Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Message from the Director of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center

Dear Friends of the Crown Heights Mediation Center,

Happy Holidays! 

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and encouragement over this year, and share with you some of our accomplishments from 2009, as well as our direction for 2010.

It’s been an incredible year.  Last year, we were concerned about how to keep the storefront doors open; this year we were awarded two new grants that will allow us to more than double the size of our staff and greatly expand the depth and breadth of our work.  Again, thank you for your contributions.  Without you, we would not have been able to weather the economic downturn. 

We’ve been planning the implementation of a new anti-violence program designed to prevent gun violence in Crown Heights. A Department of Justice study demonstrated that the program we will establish has yielded a 40-70% decrease in shootings in the neighborhoods where it is implemented.  This program will target individuals who are most likely to be involved in gun violence, and help them – with proven, effective practices -  to change their behavior. In the next few months, I’ll be updating you more about this exciting and innovative program.

Also in early January, a group of 16 young women from diverse backgrounds - but all from Crown Heights – will launch a media company collaboratively. These young women will learn skills in graphic design, photography, marketing, networking, and general entrepreneurship.  One of their first products will be a community cookbook that celebrates the different foods and cultures of Crown Heights.

Over the course of 2009, we helped over 1,200 community members at our storefront office with immigration issues, housing, legal advocacy, family services, education, employment, medical services, and substance abuse treatment.  We conducted 54 community facilitations, bringing people from diverse perspectives together to work on challenges such as gun violence and racial healing.  We held more than a dozen community trainings on conflict resolution and mediation reaching over 500 people.  Through our truancy, youth court, and pregnancy prevention programs, we helped 175 young people to stay in school and stay focused on their personal goals. All these activities share one common purpose – a stronger and more unified Crown Heights.  It's hard to find another small program making such a big impact.

The most important and rewarding aspect of what we do is, and always has been, the direct service we offer to the community at large. I wanted to share with you just one example of the kind of unique work we do, and the very real ways in which your support directly benefits community members in need.  This is a note we recently received from a client:


Thank you for everything. By the time I came to your door, I was overwhelmed and underwater. You gave me a lifeline. For years I had worked as a home health aid but my agency was unable to give me a patient for over two months.  I exhausted my savings. My lights were turned off, my refrigerator was empty and I had no income. I also have children to support.  I poured all this out at CHCMC.  The worker listened patiently and worked with me to develop a plan.  She helped me secure a payment arrangement with Con Ed, obtain emergency food stamps and, best of all, told me how to get unemployment benefits for which I had thought I was not eligible. I thank CHCMC not only for helping me through this crisis, but also motivating me to keep everything going until I get back to work.  Thanks so much.  –Rose M. 

We’re looking ahead to another great and productive year at the Mediation Center, and very much hope that we’ll continue to have your support.  We’re all very grateful to you for supporting our work, and enabling us to do such good work everyday – so thank you.

If you can make a financial contribution, checks can be made out to our parent organization, the Fund for the City of New York and mailed to the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center at 256 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11213.  You can also donate online through paypal,  clicking the donate button in the right hand column of our blog.

Best wishes for the holidays and a happy, healthy New Year, and, again thank you. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Urban River Arts Mandala Dismantling

Last Wednesday evening, visitors to the recently opened art space at 395 Flatbush Extension were treated to a special event at the space occupied by Urban River Arts, a community-based non-profit art organization founded by Kimberly Carmody on St. Marks Avenue in Crown Heights in February 2009.

In October, Carmody and members of the community began creating a 12-foot wide circular urban mandala on the floor, starting with a simple chalk outline made with a large scale compass, and gradually adding color and texture to the design by laying down found and recycled objects in an intentional way.  In Tibetan tradition, Buddhist monks create sand paintings in the circular shape of mandalas as a form of meditation.  After completion, the sand designs are swept away and returned to the ocean.

In a similar gesture of impermanence, Wednesday evening was the dismantling ceremony for Urban River Arts' urban mandala project. Visitors and people who had a hand in the project gathered together to learn more about mandalas and to take in the impressive array of colorful found and collected objects before taking it apart piece by piece.  It was quite a sight to see the huge project taken apart just as methodically as it had been put together, and it was great to see a Crown Heights-based artist engaged in such exciting work!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Applications Open for Leadership Training Institite 2010

The Mediation Center has been busy preparing for the next cycle of the Leadership Training Institute which will start in January 2010 and is seeking participants.  The Leadership Training Institute is a program aimed at bringing together community members who are dedicated to working to improve Crown Heights to both strengthen their leadership skills and build relationships with others in the community.

Through the Institute, participants will meet with trainers who are experts in their fields on a variety of topics to learn from each other, and develop and ultimately implement their skills.  These topics include networking, community organizing, grant writing and fundraising, coalition building, working with the media, and event planning.  Participants will be able to put their newly acquired skills to use by organizing a community project as a final project of the Institute.  Past groups have organized a local photography contest as well as organized a resource and entertainment fair to complement the Annual Family Day Picnic in Crown Heights. At the end of the program, participants will come away with concrete skills as well as relationships with others in the community who are dedicated to improving Crown Heights.

Applications are available in the sidebar on the right-hand side of this page under "Mediation Center Events," and can also be picked up by stopping by the Mediation Center.  Applications are due at the end of December.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"I am C.H.A.N.G.E." Hosts Youth Town Hall

Last night around fifty young people and community leaders from Crown Heights gathered in the atrium at Marcus Garvey Nursing Home to talk about gun violence in the community.  Lead skillfully by two youth facilitators, Audley Jackson and Naiyah Wagoner, the young people present had a unique chance to voice their feelings and concerns about safety in the community in connection to gun violence, and to share their own experiences and ways they have been affected by it.  Unlike most community meetings, adults were not permitted to speak until the end of the discussion, in order to highlight youth voices and prioritize their concerns.

Many young people shared the reasons they believe people carry guns, as well as stories about their personal encounters with gun violence.  When asked how many people present had been personally affected by gun violence, either themselves or someone they know, almost every person in the room had a raised hand -- a poignant response that reminded everyone present why they were there.

In the last half of the conversation, some of the adults present were invited to ask questions, including Assemblyman Karim Camara, Councilmember Letitia James, representatives from the offices of Senator Eric Adams, Councilmember Al Vann, and the Brooklyn District Attorney.  This part of the discussion turned toward the practical, as the young people were asked what could be done to make them feel safer in their neighborhoods, and what kinds of programs they would like to see to prevent gun violence and encourage more youth engagement in the community.

It was agreed that more open discussions like this one must occur if something is going to change in the community.  Robin Lyde, the mother of a teen victim of gun violence, urged young people to go out and take action about this issue, and to let people know that they are committed to reducing violence in the community.  To this end, everyone present was invited to join the "I am C.H.A.N.G.E." Coalition to further open the dialogue on gun violence and collaborate on ways to change the community in a positive way.  The next meeting of the Coalition is being planned for January.