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Friday, December 28, 2012

Crown Heights Mediation Center Staffer Profiled in the New York Times

Rudy Suggs, who works for the Crown Heights Mediation Center
The New York Times' City Room blog recently profiled Rudy Suggs, who works as a violence interrupter at one of our sister projects at the Center for Court Innovation, the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. The Mediation Center aims at reducing gun violence in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, using a public health model of reducing shootings via community activism, rarely involving the police. One of their strategies is to employ "credible messengers" as the representatives of the program who go out into tense situations and speak with the people involved, encouraging them to avoid using guns to resolve their conflicts. It works because the credible messengers are community members who have had a history of gang involvement and/or engaging in street violence themselves, but now wish to give back to the community by reducing the use of guns.

Check out the article here:
A Onetime Drug Dealer, Now Working to Combat a Plague of Gun Violence

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

NY Times Piece - Life Without Parole

The New York Times recently published an interesting piece about mandatory life sentences that are imposed on non-violent offenders. They highlight four prison inmates and tell the circumstances of their arrest and sentencing. In each of these cases, the judge imposing the sentence felt that life without parole was not ethically warranted, however due to mandatory sentencing regulations they could not alter the outcome of the case.

Life Without Parole - Four Inmates' Stories

Regardless of one's position on the issue of mandatory judicial sentencing, examining individual cases can serve as a check and balance to the implementation of any policy.

Bronx Community Solutions deals with misdemeanor convictions, not felonies, to provide a combination of punishment and help. So although we do not handle cases such as the four examples in this article, our success with providing sentencing options to judges would not have been possible if there were mandatory sentencing regulations imposed on our cases. We aim to provide judges with these increased sentencing options so that the underlying issues in a person's life which may be contributing to their criminal behavior can be addressed within the criminal justice system.

Another New York Times piece on mandatory sentencing can be found here:

For Lesser Crimes, Rethinking Life Behind Bars

Monday, December 24, 2012

BCS Staff Holiday Party

The staff of Bronx Community Solutions gathered for our annual holiday party last Friday, December 21. We had a great time - kicking it off with a pot luck lunch followed by the giving of small gifts, and then we all went ice skating in the Bronx!

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and just holiday season.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

BCS Goes to the Circus!

As part of our holiday celebrations, Bronx Community Solutions staff went to the Big Apple Circus last night with tickets generously donated by the Fund for the City of New York. Some brought their family members too, which was great for kids of all ages. Good times were had! Check out some of the pictures below.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Operation Sandy

On Monday December 10th, at 7:00 am Bronx Community Solutions Community Service Department collaborated with our sister sites (Midtown Community Court, Red Hook Community Justice Center and Brownsville Community Justice Center), as well as a number of community service clients assigned by the Manhattan District Attorney's office, to conduct a major cleanup project at 100 Center Street aimed at helping rebuild the neighborhood after Hurricane Sandy. Fittingly, we called the project Operation Sandy. 
A total of 32 community service clients and eight supervisors (two representing each project and borough) joined together with one goal: to assist the Coney Island community, one of the neighborhoods most heavily affected by the catastrophic storm.
32 clients and 8 crew supervisors learning the plan for the day
The group was divided into two teams, one team working on Surf Avenue from W25th Street up to W37th Street. The second team covered Mermaid Avenue, beginning at the intersection of Mermaid Avenue and West 37th Street. The mission was to assist the Department of Sanitation, the Department of Transportation and the community by picking up trash, wood, sand and other litter displaced by the storm onto the streets and sidewalks.
 In speaking with community members, we witnessed sadness in some of their faces, but also a determination. Local business owners described the struggle they faced in recovering their businesses. The clients worked very hard. I believe they saw the need in the community and didn't hesitate or hold back in participating with this special clean up. I was personally very proud to see all of our sister programs coming together and doing an awesome job. Thank you all for participating in the project and for inviting us to be part of it.
- Ramon Semorile, BCS Community Service Crew Supervisor
- Moises Reyes, BCS Coordinator of Community Service
Crew Supervisors from the four participating CCI Projects

Friday, December 07, 2012

Meeting of the Bronx Re-Entry Working Group

The Bronx Reentry Working Group had a meeting on Thursday, November 29. We received an update about the newly formed Bronx  Reentry Task Force by Christopher McLaughlin, who is the Task Force's Coordinator. He reported that the Task Force will focus on the needs of those returning citizens who have been determined to be at a high risk of recidivism. The Task Force will provide its clients with targeted case management, programming and service referrals, while working closely with clients' parole officers. The Task Force recently received its first client and everyone is looking forward to getting started. 

Pamela Valera, co-chair of the Bronx Re-Entry Working Group and Task Force, and I spoke at the meeting about a change in the structure of the Working Group. The Task Force will provide a meeting/planning place for service providers, as the Working Group has done, and the Working Group will now act solely as a support group for reentering citizens. The Working Group meetings, which will increase to twice monthly, will provide a safe space to talk about feelings, concerns, share past experiences and build skills to improve social supports. 

We shared two ideas for the Task Force. One idea is to provide a five-week mental health class to returning citizens. The class will be organized by Nakul, a Columbia University student, and will be implemented as a pilot program in January 2013. The second idea is to structure the Working Group as a support group for returning citizens only, and will not be open to service providers. Gary Grand and I discussed our plan for this group, which includes creating steps to serve as goals as clients work on their careers, relationships, and healthy lifestyles. The group suggested utilizing the sponsorship model to help alleviate clients' stress, anxieties and negative emotions. 

The Working Group is going to have a planning meeting at Bronx Community solutions on December 17th, at 12:30pm. In its new structure as a support group, the Bronx Re-Entry Working Group will be officially launched in January 2013.

- Ramon Semorile, Community Service Crew Supervisor for Bronx Community Solutions

Friday, November 30, 2012

BCS Holiday Party!


TIME: 4:00 PM – TILL – 7:00 PM 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BCS Staff Participates in W.A.V.E. event

Maria Almonte-Weston, BCS Project Director
On Saturday November 24, 2012 I was present when Maria Almonte-Weston, Project Director of Bronx Community Solutions, and Sharon Ife Charles, Citywide Anti-violence Coordinator for the Center for Court Innovation, spoke at an inaugural event sponsored by W.A.V.E. (Women Against Violence Everywhere). 

W.A.V.E. is the brainchild of Cynthia Thompkins, J.D., and is an initiative created on the premise that communities that experience trauma must find ways to heal themselves, and furthermore women can be agents that facilitate that healing. 

Cynthia Thompkins, J.D., founder of W.A.V.E.
One of the goals of W.A.V.E. is to empower women with voices so that they may speak out against violence. This event brought together women from different walks of life. Some were survivors, mothers who lost children to violence, witnesses of violence and others have worked with women with a history of violence.  

State Senator Gustoff Rivera delivering the welcoming speech
State Senator Gustoff Rivera delivered the welcoming speech where he expressed his support of W.A.V.E and the work it aims to accomplish. Maria and Sharon each spoke about the broad spectrum of violence, the effect that it has on families and the important role women can play in the healing process. Cynthia Shields, a mother who lost her son to gun violence, shared her story of how this act of violence affected her and her family, as well as the continual healing process she goes through every day.
Sharon Ife Charles, Citywide Anti-Violence Coordinator, CCI
 After the speakers, two amazing artists performed spoken word and sang beautiful songs about strength, courage and wisdom of women. Not only did the participants have an opportunity to enjoy music and poetry but a professional photographer and his cosmetology staff were there to give the participants a make-over and take professional pictures.
W.A.V.E. participants in the customized photo shoot
This event represented strength and empowerment to the women who plan to participate and carry the torch of healing back to their Bronx homes and Communities.
-- T.K. Singleton, Coordinator of Community Initiatives

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BCS Staff Conduct Presentation at Council Roundtable

Yesterday evening, Coordinator of Community Operations T.K. Singleton and I conducted a presentation about Bronx Community Solutions at a community leader roundtable hosted by Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo of the 17th Judicial District. Long standing CCI staffer Ife Charles also presented on an emerging CCI project called Save Our Streets South Bronx, aimed at reducing the rates of shootings in Mott Haven using a public health model as a method of preventing gun violence, as the Crown Heights Mediation Center has been doing in Brooklyn for three years now. There were over 30 community leaders present from Community Boards 1, 2 and 3. Many of them have been a part of this roundtable group since its creation in 2005.

The community leaders expressed a good deal of interested in our programs. Questions were raised about what could be done to help young people involved in the criminal justice system, and we were pleased to be able to tell them about our Adolescent Diversion Project initiative, which targets 16- and 17-year-olds arrested for misdemeanor offenses and provides them with services and interventions. Council Member Arroyo spoke about the importance of community leaders and how individuals can enact change by providing the passion necessary to drive new ideas. It was an interesting event and we are grateful to have been invited to present!

You can read more about the Save Our Streets project in Crown Heights here: SOS Crown Heights

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Bronx Gets an Ice Skating Rink!

Here's some fun news -- the Bronx will be getting its own ice skating rink, thereby shedding its previously held distinction of being the only borough without one. The rink will open this Tuesday, November 27 in Van Cortlandt Park and will be open seven days a week through March 30.

Happy holidays from the BCS team!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Red Hook, After the Hurricane

The media has been dutifully covering the recovery efforts across New York City after Hurricane Sandy. One of the most affected neighborhoods was Red Hook, Brooklyn. Our sister project, the Red Hook Community Justice Center was hit particularly hard by the hurricane and has still not been able to re-open their building for operations. They are currently up and running out of a temporary space in the Brooklyn Criminal Courthouse.

Recovery efforts have been in full-swing, with Center for Court Innovation staff members as well as Justice Corps interns from all of our partner sites participating in helping the community as they begin to put the pieces back together. You can follow their efforts on the Red Hook Community Justice Center's blog, here.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Storm Interruption

Bronx Community Solutions was closed for a couple of days last week as the court system was shut down due to Hurricane Sandy. As an office we were relatively lucky to have power and systems mostly restored quite soon after the disruption, and we were able to resume servicing our clients last Wednesday. Please stay tuned as we continue to get back on track!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Big Changes...

There are some big changes happening at Bronx Community Solutions!  We have recently moved into a new office space in the Bronx Criminal Courthouse, to a room that has been transformed from a courtroom into a permanent office for all of our staff.  Seven years in the making, BCS now houses intake, clinic and administrative staff all in the same place.  There is a waiting area for clients and a small conference room for meetings and individual client sessions.  We are still making changes in layout and design.  Stay tuned for more information about a grand opening event that will take place in early December.  We are very excited to have the entire staff together, and to be able to serve our clients in a more efficient manner.  We look forward to sharing it with you!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

BCS and MCC Conduct Presentation for Court Staff

During National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we call to attention all of those affected by this crime, including both the victims and the survivors. We strive to promote awareness as well as education. 

Last week, representatives from Midtown Community Court and Bronx Community Solutions came together for a presentation illustrating the connections between survivors of domestic violence and girls/women involved in the life of prostitution. The presentation took place at the Bronx County Hall of Justice and was titled, "Hidden Victims: Understanding the Connection Between Prostitution and Domestic Violence." 

The event was sponsored by the Bronx Domestic Violence Court and the Bronx Integrated Domestic Violence Court. Ms. Terri Roman, Project Director of the Bronx Domestic Violence Complex reached out to our team in the interest that we could share our expertise and experience working with individuals arrested for prostitution.
One of the goals of the presentation included highlighting the similarities in the experiences of those involved in intimate partner violence and individuals engaged in the life of prostitution. The overlap is primarily demonstrated in the executed dynamics of power and control normally associated within the context of a DV (domestic violence) relationship.  

Topics of trauma and raising awareness to identify clients associated with pimps were also focal points of the presentation. We provided attendees with application tips to apply in their own position and field work of practice. Such tips were readily welcomed, as those in attendance will translate what they learned to assisting those involved in prostitution with more awareness and knowledge.

- Melissa Novock, S.T.A.R.S Case Manager

Friday, October 19, 2012

Success Story - Lana

The following is a recent success story about a STARS client at Bronx Community Solutions.

Lana* has been a BCS client since 2008.  Her criminal history involves several prostitution cases, with repeated failure to complete her court mandates. In February 2011 she became connected with Melissa, a BCS STARS program case manager. It was after this time that she began to make noticeable improvements in her willingness to engage with the program and avoid re-arrest. At the beginning of their work together, Lana reported feeling “lost,” a sentiment frequently expressed by girls and women involved in the life of working on the streets. 

At one point recently, particular improvement was made with Lana. She contacted Melissa in a moment of crisis, as she was experiencing despondency to the extent of contemplating taking her own life. Melissa remained in close contact with her and encouraged her to keep coming in for counseling sessions. It was after this challenging period that she and Lana experienced a break-through moment, after which Lana renewed her efforts to take control of her life and escape violence. She has since completed all of her court mandates and is working toward independent housing. She has taken a big step recently, enrolling in a GED/Job Training program through the organization FEGS. Lana told Melissa that she is finally feeling “worthy of a life that's free of violence."

The dedicated attention that Melissa was able to provide for Lana helped her get through a crisis and make changes in her life that are hopfully putting her on a safer and more stable path.

*Name has been changed

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Community Partner Spotlight: Officer Carmen Tejada

In continuing to highlight some of our community partnerships, Moises and I recently met with Officer Carmen Tejada. She provides police supervision at many of our youth community service projects but her role has gone beyond that. She has found ways to connect to our adolescent clients, encouraging them to make productive decisions in their lives. She has been a great asset to BCS, especially in our efforts to engage with our younger clients!
Officer Carmen Tejada, Bronx Community Affairs Officer
I first heard about BCS in a meeting with various partners and agencies in the Bronx.  The word “solutions” caught my ear. We heard that BCS is trying to help the community and forming partnerships with community organizations. It intrigued me and my partner, so we inquired about how we could help the program. 
Now I supervise and assist with community service projects with Moises. The crews need police supervision, to make sure things stay under control and everyone is safe. Especially with graffiti removal, there can be risks related to gang violence when you’re painting over tags. But more than just supervising, I try to talk to the participants and encourage them to turn their lives around. They’re doing their service, that’s good, but they also have a chance to make a change and do things differently. That’s what I think is so great about BCS. BCS not only runs community service, they also listen to the concerns of each person and tries to find solutions to their problems. It’s how I think it should be because there should be a way for people to make a change in their lives; it shouldn’t be ‘no way out’. These are people who have committed crimes, but at the end of the day they still go home to a community where they live.  And I think doing this kind of work, with the special attention BCS gives them, makes them think twice before committing another crime. BCS gives them positive feedback. They’re doing the service, sure, but they get so much more than that. And they take this positive influence back out to their community and who knows, maybe preventing future offenses by passing the message on to others. 
Since BCS has been around, I’ve noticed that the areas where they do work are cleaner and the quality of life is more presentable. And when the community hears about a project that BCS takes on to make the neighborhood cleaner, it sparks an idea and they start saying, “I want that in my neighborhood too!” And they start thinking about ways to make a positive change in their community.
I wanted things to be done differently, and BCS is doing that. You want to just wave a magic wand all over the Bronx, but you can’t. But the part they do, it helps. It makes it a little better.  They never give up trying to find solutions. BCS has a vision of a better Bronx. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Changes in Loitering-related Arrest Policy

The New York Times reported yesterday on a recent ruling that challenges the legality of loitering arrests in public housing projects. Judge Scheindlin of the Manhattan Federal District Court said in her decision that the current loitering rules are "unconstitutionally vague". A number of unlawful arrest lawsuits have now been allowed to go forward where previously they would have not been heard in court.

This decision comes on the heels of the Bronx District Attorney's recent decision to no longer prosecute individuals arrested for trespassing in public housing projects unless the arresting officer can be interviewed and will attest that the arrest was warranted.

Bronx Community Solutions will frequently see clients from court who have been brought in on trespassing charges. It will be interesting to see how policy changes affect these numbers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Community Partner Spotlight: Sidney Flores

Last week Moises and I met with Sidney Flores, a community activist in the Bronx with whom we work on numerous community service projects. Mr. Flores was kind enough to let us interview him about his work with Bronx Community Solutions, and post it here.  We are grateful to have partners like him!

Sidney Flores, Community Activist

I work at Bronx Lebanon hospital doing painting and other work, but my real title is Community Activist. I volunteer with quality of life, focusing on the areas covered by community boards 4 and 5, Yankee Stadium to Fordham Road. I drive around in my own vehicle, take notice quality of life issues and report them to 311 and the community boards. I notice instances of illegal dumping and bring them to the attention of sanitation. I also put up signs telling people that the area is being watched, and that illegal dumping or tagging is a crime. I think it’s really helped; some of those areas look a lot better.
I came to know Bronx Community Solutions through Moises, who was introduced to me through someone at the local precinct. He and I have a great relationship. I see places that are in need of being cleaned up and I call Moises. He then brings the crew and helps with graffiti and picking up garbage in the areas that I’ve identified. I’ll also show up and help out, I give the crew bottles of water and supplies when I’m able. 
I drive around as a lookout and check out the areas that we’ve painted or cleaned, to see how they’re doing. A lot of the areas look so much better. If they’ve gotten messed up again, I call Bronx Community Solutions and let them know. I’m their eyes out in the community!  Bronx Community Solutions always responds, and they’re able to get things done faster than anyone else out there.
I’m very happy Bronx Community Solutions is here. They make a big difference in the community. I notice the graffiti situation is much better. When I drive around and do the lookout after we’ve painted, I see that a lot of the areas we’ve worked on are still looking clean and that makes me happy.
I live near a tunnel on Selwyn Ave, and it was just a mess. There were rats and garbage everywhere, and prostitution and drug activity were constant problems. Bronx Community Solutions brought their crew along with some help from the local precinct, they put up a mural in the playground and cleaned the whole place up. Now, the area is just transformed. No one was representing the area the way it should have been, I’m so glad you guys came along.
I couldn’t do it without Bronx Community Solutions. I feel that if we all just got off our butts and did more work out there in the community, our neighborhoods could actually be beautiful.  You guys are making it happen, and I’m so glad you’re helping to make changes in my community.
* * *
The New York Times ran a great article about Sidney Flores last year, check it out here: Bronx Neighborhood Has Unofficial Mayor

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BCS Staff Conduct Prostitution Outreach

On August 24th, TK, Robin and I conducted a prostitution outreach shift in conjunction with the 47th precinct.  Accompanied by a helpful police lieutenant from the precinct, we were driven around in the middle of the night to areas known to be hotspots of prostitution activity, introducing ourselves to individuals engaged in prostitution and attempting to connect with them in a non-punitive context.  The shift was a success as we connected with seven individuals. 

One of our contacts is an existing client of Bronx Community Solutions.  She felt comforted in seeing a familiar face and she said it was "a sign" that we came across her that night.  That's one of the great things about outreach, we are able to maintain a place, a presence within the community.  Bronx Community Solutions is a known organization, and this consistency stands as a strong platform for dialogue and sharing of helpful information. 

When we connected with one particular woman, let's call her "Mary," we became in a sense connected to multiple individuals.  In meeting Mary we were able to share information about BCS, our services, programs, harm reduction techniques, and our contact information; in turn she offered to share all of this newly acquired knowledge with other women who are working. At the time we were out, those "other" women not there; and she detailed their involvement with pimps in that neighborhood.  Mary will pass along the newly learned BCS information to those women who we couldn't reach in person that night, and hopefully BCS can stand as a life-line for girls and women in immediate need.

Two of the women reached out to me in the days following our outreach, including the BCS client mentioned above.  Both are hoping to enter a drug treatment program in the near future. 

- Melissa Novock, BCS Case Manager

BCS Crew Helps Out at Recycling Event

Yesterday, Bronx Community Solutions partnered with our sister project the Midtown Community Court to assist Grow NYC for a Komen Race to support Cancer survivors. This event was held at Central Park. BCS and MCC were briefly trained on how to recycle so we could encourage others to do by showing them how to do it. A BCS community service crew was on hand to help run the training, teaching people how to recycle in New York City and welcoming them to the event.  
We were all very touched that so many people from different boroughs were there to support this cause. Matthew U. and myself want to thank supervisor Fernan Polanco and Steve Joyner from MCC. We did great work together.  

- Moises Reyes, BCS Crew Supervisor