Stories of Service
Here are some great examples of people and organizing serving within our communities:
- Marie Viljoen: Keeping Prospect Park's Woods Clean
- Vincent Mazzone: Dedication to Improving Carroll Gardens
- Sheila Hanks: Promoting a Sense of Neighborliness
- Sean Casey Animal Rescue: Mobilizing a community to care for abandoned animals
- The Friends of Greenwood Playground: Community caretakers
- Yad Ephraim: Hundreds of volunteers making meals, and a difference
- American Youth and Students of Bangladesh: Providing a Safe Space for Bangladeshi Kids
- The Safe Homes Project: Working to End Domestic Violence
- PS 124 Kindergarteners: Supporting One Another
- Maria Pagano: Preserving & Strengthening Carroll Gardens
Marie Viljoen, plant lover and garden designer of Cobble Hill, is the organizer behind the Prospect Park Litter Mob. Since May 2011, the Litter Mob has met every other Tuesday to pick up litter in the woodlands on the eastern side of Prospect Park, known as the Midwood. In addition to picking up litter, the group also works on forest restoration projects, including planting, clearing invasive species, reclaiming informal paths, and protecting old trees. Marie’s love of the woods and commitment to preserving this vulnerable ecosystem is the inspiration for taking on these challenging and often unsavory projects. Visit the Litter Mob blog for information about their next outing, or check out Marie’s blog, 66 Square Feet, to learn more about her work in the woods and in her personal garden.
Vincent Mazzone is a lifetime resident of Carroll Gardens and owns Mazzone True Value at 470 Court Street. Vincent is a true community activist who has been working for the betterment of the neighborhood for over 40 years. In the early 1980's, Vincent was concerned about the negative image that Carroll Gardens was receiving so he decided to get a group of local residents together to create a weekly newsletter. As a result of this new form of communication, several local groups such as The Committee to Improve Carroll Park formed, and began efforts to resolve the issues that the newsletter was highlighting. Vincent also served as the President for the Court Street Merchants Association, and he is now their Special Events Coordinator. Vincent has dedicated much effort over the past 40 years to ensure that Carroll Gardens is a constantly improving and positive neighborhood.
Sheila Hanks is a long term resident of 10th Street (between 6th and 7th Aves) who has long been the coordinator for civic engagement on her block. Not only does Sheila help coordinate annual block parties, and maintain a block wide email list where residents can buy, sell and give away things, she even organizes welcome dinners for new homeowners on the block! Sheila has also encouraged 10th Street's participation in the Greenest Block contest each year, and recently the block was awarded an Honorable Mention for taking part in the contest. Sheila clearly realizes the importance of living in a caring community and works to promote a sense of neighborliness amongst all 10th Street residents. Sheila is a fantastic example of someone who actively takes part to ensure that her neighborhood is friendly, safe and community-spirited.
Sean Casey has been caring for sick, injured and abandoned pets in Brooklyn ever since his childhood. Over time, his hobby of helping animals has turned into a full-fledged rescue organization. Today, the Sean Casey Animal Rescue has a storefront at 153 East 3rd Street, between Fort Hamilton Parkway and Caton Avenue in Kensington, where Sean, his staff, and volunteers help care for cats, dogs, birds, guinea pigs, snakes, and lizards. The Rescue is a non-profit, no-kill shelter with placement resources across the country. They also work within the community to provide education about rescued animals. While the Rescue began as one person’s vision, it has grown into a true community organization with dozens of members helping by caring for and walking animals, donating needed items, and organizing events. Right now, they are working to create a dog run in the Windsor Terrace or Kensington area -- for animals from the Rescue and the rest of the community.
The Friends of Greenwood Playground (FoGP) are the community caretakers for a vibrant New York City park at the intersection of the Prospect Expressway and the Fort Hamilton Parkway. Thanks to the work of FoGP, Greenwood Playground has becomethe “go to” place for families in Windsor Terrace and Kensington, with dozens of events that bring neighbors together in the park. This spring, they hosted a flea market with over 50 vendors and six musical acts. Just a few weeks ago, I joined them for the Harvest Hootenanny celebration of fall. In the summer, they sponsor reading, arts & crafts, and music events. And they're probably one of the only parks in the city to offer a DerbyFit class taught by a former Gotham Girls Roller Derby player! All this -- plus the work that they do to keep the park clean and safe for all visitors -- makes the volunteers of Friends of Greenwood Playground true park heroes.
If you would like to join in the work that they do, FoGP can be reached at greenwoodfriendsfunds [at] gmail [dot] com or (347) 497-3490.
Get involved with some great park associations in our district:
- Friends of Carroll Park
- Cobble Hill Park (tended by the Cobble Hill Association)
- Prospect Park Volunteer Corps
Boro Park’s Yad Ephraim is dedicated to bikur cholim -- "visiting the sick" in Hebrew -- by providing comfort and support to hospitalized or homebound people throughout Brooklyn. The organization was founded by Pesach Greenberg to provide high-quality kosher meals to patients at Maimonides Hospital. Before long, they were getting calls from people whose loved ones were patients in hospitals all around the city, or stuck at home. The organization quickly expanded and now, every day from noon till midnight, their volunteers visit the sick and their families, providing emotional support and bringing hot, delicious meals. What’s truly remarkable is the scale of the volunteer effort, which I’ve had the chance to take part in several times. Every Thursday night, and on many other nights before holidays, dozens and dozens of people show up at Yad Ephraim’s headquarters to pack hundreds of meals – including chicken, cholent, gefilte fish and rugelach. Additional volunteers then spread out across the city to bring these meals to the families who need them. If you would like to volunteer at Yad Ephraim please call (718) 431-0404 or help [at] yadephraim [dot] org.
Muhammad "Arif" Islam came to the United States from Bangladesh with his parents when he was 12 years old. When his father passed away a few months later, he turned to a local soccer league to keep himself busy. He has been playing soccer ever since. Last year, he noticed that kids from his neighborhood were hanging out on the soccer fields and watching the games. Arif approached the boys, who told him they didn’t have a team to play for -- or much of anything else to do after school -- Arif told them that if they came back with some of their friends, he would help them put together a team. By the time the handful of boys had expanded into a group of 27, Arif had founded American Youth and Students of Bangladesh. Arif and other volunteers began offering a safe space for the kids to hang out after school. Now, there are over 60 kids involved with the group and they are working on becoming a non-profit organization. Arif is working to expand the organization to offer tutoring and volunteer opportunities to Bangladeshi youth -- building on the time-honored tradition of using sports to help young people get and stay on track -- while also building bridges to the broader Kensington community. If you would like to find out how you can help American Youth and Students of Bangladesh expand their programming, email Aysab09 [at] aol [dot] com.
Every year, tens of thousands of New York City families face domestic violence, which too often goes unnoticed and unreported. The Safe Homes Project, part of Good Shepherd Services, is a 35 year old community-based organization that is tackling this problem by working to prevent domestic violence before it starts, and intervening to empower women who have been abused. Each month, the Safe Homes Project handles about 100 cases, providing confidential and free services such as emergency shelter, counseling, support groups, a toll-free hotline, and referrals to other care providers. Through the Safe Homes Project, survivors of domestic violence are able to find a new sense of empowerment while learning about their options. Every year, the Safe Homes Project also sponsors a vigil to call for action on the ongoing tragedy of domestic violence. They've built a partnership with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, and have had a real impact on policy. Volunteers are a big part of what makes the Safe Homes Project work, helping with childcare, finding referrals and resources, representing the organization at public events, and helping organize the annual vigil. If you would like to volunteer at the Safe Homes Project, please call (718) 499-2151.
PS 124 Kindergarteners: Supporting One Another
Anyone can serve... even small children. In fact, one of the most inspiring examples of service I’ve seen comes from the kindergartners at PS 124. Last May, I had the honor of walking over the Brooklyn Bridge with them as part of a walk-a-thon for their classmate Alexandria Snyder, who has leukemia. Alexandria led the walk, along with her mother and her sisters Kayla and Isabella, and several of her friends. Alexandria has shown remarkable courage. She is never absent or late to school, except every-other- Friday when she has chemotherapy. As her teacher, Mrs. Toledo said, "Alexandria is an exceptional child who could teach adults a good lesson." Her classmates showed fortitude as well. The bus from PS 124 took 60 kindergartners, their teachers, and some parent chaperones to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in downtown Brooklyn. These 5-yearolds then walked over the bridge, ate lunch in City Hall Park, and they walked back to the other side... and I heard almost no complaints. They loved the view of the Statue of Liberty and the magnificence of New York Harbor. But most of all, they were proud of supporting their friend Alexandria, and being part of her courageous journey.
Maria Pagano has called Carroll Gardens home for 31 years. Her community leadership began after a spate of muggings in 1993, when she went to a 76th Precinct Community Council meeting. There she met Connie Gibbons, who inspired her to work on local issues, and legendary neighborhood activist Buddy Scotto, who invited Maria to get involved in civic organizing. Maria is now the president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, where she's helped lead successful advocacy efforts for rezoning and the Gowanus Canal cleanup. She's also the treasurer of the Friends of Douglass/Greene Park. She is currently focusing (if you can call it that, given all the other things she is working on!) on the CGNA History Project -- working with the Carroll Gardens branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to research and write about the neighborhood’s past.
What does your neighborhood need? An improved park? Safer streets? New school technology? In participatory budgeting, you give your ideas and City Councilmember Brad Lander has set aside $1 million to fund them. And your votes will decide which projects get funded.