success that BJI initiated in Brooklyn to the Bronx, and beyond!


-          Serena Powery, Youth Justice Social Worker

Thursday, October 01, 2015

BCS Hosts CAB Meeting with Community Partners

What better way for Bronx Community Solutions (BCS) to connect with many of our major community partners at once than though the Community Advisory Board (CAB) meeting? Our last CAB meeting was held last Friday, September 25th and was led by Maria Almonte-Weston and Monica Garcia. Unlike many previous meetings, where we placed our focus on what issues have arisen in each community organization’s district, we concentrated on the goals of CAB and the next steps for Bronx Community Solutions. This meeting's agenda was to expand upon the priorities for action that the CAB agreed upon at our last meeting, in June 2015. Our agenda also included the opportunity for staff to share the recent accomplishments we have achieved as well as include members in formulating goals for the upcoming year. Some of these recent successes include the Community Service department completion of numerous projects to enhance the community such as the beautification/back-to-school event at Bryant Hill Garden in the Hunts Point area and doing beautification work and garden cleanup on River Avenue, the Yankee Stadium area at the request of the 161st BID. Aside from conducting community service and maintaining partnerships that we have had for years, we have also decided to strategically explore new employment and vocational training connections to match the current needs of BCS clients. The BCS staff strives to provide meaningful services to clients along with keeping neighboring organizations involved. These meetings help to not only keep our partners informed, but gives some well-deserved accolades to the hardworking staff who made these events happen. I enjoyed being a part of the meeting and hearing again from our partners what matters most to them in their communities, and what they need from BCS.

- Tiffany Barksdale, Office Manager

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

BCS Staff Receive Award from Community Partner Agency

Justin Briggs, with his award from Bronx Teens Connection
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a partner appreciation event with Bronx Teens Connection, along with BCS Project Director Maria Almonte-Weston. Bronx Teens Connection is one of nine national programs funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with the federal Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH) Office of Adolescent Health, as part of the President's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. Bronx Community solutions has had the pleasure of partnering with BTC over the past five years in order to better serve our youth with certain health services such as: sex education, contraception, and youth workshops. The program is based at the Bronx District Public Health Office and includes as its partners local schools, clinics, and community-based organizations and several City agencies. The event was located at The Bronx Museum of the Arts where we were provided breakfast and was greeted with kind smiles. Besides Bronx Community Solutions, there were a number of other organizations that attended. What stood out was that we were the only court involved program that was there. At the event Bronx Community Solutions was recognized for the work we have done by rewarding us with a very nice plaque that I accepted with much gratitude.

- Justin Briggs, Intake Specialist and Youth Justice Associate


Thursday, September 24, 2015

BCS Community Advisory Board Meeting Tomorrow

This Friday, September 25, Bronx Community Solutions will host a meeting of the BCS Community Advisory Board from 1-2:30pm.

Since BCS began, we have held regular meetings of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) as a way to keep in touch with criminal justice and community partners. Court players, partner agency representatives, and local community leaders are all on the roster of community advisory board members.

Our last meeting took place on June 26. The CAB members present collaborated and selected three main areas to prioritize: developing meaningful community service options/projects, exploring employment and vocational training partnerships, and strengthening our connections to youth-serving community centers. Since then, BCS has taken steps in these directions, and we will present an update to the CAB members.

If you are interested in joining our community advisory board, please contact us at BCSinfo@courtinnovation.org.

Friday, September 04, 2015

BCS Staff Picnic - Our Superheroes in Action!

Summer is soon ending! In late July BCS celebrated the warm weather with a staff picnic. The theme was "superheroes", to celebrate our superhero staff and the caring and diligent work they do every day. BCS staff came with their families for a day out in the park on the site of the old Yankee Stadium, for games and food. Enjoy the pictures, and enjoy your end of summer!






Thursday, August 27, 2015

BCS goes Back-to-School with the Bryant Hill Community Garden

On Friday August 21, Bronx Community Service Staff members along with nine BCS clients headed up to the Bryant Hill Community Garden in Hunts Point for a beautification and back-to-school event. We met with Lucia Hernandez, who has been the caretaker of the Garden for around ten years. BCS has partnered with this Garden in the past, even collaborating on a small grant to provide beautification work earlier this year. Ms. Hernandez shared a little history of the Garden with the participants, then continued on explaining the work for the day, which consisted of pruning, removing weeds, opening and re-building walking pads to facilitate navigation through the garden. While one of the groups was working, the other group prepared book bags with school supplies to distribute to the kids in the community. This was made possible by partnering with WorldVision and World Changers Church. As all this work was going on, BCS staffer Omar Camacho was grilling hot dogs and hamburgers provided by Senator Ruben Diaz. The beverages were provided by Natalie Carlo, Event Supervisor from Talking Rain Beverage Company. Pastor Reggie and his wife from Real Life Church participated by providing activities for the kids, such as a bouncy house, face painting and music.

It was an awesome event that demonstrated the best that community service can do - bringing together defendants with the community, doing positive work to make a public space better while collaborating with community leaders and partners. We were all really happy to be a part of this project.

Check out a slideshow of photos from the day here: BCS at the Bryant Hill Garden

- Moises Reyes
Coordinator of Community Service and Initiatives

Friday, August 07, 2015

BCS Helps with National Night Out


National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live. Bronx Community Solutions participated again by providing clients to come support with event clean-up. Crew supervisor Matthew Usher, UpNext Intern Anthony Johnson and BCS clients worked together with  officers of the 41st and 44th precincts. The clients weren't too enthusiastic when they were initially told our assignment for the day, but the officers made them feel welcome by interacting with them. We cleaned around the 44th precinct and help set up the day's festivities at the 41st precinct by assisting with the putting up of barriers to block the streets, and filling up coolers with ice for the beverages.
BCS Crew Supervisor Ramon Semorile brought our Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP) community service participants to assist the 40th precinct and the NYPD Youth Explorers by cleaning the premises, building tents and supporting other partners. All in all the day went well, the people in the community were happy to be part of this event, the officers were helpful and satisfied and the clients completed their mandate for the day!

Thank you,
- BCS Crew supervisors Matthew Usher, Ramon Semorile and UpNext Intern Anthony Johnson
  

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Day in the Life...Community Service from the Perspective of a Resource Coordinator

Jeffrey Seplowe, BCS Resource Coordinator, in the grey shirt
As a Resource Coordinator I am usually stationed in courtrooms, providing alternative sanction recommendations to judges that include but are not limited to community service, social service groups and longer-term programs that divert participants from otherwise serving out their sentences at Rikers Island. I was invited to come help out the crew, and learn first-hand what it's like for our clients to participate in community service.
The site, before we began our work
The corner of 151st Street and Cedar Avenue, Bronx
I was paired with one of the Community Service Supervisors, Ramon Semorile. As we approached the site with graffiti as well as garbage I began to get a better understanding as to what the crew supervisors go through on a daily basis. We took out the paint, put on gloves and started getting to work alongside the participants whom had been mandated to perform community service. Halfway through the day, two women from the neighborhood passed by and thanked the whole group for our service and smiled as they continued walking down the block. That community presence added to the experience and had showed the participants that participating really does make a difference in the community. We as a staff know that their participation also upholds one of the many goals of Bronx Community Solutions - to demonstrate restorative justice to the community and to the courts. This experience greatly helped improve my overall knowledge of our community service program. It also gave me direct insight as to what not only community service crew supervisors handle on a daily basis but also what our participants go through when mandated to community service. 

Participants and BCS staff working on repainting the wall
Update:
A few days later, I stood on a case in court on behalf of a client who was one of the participants in the community service crew that I joined the week before. Back in my role as resource coordinator, I reported to the judge on his completion of his community service mandate, which helped him avoid a criminal record. This made the experience even more impactful and allowed me to see the process come full circle. 

- Jeffrey Seplowe
Resource Coordinator, Bronx Community Solutions





The finished product!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BCS Helps Out Harmony Day

Hi everyone,

On July 21, BCS participated in the annual Harmony Day Picnic, a success event by NYPD at Van Cortland Park. The goal of Harmony Day is to provide a place for police officers and the community to come together to enjoy a warm day with food, drinks and a lot of games for all ages. This year, Bronx Community Solutions assisted by providing community service staff and clients who helped by building tents, cleaning the area and setting up barriers around the premises, working alongside participants from the NYPD Explorers program.

Enjoy the pictures!


- Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service and Initiatives








Wednesday, July 15, 2015

BCS Helps Prepare for a Mural on the 177th Street Bridge

Preparing for a mural to go up on the 177th Street Bridge
On June 18, 2015, BCS Community Service was invited to participate in the first stages of a graffiti removal/mural project by priming the East 177th Street Bridge, between the Bronx River Parkway off-ramp and Park Avenue in the Bronx. We were prepping for Saturday June 20th, at which time an organization called Publicolor would come and do what they do best, creating cultural designs. This one of many projects put together nicely by Emily Colasacco, the ‎Director of Urban Art/Summer Streets at the NYC Department ofTransportation. Some of the pictures reflect the enthusiastic of BCS staff and clients. All supplies were provided by The Department of Transportation.

BCS is looking forward to keep doing this type of work with Emily Colasacco and her team.

Enjoy the Pictures!

- Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service and Initiatives

Covering graffiti and prepping with the base color
Preparing for the work, paint at the ready

One side of the surface, prepped and ready
...And the other side of the bridge
Stage one of adding colors to the mural
The finished product!