Story #37

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Betances Community Center Advisory Board: “We have PhDs in ‘street’!”

BronxWorks and Betances Community Center

When Vivian made this pronouncement, it was with a mixture of pride, passion and just a hint of resignation to the fact that in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx, living with the negative elements of “the street” such as gangs and high crime can be challenging.  But do not believe for a millisecond that this deters Vivian or any of the dedicated members of the Betances Community Center Advisory Board from working every day to make their community a safe, healthy and friendly place to live.

The Center is part of the sprawling Betances public housing complex where approximately 17,000 people live.  When the Center was being built, BronxWorks was tapped by the city to manage the facility.

The Advisory Board is made up of community members, the Center’s senior staff and a Youth Council representative.  The community members were handpicked by the Center’s first director in 2009 to give the community a voice in what takes places there.  Maria, the board’s energetic chair, makes a point to say that all the board members were born and raised here and have personally experienced the most traumatic impact of “the street”: losing a loved one to violence.  This only fuels their determination to focus on the many positive aspects of their community.  Their primary goal is to make the Center a safe haven for all, but especially for the children and youth in the neighborhood.

They are passionate about their work so they readily admit to the occasional friendly disagreement in their monthly meetings, but because of their deep ties here, they definitely agree that “we know this community better than anyone” so all their efforts are focused on meeting its needs.

When it comes to building a better future for all the children, this group has turned one familiar saying on its head declaring it “takes villagers to raise a village.”  They are referring to the need for people to take an active role in supporting the Center.  They are quick to say that the neighbors do come out for their major events such as the annual Razzle Dazzle Talent Show, hosted by the Youth Council.  And over 3,000 people enjoyed last summer’s African Diaspora parade where they distributed 1,865 book bags and school supplies to children from the neighborhood, with planning for this year’s parade and distribution already underway.

The book bag donation is just one example of their ability to enhance the Center’s activities.  Recently, Maria secured a $10,000 grant from NYC Council member Maria del Carmen Arroyo’s office to support the youth activities.  They do worry that there is never enough to do all that could be done in an area with so much need.

When asked what makes this group special, Suzette Walker, the Center’s Assistant Director, states that “They make the Center a priority.  They are committed to making it work because of their love for their community.”

For this determined group, a “PhD in street” translates to “Positive Helping & Doing” that takes place every day in the South Bronx thanks to the partnership of the Betances Community Center Advisory Board, BronxWorks and our funding partners.

Pictured above from left to right: Tenille Rodriguez, Treasurer; Paulette Williams, member; Maria Vega, Chair; Vivian Gonzalez, Secretary; not pictured: Chenette Saunders, Recording Secretary.  The Betances Community Center is a public-private partnership of the NYC Housing Authority, the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, and BronxWorks.  The Center is open year-round and provides a wide range of activities for children and youth ages 5 through 21, including an afterschool program, youth council, sports, dance, arts and computer classes, as well as programs for adults and senior citizens.  All activities are free and open to the community and NYCHA residents.  Questions or comments? Send them to

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