A Festive Rush to Year's End

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Was it our imagination or did the weeks leading up to the winter holidays seem to accelerate at warp speed in 2013?   Despite what just seemed a compressed calendar, BronxWorks still found time to celebrate the end-of-year holidays. We hope YOU did too!

As is typical of Yuletide, BronxWorks departments held parties and other events, partnering with a host of generous supporters who contributed gifts to the parties. Here are three examples of this generosity:

•    On December 8th, Cameo Productions and Robin Hood Entertainment held a holiday party at which the two companies donated to BronxWorks hundreds of toys they collected. As you’ll read further, you’ll see that this wonderful largesse filled the need for toys and gifts of several BronxWorks programs.

•    Crystal Nunez, proprietor of Crystal Clean, a cleaning service in the Bronx, helped organize a toy donation drive that provided BronxWorks with more than 200 toys to distribute.  Her generous effort will benefit children and families in the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) which enables parents to become effective pre-school home teachers of their three- to five-year-olds.

•    Jhana Harrison, a teacher at PS 21X at 715 E. 225th St. and at the Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, 3901 Fieldston Road, organized toy drives involving faculty and administrators at PS 21X and middle school students at Fieldston.  Through her efforts, BronxWorks received another 200-plus toys to distribute to children.

An event on December 20th for participants in our Youth Workforce Development and Education programs, which provide work readiness and employment services to out-of-school 16- to 24-year-olds, was an opportunity to celebrate student accomplishments in the past year.  This included recognizing students with strong attendance records, those with the highest High School Equivalency exam scores and participants deemed Rising Stars, Shining Stars, and Super Stars, said Shalima McCants, program coordinator.  Students from the Young Adult Literacy Program presented their group project, an awareness campaign focusing on sexually-transmitted disease education and prevention.  

The event, also featured games, arts and crafts, and a basketball game between students and staffers, and a hearty lunch was served.  The gifts distributed included pillow pets and nail care kits donated by World Vision, children’s pajamas from our longtime non-profit partner, the Pajama Program, books from the United Federation of Teachers, and toys from Cameo Entertainment.

Another celebration held on December 20th was a collaboration of the BronxWorks Adolescent Development and Family Enrichment programs.  The party took place at the Bronx Museum of Arts, our neighbor on the Grand Concourse, and featured a full, delicious dinner prepared by Giovanni’s and Justine restaurants, featuring pork and several kinds of chicken, plus side dishes, said Jonathan Morgenstern, director of the Family Enrichment Program. About 50 families with 150 young people attended, including 95 middle and high school students from the Adolescent Development program directed by Tashaka Wynter. Santa Claus visited to distribute gifts provided by the law firm Nixon Peabody, Cameo Productions and Robin Hood Entertainment, Tashaka noted.  The room was beautifully decorated by students and staffers.  

The Betances Community Center at 465 St. Ann’s Avenue, a neighborhood mecca offering a range of programs youth aged 5 to 21, was the setting for two holiday parties in December for children in the center’s after-school and teen programs. Also on the calendar for January 4th, the Betances Center hosted a party honoring Three Kings Day, which is widely observed by the Latino community.

In addition to the usual Christmas festivities, gifts donated by New York Cares’ Winter Wishes program were given to 50 after-school participants, said Suzette Walker, assistant program director at the Betances Center. Additional “wishes” of the after-school children were filled by generous volunteers from the Riverdale Yacht Club who reached out to BronxWorks to ask how they could help during the season.  Cash gifts by the club allowed the Center’s staff to purchase additional gifts, fulfilling the wishes of all the grade and middle school children. For the teens, the center opened a “store” in the gym which “shoppers” could visit to select four to five gifts.  The store concept was enabled by Burlington Coat Factory, which contributed items, including jewelry, clothes, shoes, pet apparels, sunglasses, toys, boots and handbags.

Another toy distribution on January 4th highlighted the Three Kings Day celebration for 103 children from the neighborhood, Suzette added. John Brackett Music and Health First, the principal sponsors, distributed an estimated 200 to 300 gifts they accumulated in toy drives, including an event at Don Coqui restaurant in New Rochelle, which helped promote the party.

John Brackett, a local rap and hip hop star, dropped by to talk to the youngsters, reminiscing about his upbringing in the Bronx. He was born in the Soundview neighborhood, where hip hop originated, he said, and expressed his desire to give back to the community.

Children living in the three temporary residences for homeless families operated by BronxWorks also enjoyed a happy holiday thanks to many thoughtful donors.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera presided over the giveaway of 300 toys contributed by his office to children at one of the residences on December 16th, following a community coat drive organized by his office, and State Assembly member Victor Pichardo read stories to children at the party.  

Bronx-born comedian Lee Capone and his troupe of up and coming young comedians known as Team Capone provided approximately 150 toys and games for families at another of our residences.  

The highlight of a holiday lunch on December 24th at our third homeless family residence was a raffle and a distribution of gifts donated by more generous New York Cares volunteers.

The annual holiday dinner party at The Brook, enjoyed by 80 residents and 12 guests, was done in partnership with Common Ground, with volunteers from New York Cares serving food and doing clean-up duties, said director Megan Fogarty.  A raffle for five prizes was held. And the Christmas spirit was in full force at the Living Room/Safe Haven drop-in center in Hunts Point, where 100 people were served a holiday lunch and given a gift bag.

As you can see, BronxWorks was the grateful recipient of the wonderful giving spirit of the season due to many incredible friends and donors.

Our thanks and warm wishes to all for a Happy New Year.

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