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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I've been following President Obama's Supreme Court nomination process with great interest, and I've been paying close attention to one nominee in particular: Sonia Sotomayer grew up here, lived in the Bronxdale Houses and attended Cardinal Spellman High School. Some legal observers believe that her unique life experience will bring a valuable perspective to the Court. Furthermore, of Puerto Rican descent, she is the first Latina nominee to the highest court.

It has been very interesting to me personally to observe from a front row seat here in the Bronx the process of gradual transition and transformation in a court system once dominated almost entirely by white men, but which now has women and people of color in numerous positions of power ("Who's in Charge?" February 13, 2009). Sonia Sotomayer's nomination, announced today, is truly a milestone in the process.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Very interesting...

The High Cost of Poverty: Why the Poor Pay More. "Having Little Money Often Means No Car, No Washing Machine, No Checking Account And No Break From Fees and High Prices" Read the article in the Washington Post here. Thanks to Justin Briggs for finding this article.

Here's a related study: Neighborhood Financial Services: An Analysis of Supply and Demand in Two New York City Neighborhoods. From the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ayudando a nuestoros clientes que hablan español/ Reaching our Spanish-speaking clients

De Ramon Semorile:

Yo soy un supervisor de servicios comunitario para Bronx Community Solutions por mas de cuatro anos. En ese tiempo, yo e mantenido una clase de Orientación cada Marte para los clientes que hablan solamente español. En el grupo, nosotros hablamos de los crímenes que afectan la calidad de vida en nuestra comunidad. También le ofrecemos servicios de ayuda como ESL, o tratamiento de droga. Recientemente yo es notado alguna de las mimas caras viniendo otra ves al grupo. Alguno de los participantes me dicen que ellos ya saben lo que yo voy a presentar en el grupo porque ya lo han oído en la misma clase. Desafortunadamente, estos participantes no pueden ir a otro grupo porque todos los grupos son solamente en ingles.

A mi me dios una idea, quería expandir el grupo y incorporar nuevo tópicos en la clase. Creo que nuestro participantes pueden beneficiarse con mas información sobre asuntos de salud que afectan la comunidad del Bronx. Con la excelente contribución de Care For the Homeless (un gran programa que nos ayuda con clases de salud para nuestros participantes que hablan ingles). Yo pude lograr un currículo de salud en español. Con la ayuda de Benjamín Rinn, el representante de Care For the Homeless , nosotros introducimos la primera clase de salud en español la semana pasada. Catorce participantes atendieron el grupo, y tres individuos aceptaron gratis, un examen de SIDA confidencial después de la clase.

El educador de salud de Care for the Homeless, Benjamín Rinn, dice, “Fue un placer haber dado la clase de salud en español y yo creo que tuvimos mucho éxito. Los clientes participaron asiendo preguntas sobre el tópico. A pesar de que fue un grupo que se tomo mas tiempo de lo usual, indica que estuvieron interesado en las clase.”

From Ramon Semorile:

I have been a Bronx Community Solutions crew supervisor for more than four years. In that time I have begun facilitating an Orientation group every Tuesday for our Spanish speaking clients. In the group we discuss quality of life crimes and the impact it has on the community and we also offer everyone voluntary services (i.e. vocational training, ESL, drug treatment). I teach my class with joy and dedication, but lately I have noticed the same faces coming back through the group. Some of these participants tell me they already know what I'm going to say since they've heard it all before. Unfortunately, they cannot be scheduled to any of our other groups due to the language barrier.

Then I thought about expanding the Spanish-speaking class by incorporating new topics to the class. I thought that our Spanish-speaking clients would really benefit from more information about health issues that effect people in the Bronx. With the excellent contributions of Care For the Homeless (a great social service partner that facilitates a health education group each week for the rest of our clients) I was able to put together a health education class in Spanish. Benjamin Rinn, a health educator from Care For the Homeless, and I facilitated the first Spanish-speaking health group last week. Fourteen participants attended and three individuals accepted a free, confidential HIV rapid-result exam after the class.

The health educator from Care For the Homeless, Benjamin Rinn, said, "I had a great time doing the Health Education group in Spanish and I think it went very well. The clients were engaged and asked a lot of great questions. The fact that the group ran longer than scheduled tells me that they were entertained and interested."

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Greening the Ghetto"

In the New York Times today, this profile of Intervale Green on Intervale Avenue between Freeman Street and Louis Niñe Boulevard, "an infamous strip of South Bronx urban blight (it served as backdrop for some of the most gruesome scenes in the movie “Fort Apache, the Bronx”)," was yet another reminder that the Bronx is on the cutting edge of the green movement and the environmental justice movement: "A Green Building, for Those Without Much of the Green Stuff to Spare".

"The South Bronx was once known exclusively for its burned-down buildings, drug wars and piles of rubble. When historians look back at the current era in the borough, they’ll still see intractable crime and poverty, but they’ll also see, out of the nonprofit group Sustainable South Bronx, an early program to train unskilled workers in green careers, which may prove to be a model nationwide for stimulus-funded green job-training programs. They’ll also see Intervale Green, which Ms. Biberman says is currently the largest affordable green housing development in the country."

A little while ago, an article in the Boston Globe summarized a few different research projects that showed that proximity to green space and well designed parks can counteract some of the negative effects of urban life caused by crowding and overstimulation, thereby improving mental health, emotional self control, and cognitive functioning and ultimately reducing crime and improving resiliency and ability to cope with major life challenges: "How The City Hurts Your Brain".

"[S]cientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control.

"[Researchers] measured the two groups on a variety of tasks, from basic tests of attention to surveys that looked at how the women were handling major life challenges. [They] found that living in an apartment with a view of greenery led to significant improvements in every category."

"City life can also lead to loss of emotional control. [Researchers] found less domestic violence in the apartments with views of greenery. These data build on earlier work that demonstrated how aspects of the urban environment, such as crowding and unpredictable noise, can also lead to increased levels of aggression. A tired brain, run down by the stimuli of city life, is more likely to lose its temper."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Law Day 2009

This past Friday, Bronx Community Solutions hosted about 150 seventh graders from the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice for a Law Day event on choices and consequences related to drunk driving. The event started out with a presentation by Joe Mccormack (the bureau chief in the DA's vehicular crimes unit). Then the students participated in a "think before you drive" exercise with a theater group, which had the youth discuss scenarios like whether to get in a car with an older brother or friend, which they got really into. After the 7th graders finished their visit we hosted a similar program for about 200 high schoolers from three local schools and the public. In addition to the activities that we did with the seventh graders, Joe led a panel discussion with two police officers and a judge.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Educational Resources

Here in the Bronx, it's common to sight a pack of middle school students on a court tour. And, each year, Bronx Community Solutions organizes a larger public event, featuring educational activities and panel of various justice system players. This year, we partnered with Joe McCormick in the D.A.'s office to build our Law Day activities around the theme of drunk driving and risky driving, choices and consequences.

This year's Law Day has me thinking about educational resources for teaching young people about the courts and the justice system. Here are a few good ones that I've come across: Judges, Courts, and the Law, from the California court system (thanks to Lisa Lightman from the Courtbuilders listserv, who says that it is a resource every teacher should be aware of), Judge For Yourself, from the British National Probation Service (posted about here back on 04/23/2009), and the Center for Courts and Communities, at the Center for Court Innovation, which has a variety of resources online.