Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Join the Mediation Center for Holiday Caroling!

Give to Stop Gun Violence and Save Lives!

"Before this program, I was a hothead, everything would get me upset and I had a really bad temper. Because where I come from, we always resort to violence first and since I’ve been here it really changed my life. I don’t get as mad as I used to; I just walk away from certain situations; I let stuff roll off my back. Honestly, it really changed my life. Without S.O.S., I really don’t know where I’d be right now, to be honest.”

Rezzeia Alexander, 16, Graduate of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.)

Dear Friend,

I am writing to ask you to donate to the Mediation Center to help us continue to make our neighborhood a safer place.

Your donation will go toward programs that prevent violence from spreading throughout our neighborhood and literally save lives.  We use an innovative approach that interrupts and prevents future violence, and has been evaluated and demonstrated to be effective. This year, an evaluation of our work by the Center for Court Innovation reflected what our participants have been reporting to us, our program really works to curb gun violence.  The research indicated that gun violence in Crown Heights was 20% lower than what it would have been without Save Our Streets (S.O.S.) One current participant recently shared, “S.O.S. isn’t just about saving the streets; it’s about saving ourselves.
  • Your donation will go toward teaching young leaders in the YO S.O.S. program, who have been surrounded by a climate of violence, how they can stand up against violence and help their friends make positive choices and avoid violent conflict.
  • Your donation will support our work with gunshot and stabbing victims at Kings County Hospital.  Our Hospital Responder, Kenneth Edwards, meets with victims in the midst of their crises and helps them consider how they can call off potential retaliations and be safe in the future. So far this year he has met with 50 people whose lives have been transformed due to violence and provided support and guidance.
  • Your donation will support our neighbor services, which assisted more than 800 people last year, helping them build resumes, find jobs, get health care screenings, and connect to other services and agencies throughout the city.
  • Your donation will support the mobilization efforts to involve the entire neighborhood in the movement to end gun violence. So far this includes 100 volunteers, 30 Houses of Worship that are active in the S.O.S. Clergy Action Network, eight barber shops that hold conversations about ending violence, 40 artists that contribute to our annual arts festival and 25 small business that count up the days between shootings and promote the public education materials designed to stop the shootings.
Our work has caught the attention of national press including CNN Radio, the New York TimesAl Jazeera America. Take two minutes to watch an award winning film that profiles an S.O.S. staff member and be inspired by how dedicated the S.O.S. team is to stopping gun violence and changing the culture.

We are dedicated to achieving lofty goals – saving the most vulnerable lives and changing cultural norms around violence. Our work is possible because of the support of people like you.  Join us in the movement to end violence.  Please make a contribution today!

Donations by check should be made out to the “Fund for the City of New York” and mailed to the Mediation Center at 256 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11213. Please put the Mediation Center in the subject line. Or, 
you can donate online here, and select Crown Heights Mediation Center in the drop down menu.

With appreciation and gratitude,

Amy Ellenbogen,
Project Director, Crown Heights Community Mediation Center

PS: Follow our progress on our 
blogsTwitterInstagram and Facebook, refer people to our programs, come volunteer, and join us at our events!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2013-2014 Reentry Resource Guide

Our new and updated guide for formerly incarcerated people is out, including resources for housing, legal advocacy, mental health and counseling, employment, medical services, and other resources. An electronic version of the guide can be found on our website under "Community Resources Guides" on the right side of the page. You can also access the guide by clicking on the image below. In addition, we will have hard copies at our office, and will distribute them around the community. Please share this guide widely!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Praying With Our Feet

The S.O.S. Clergy Action Network (S.O.S. C.A.N.) is pleased to present a new book, entitled "Praying with Our Feet: Faith-Based Activism to Stop Shootings and Killings in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Beyond." The book features interviews with a few members of S.O.S. C.A.N., and gives information about how clergy members can increase the presence of heir congregations in the movement to stop gun violence.

Click on the image below to view a PDF of the book.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October at the Crown Heights Mediation Center

Dear Crown Heights,

October has been an exciting month at the Mediation Center.

We began a new year of our youth program, Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets, with a fabulous group of Youth Organizers. They have done a lot in the few weeks since they got started, including exploring the neighborhood with a Crown Heights scavenger hunt, learning about techniques for conflict resolution, and beginning to discuss the roots and causes of violence.

Youth Organizers outside the Brooklyn Children's Museum as part of their scavenger hunt

Our program for young men ages 16-24, Make It Happen!, began last week, with a new group of participants.

On October 16th, we hosted the New York Legal Assistance Group’s mobile legal clinic at the Mediation Center, providing free legal services to more than 20 community members.

The S.O.S. team, along with community residents, held two rallies in response to shootings within the catchment area. Both rallies received a turnout of about 20 people, and reinforced our message that gun violence must not go unnoticed.

Neighborhood residents at the October 10th rally against gun violence

We held our first Community Conversation of the winter season, bringing together a diverse group of 25 neighbors to discuss experiences of and causes of violence within the community. The conversation sparked a dialogue that we will continue into our second Community Conversation on November 21st.

The S.O.S. Clergy Action Network held a youth symposium, called Power Filled Me, in which over 50 community members came together to listen to a panel of young people share their lives, struggles, and experiences. The annual S.O.S. C.A.N. Faith Walk had a fantastic turnout, with over 200 attendees walking from Nostrand Avenue to Troy Avenue on St. Johns Place, raising community awareness with prayers for non-violence.

Audience listens to youth panelists at Power Filled Me

We welcomed two new staff members to our team – Farrah, S.O.S. Program Assistant, and Frankie, Youth Program Assistant.

We are looking forward to November, when we will have a number of events. NYLAG will bring their mobile legal clinic to the Mediation Center on November 13th. We will hold our second Community Conversation, on November 21st, 6:30 pm, at Launch Charter School on 1580 Dean Street. We will also hold an S.O.S. Fish Fry on November 22nd. All are welcome!

As always, thank you for your continued support, and we always welcome your ideas about how to make Crown Heights safer and healthier for all.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Make It Happen!

Make It Happen! is an OVC (Office of Victims of Crime) funded program run in partnership with the Center for Court Innovation's Domestic Violence department. Special Projects Coordinator Kira Cohen sat down with Founder and Project Coordinator of Make it Happen!, Brandon Gibson, to discuss the program, which begins its second full year today.

Kira Cohen: Can you tell us about when the program started and why there was a need for it?

Brandon Gibson: We got a grant to do a program that dealt with young men of color ages 16-24 who’ve experienced violence, and as a result of that experience, they now have some traumatic manifestation of those experiences. I came on board to really be the coordinator who initially was just mainly connecting those young men to resources that could help them deal with those experiences and those traumatic manifestations. We were supposed to be the bridge to traditional victim services. What we found was that if we were just going to be the bridge, in many cases, we were going to be a bridge to nowhere. Because many of the traditional victim services – not all, but most – cater to women and children, not this demographic. So the mission sort of widened and deepened, and it became more of, not only do we have to be the bridge to services, but we need to be a service in and of ourselves. And that’s how Make it Happen was birthed.

One-on-one sessions and group sessions are the main two components of Make it Happen. During the one-on-one sessions they meet with me every week. Those sessions can be for fifteen minutes to three hours, depending on what they want to talk about. And our group sessions are a little bit more targeted, where we have about fifteen to twenty guys in a group, and we work with Connect, an anti-domestic violence organization, and they sort of counsel men who are perpetrators of domestic violence, so they co-facilitate the group sessions with us. And so we have different topics ranging from identity to sexuality to fatherhood to race, and we talk about these things in depth. And that’s one aspect to the program. So that’s really a mentoring component, camaraderie, brotherhood, kind of thing, and then the other component is in trying to inform traditional victim service agencies better on how to service this population, how to make their services more friendly to our guys.

KC: So how do you go about doing that?

BG: We have stakeholder meetings with agencies, and we talk about some best practices that we see that they could use. For example, whenever we have a group session, we don’t start the group session until I have one-on-ones with all the guys who are going to be the in the session. So it’s not even just a formal application process, but an actual one-on-one session, where I get a chance to figure out who these guys are, they get a chance to figure out who I am, and so by the time the group sessions roll around, they’re a little more comfortable, we see who is who and who’s coming in with what, for the most part. That’s one of the best practices that we have, and there are others.

KC: How many years has the program existed?

BG: We had a trial, a test group, about 5 weeks, in 2012 last summer. And then we had the next group this past January, and that was like the first full cohort, 12 weeks. And then this upcoming one is the second full cohort.

KC: Are you able to share some of the experiences that might lead people to your program?

BG: One of my participants was mentioning how he used to smile a lot. You know, he would be in school and he'd walk around smiling, until one day a group of guys came up to him and we like, "you smile too much."  And they beat him up because of it. And from then on he said that he doesn't like to smile. Smiling is a sin in some instances, unfortunately. So, you know, there's a lot of sad stuff like that. Where guys are just constantly being victimized because they just want to... be. They just want to be who they are and they're not allowed to. They have to fit this particular mold in order to survive, even if it's not true to who you are.

One of my other participants, his mom actually introduced him to gang life. So if it weren't for that he probably not have been involved - maybe, who knows - but he certainly wouldn't have been introduced the way he was introduced, which was by such a dominant figure in his life, because it's pretty hard to say no to your mom. So that's kind of the stuff that we're dealing with.

KC: Can you tell us about what you’ve seen come from the program in terms of success?

BG: I have one guy, he was a felon in Atlantic City. He came out to New York, and he got in touch with our program and to make a long story short after being in our program- we’re not the only people that were a part of his success, but according to him we’re a major part- he got his GED, and now he’s at Rutgers University studying to be in business, and we stay in touch regularly. He was one of the first participants last year.

Another guy, who is really trying to get a job and go to school. He’s in school now, and really trying to turn over a new leaf. And we have other guys, whose success stories aren’t as glamorous, but you know, guys who are just starting to take responsibility for their own lives, and really trying to be somebody.

And then we have stories that aren’t so great. I have guys who are really smart and have great potential but are sitting in a jail right now. And this is after being in our program. But they still keep in touch with me, I visit them at the jail and, you know, the beat goes on.

KC: It’s a connection.

BG: Yeah, and it’s a process. No one person changes just like that. And the thing with these guys is that they come from places that are so different and opposite to what I teach and what we talk about. So we may talk about conflict resolution. Well, conflict resolution in the hood is “I’m gonna handle you,” and I’m teaching “We’ll talk,” so… but because I come from the streets that they come from, I understand. I get it.

KC: How do guys usually find out about the program and connect to you?

BG: I either canvass, so I’ll walk around the streets and introduce myself to people and do it like that, I’ll go to churches and speak at churches, and they’ll refer people. I’ll connect with schools and schools will refer kids to us and that’s pretty much how we do it. S.O.S. will refer people, people will just walk in from the street, and the front desk will be like, "hey, you should join this program," and then they’ll call me.

KC: Could you sum up the mission of the program?

BG: Our mission really is to give our participants the tools necessary to overcome those traumatic experiences, and to be able to succeed in spite of those experiences. That’s really what we’re here to do.

For more information on Make It Happen! or to join or refer someone to the program, contact Brandon Gibson at gibsonb@crownheights.org or call 646-943-0074.

It's My Park Day at Brower Park October 26th

On Sunday, October 26th, Friends of Brower Park will host It's My Park Day! Community members will be sprucing up the park and planting 2,000 daffodil bulbs for spring planting. Come out and enjoy making the park even more beautiful! 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Interview with Marlon Peterson

Project Director Amy Ellenbogen interviewed outgoing Mediation Center staff about their experiences at the Center and with the work they've done. Marlon Peterson worked at the Mediation Center first as a Violence Interrupter, then as Program Coordinator for Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets and then as the Associate Project Director.

Marlon at Arts to End Violence Gallery with YO S.O.S. participants

Amy Ellenbogen: What were your first impressions of the Mediation Center?

Marlon Peterson: What comes to mind is, “These people seem like a good fit for me." Also, I felt really welcomed from the moment of my first interview with Derick Scott. I remember him saying to me during the interview something like, "I see a lot in you." So, my impression was that of care.

Amy Ellenbogen: Oh, that is nice. I know that at our volunteer appreciation ceremony recently a volunteer mentioned the same thing.   Are there things that you think the Mediation Center as an organization does to cultivate caring?

Marlon Peterson: Yes, no doubt. People here care for people, and a lot of time and energy is put into that. It's familial here and that encourages a sort of internal support system that makes sure everyone is okay beyond work responsibilities. People say hi here and really care to hear how you are doing or how your weekend was. It's not perfunctory.

Amy Ellenbogen: Hmm. Well, I'm curious. Do you think that all it takes is saying "Hi" and “How was your weekend?”

Marlon Peterson: In some ways, yes. This work and world is really hard at times. Many of the people here and this community are into this work because life has had really tough lessons to teach them. Life doesn't always care about how you are doing or how you are feeling, it just happens to you. And many of us are accustomed to the frigid temperatures of the world. So, anytime people genuinely acknowledge your presence, especially when they don't have to, it goes a long way. For instance, people really acknowledge birthdays here as an important thing.  This is the first place I ever had anything like a birthday cake.

Amy Ellenbogen: Wow. That is cool. I know that is the same for several other staff members and participants.

Amy Ellenbogen: You had three positions here at the Mediation Center. What are some of your most memorable moments in each of your positions?

Marlon Peterson: As a VI, it had to be the night we all went into the "Carter" on Sterling and Rochester in the narrow stairwell with about 8-10 teens all high and ice grilling us. As a team of OW's and VI’s we all sprang into action, had each other’s backs without having to say anything, and ultimately built a good relationship with a group of boys that probably trusted few people--even themselves.

With YO SOS, I think it was at the last graduation.  Sometimes as leaders things drop off after you leave. So to see more kids finish YO SOS and to see Ruby-Beth lead them and Lizzie and Pete without my physical presence was heartwarming because it showed that the work I did there was beyond myself, but I was able to see my passion passed along. That's really important to me.

Amy Ellenbogen: Hmm. I totally know what you mean!

Marlon Peterson: As an AD, I'd say the Kingston Avenue Festival. That event was a brainchild of mine and I was able to see so many people, staff, volunteers, and especially those kids dancing on the stage on that rainy and cool Saturday afternoon. Those moments are priceless.

Amy Ellenbogen: Yes! The Kingston Avenue Festival was really, really fun.

Amy Ellenbogen: What do you think is the most valuable lesson you learned during your time here?

Marlon Peterson: That I need to eat, and pay attention to my own well-being. I also learned how good feels to matter. That comes from spending 1/3 of my life being forced to believe that I did not matter.

Amy Ellenbogen: What were the kinds of things you experienced that helped you know you are important and matter?

Marlon Peterson: Definitely working with YO SOS. Those young people inspired me, and gave me credibility. They depended on me, and that was important. I also appreciated the staff who looked to me for answers and advice. I always keep in mind that I was only ten months out of prison when I came to CHCMC, and they trusted me. Coming from a place where authority never trusts you no matter what you do, that was significant for me. 

Amy Ellenbogen: You spent 10 years incarcerated. What advice do you have for people who are currently incarcerated but want to work in nonprofit social justice work when they return home?
Marlon Peterson: I'd say that they should know the difference between nonprofit work and grassroots work. I'd also tell them to start pursuing their interests from in there by being a part of organizations in a substantive way. What you do inside, you will do outside. That truism held true for me. I would also say that they understand that people work is sacrificial work, and that creating contacts to volunteer with before release is essential.

Amy Ellenbogen: What are some of the difference between nonprofit and grassroots work that you think people should understand?

Marlon Peterson: The nonprofit sector does phenomenal people work, but with funding/funder and political limitations. I believe that a grassroots principle within non-profits is necessary. You always need a core that caters to the authentic voice of the people. Many times in the non-profit world we find ourselves trying to keep people employed which means going after money that doesn't necessarily fit your level of expertise, or doesn't substantively address an issue in a thoughtful way. The grassroots element does the work that the people need and not what the grant requires.

Amy Ellenbogen: Thanks Marlon.  Can you tell me a little bit about your new job?

Marlon Peterson: I am the Director of Community Relations at the Fortune Society, and I'm a part of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy. A huge chunk of my job is still anti-gun violence work. Fortune has licensed behavioral health clinicians on staff through its Better Living Center. Many of us in this work understand that there are high levels of untreated and unacknowledged trauma that exists around experience of gun violence. That understanding, however, is not recognized by many and we want to bring that awareness to the masses. We also want to treat those folks behind and in front of the gun, both parties in that trauma. In this role, I also get to reach out to community partners that do the violence interruption work on the ground level. Being mobile is one of the perks of my gig; I'm more than an office guy/paper pusher---I might have some attention issues. 

As part of the DRCPP, I get to advocate for and against policies that interrupt the unjust and unfair practices of the criminal justice system, particularly the prison system. I'm still figuring out what all of that means for me, but it should be exciting. 

Amy Ellenbogen:  Marlon, it has been a true privilege and a pleasure to work with you. You've brought a great deal of thoughtfulness, creativity, enthusiasm, and wisdom to the way we work. We will all miss your warm presence and positive energy in our daily work but are delighted to have you as an ally at Fortune Society. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Brower Park Library Ice Cream Social

This Saturday, September 28th, from 2-4 pm, the Brower Park Library will host an Ice Cream Social to celebrate the new school year and bring together the community. It will feature refreshments and a variety of fun activities. The library is loated on 725 St. Marks Avenue.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Health & Harvest Fair This Saturday!

This Saturday, September 21, the Crown Heights/Prospect Heights Food Allies will host their second annual Health & Harvest festival. This free street fair will have live music, free food samples, games and activities for children, and many other events. It will also feature health and wellness activities such as massages and acupunture, zumba, yoga, and martial arts, and free medical screenings. Underhill Avenue between Sterling and St. John's will be closed for the event between 12 pm and 4 pm. Enjoy the weather and come out to kick off a healthy and fun fall!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Interview with Ariana Siegel

Project Director Amy Ellenbogen interviewed outgoing Mediation Center staff about their experiences at the Center and with the work they've done. Ariana Siegel was an AVODAH corps member, serving full-time at the Center during the 2012-2013 year.

Ariana at Arts to End Violence Gallery with S.O.S. volunteers 
Amy Ellenbogen: What did you do this year at the Mediation Center?

Ariana Siegel: That’s a big question to start with! I feel like I could speak to that in a number of ways: I could say what my responsibilities were here, or I could talk about what my life was like working here every day, or I could talk about the impact I feel I made and the impact the mediation center made on me....

Ariana Siegel: I’ll answer the former first. In general, my responsibilities included walk-in (or "front-office")
services, coordinating volunteers, planning/administering events like Arts to End Violence and the Kingston Avenue Festival, conducting communications like writing/maintaining the blog and doing event publicity, and a few special projects like the Clergy Action Network book and Community Conversations.

Amy Ellenbogen: Why don't I just also ask those other questions: what kind of impact do you think you made this year on the programs we run and the neighborhood in general?

Ariana Siegel: I feel pretty humble about the impact that I've been able to make personally... I feel more as though I'm part of a team that's making an incredible impact on the community--helping folks to think about how they can organize and be proactive about the issues the community faces, particularly one so terrifying and dauntingly deep as gun violence. S.O.S. and the Mediation Center give people hope, and I'm really happy to be a part of that.

Ariana Siegel: On a personal level, I feel that I've tried to bring warmth to my work and my relationships with clients and co-workers. I hope that people feel comfortable around me and I also try to empower people by helping them identify their strengths, so I can encourage them to use their skills.

Amy Ellenbogen: I definitely think that you've brought a lot of warmth and a lot of joy to our office and to the work!

Ariana Siegel: Thank you!

Amy Ellenbogen: What do you think are some of the lessons you learned this year during your year of

Amy Ellenbogen: Or, maybe a better question is. . . what is the story that you are going to share with friends and colleagues later that you think best shares what you learned about being here?

Ariana Siegel: That's a great question.

Amy Ellenbogen: Thank you!

Ariana Siegel: I think that as the year has been coming to a close and I've started to reflect on my time here, the way I've best been able to measure the progress I've made is by looking at my relationships with people.

At the start, I was always very self-conscious of my identity as a young, white, educated, Jewish woman from an upper-middle class family, and how that impacted my conversations with people of different identities, particularly in an office with a diverse staff and clientele. I wanted to build relationships with the S.O.S. team who are all black men and older than me, and I also wanted to interact positively with clients and community members, who are mostly black and in different socio-economic positions than myself. I measured my speech carefully and often reflected on my interactions with people, worrying whether what I said might be offensive or ignorant.

Over time was able to pick up on the language and behavior that made me feel both integrated as part of the community, and also acknowledged my background and difference. I also learned to be humble to immense struggles that those around me were going through and had endured, which made me admire all the more their courageous activism.

As a specific example, part of my duties this year included changing the signs about the number of days since the last shooting. At the beginning, I felt strange about changing those signs, and acting as the face announcing to the community that there had been a shooting. But though I didn't expect them to, people would engage with me on the street, asking me about the shooting and what had taken place, and over time I felt more a part of what was happening—I felt more included in the community and therefore more responsible for helping to organize against the gun violence within it. I also felt that my relationship with volunteers changed from being one of administration—someone responsible for organizing them, asking them to engage with S.O.S., to one of partnership—someone organizing alongside the volunteers, invested, as they were, in the same desire for a safer and healthier community.

Amy Ellenbogen: That is great to hear. Do you think there is something that happened, or some type of change that we initiated that allowed for that type of shift to happen (from the volunteers being organized by us to the volunteers organizing together with us)?

Ariana Siegel: For me, being a part of the volunteer meetings and community conversations, and sharing in conversation with volunteers and S.O.S. team members made the effort feel more collective. We asked people to express why they were motivated to organize, why they felt the problems in the community were happening, and what they thought they could do about it, and hearing their answers made me feel both closer to them and more keenly aware of the factors impacting the community—family relations, school issues, etc. — that I wouldn't have known without talking to them. When we first started organizing meetings I think we set out to try to "teach" people, but in the end it was much more about what they could teach us. Or, what we could all teach each other.

Amy Ellenbogen: Cool. So, what do you think you'll bring with you from your time here? What is it that the volunteers and staff have taught you?

Ariana Siegel: Some of them have taught me about strength and endurance; Anoinette, who lost a son to gun violence, could have been stunted by fear but instead is incredibly active and accomplished, and is one of our most ardent activists against gun violence. Several people on the outreach team who have faced long sentences in prison came out with major momentum to not only succeed but to generate change in the community. That requires energy that even those who haven't been through such harrowing experiences are often unable to give.

Some of them have taught me about community and love; people have welcomed me in unequivocally, as a sister and as family. I feel very accepted for who I am by staff and volunteers, and an openness to sharing who they are, which is pretty rare. I have also been incredibly inspired by the dedication people show toward the community; Kenneth works such long hours and difficult shifts providing support to families in terrifying and emotionally bottomless situations, like losing a loved one in a violent way. It's not just Kenneth but all of the outreach workers and violence interrupters. I thought of Kenneth in particular because he works in a hospital setting that is in such constant crisis, and it seems particularly emotionally and physically draining work.)

And Amy, I’ve learned so much about dedication from you and Ife, who have stayed and worked for the community for so many years, across so many different programs. You continue to get funding and to come up with new, dynamic ways to cater to the local issues that are both persistent and always changing. I think that's incredibly admirable and it's taught me a lot about what it means to be really dedicated to a cause and to a community.

Amy Ellenbogen: Great. Have you come up with a story?  Or a "moment" to share?

Ariana Siegel: I'm thinking about two moments where I realized that my work was both incredibly important, and could be done without me. In the first community conversation we were discussing root causes of violence and a lot of people were discussing the issues of youth, who seemed to have a "different" or more violent, or disrespectful mentality than previous generations. I had been feeling that the conversation was placing too much emphasis on "them" rather than "us" as responsible, and just when I was going to say that a young man, maybe my age or a bit older, made that very point; he stepped up in a courageous way to call out people for not taking enough personal responsibility.

There was another moment where [our volunteer] Carzei came over to the Mediation Center to visit and told me that she was planning to attend and help out at Peace Games, or a march, or some other event that I hadn't even yet told her about. I was so impressed that she was so on top of our needs, and didn't even need to get a request from me! Those moments made me feel both empowered because of the momentum that I had helped to generate, and also so humbled because now that the momentum had started, I didn't always need to be the one to keep it going.

Amy Ellenbogen: Yup. I totally know what you mean.

Ariana Siegel: Yeah, I'm sure you do

Ariana Siegel: I'm really glad to be doing this interview- it feels like a great reflection for me.

Amy Ellenbogen: Great. Me too. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Ariana Siegel: I think something I haven't touched on is Arts to End Violence, and how much I loved being part of a program/event that connected arts and activism. It's something I really believe in, especially because I have a bit of an artistic temperament myself (I write short fiction).

Amy Ellenbogen: Oh Yes! Please share about ATEV! What do you think is important about ATEV?

Ariana Siegel: I felt so inspired by the art that came in through our contest, the way youth were able to express themselves— their fears, their hopes, and just their observations and experiences—through imagery. Especially in a time where our social interactions are so focused on images (TV, social media, etc.), it was a really strong channel through which to reach youth.
We also made some great connections with adult artists, some of whom hadn't specifically used their art towards activism in the past (and some of whom had) and for whom that connection between arts and activism was now much stronger. I also was, of course, more inspired to figure out ways to engage those two parts of my own life.

Ariana Siegel: Also, seeing people from the community interact with the art was fantastic! I loved staffing the gallery after the opening, where people would just come by and ask about the art, interact with it, sometimes opening up about their personal experiences with violence just because they were looking at the pieces on the wall. People often brought their kids to come draw on Post-it notes, and the kids really picked up on our message in a strong way: one kid drew a gun because he saw one in a picture on the wall, and when I told him that this was an anti-violence gallery he portrayed it shooting hearts. That really impressed upon me the purpose of art in general—to communicate messages, and also the fact that this initiative really achieved our goals of raising consciousness about gun violence.

Ariana Siegel: And last thing—it was also so cool to get a feel for the talent in the community, and to get honor youth by putting their work in a real gallery that neighbors could see!

Amy Ellenbogen: Yes. I love Arts to End violence.  Once an artist came and said to me, "people think that the opposite of violence is peace, but the opposite of violence is creation." I've got to think more about what I think about that, but I definitely love the fact that the Arts to End Violence initiative creates a space for young people to showcase their talent and celebrate positively a complex and dark issue.

Ariana Siegel: Absolutely. I love that quote.

Amy Ellenbogen: Well Ariana, it has been a complete pleasure having you as a member of our team. Do you want to share with the readers where you will be next?

Ariana Siegel: Sure! I'm going to be doing the Shatil Social Justice Fellowship in Tel Aviv, organized through the New Israel Fund (NIF), which supports progressive civil society organizations working on-the-ground in Israel. I'll be in Tel Aviv working with an organization that does community organizing. So I’ll continue building on the awesome community organizing and social justice experience I got here!

Amy Ellenbogen: Great. Well, I know that wherever you are you will be doing great work and building wonderful relationships that will make positive change to our world. We will miss you!!

Ariana Siegel: Thank you! I will miss you all so much too, and want to stay in touch. I definitely want to remain connected to the Mediation Center and your work for a long time (forever). Plus, this was my first formalized, full-time job, so I think in that way it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Farewell to our Corps Members

Crown Heights Community Mediation Center Director, Amy Ellenbogen (center) with corps members Pete Martin,
Ariana Siegel, Toluwalashe Davies, and Aaron Dorfman (left to right) 
Every year, the Mediation Center is lucky enough to have dedicated people join our team as full time volunteers through the Center for Court Innovation's Juvenile Justice Americorps Program, and AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.

This year we had a fantastic team of two Americorps members and two Avodah corps members. Pete Martin focused on YO S.O.S. and worked with the artists for Arts to End Violence; Toluwalashe Davies ran our Neighbor Services and organized the Kingston Avenue Festival and the Monday Movie Nights; Ariana Siegel was our Special Projects Coordinator and helped with coordinating volunteers, the S.O.S. Clergy Action Network, and our blog.  Halfway through the year, we were lucky enough to have Aaron Dorfman join the team and assist with the S.O.S. program activities. 

Lizzie Dewan, who has served as our Operations Coordinator and Program Planner, also started her time with us through CCI's Americorps program. Lizzie has been managing our office operations, and has been integral in our neighborhood services and planning events such as Arts to End Violence and the Kingston Avenue Festival. This year, she also served as a staff member for our YO S.O.S. program, leading workshops and mentoring youth. 

All five of these wonderful staff members are leaving this week. They contributed an incredible amount of positive energy, creative thought, and good will to our work. We wish them lots of luck with their new endeavors. Pete, Lashe, Aaron, Ariana, and Lizzie-- you will be missed!

Please enjoy this video that Ariana Siegel made for our staff farewell to them. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

S.O.S. Appreciates Our Volunteers, Receives Appreciation in Return

S.O.S. staff and volunteers gathered at the Mediation Center on Wednesday night to celebrate volunteers' service and dedication to our work and our community. Over 30 volunteers, some of whom have worked with the Mediation Center since its inception, and others who this year became integrally involved in our work, shared in the food, drinks and warm atmosphere of the evening.

Volunteer coordinator Ariana Siegel thanked volunteers for the vital role they play in S.O.S. operations, often acting as the face of our events as they greet guests, hand out food, or run activities. "Every day brings a reason to thank volunteers," she said, "whether it's an old friend coming by to stay in touch, a new volunteer offering his or her expertise, a volunteer photographer documenting our events, or a youth volunteer bringing enthusiasm to an internship. We appreciate you every day, and today we get a chance to say it."
YO S.O.S. Youth Organizer Victoria Renna Speaks to the volunteers

Several Mediation Center and community leaders spoke to the volunteers to share their gratitude. Mediation Center director Amy Ellenbogen quoted Richard Green of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, who said, "Spiders united can tie up an elephant." She added, "I really believe that the folks in this room can be the spiders that tie up the violence that is plaguing the community and replace it with a caring compassionate community."

S.O.S. Program manager Allen James told the volunteers that their efforts to improve the community distinguished them. "It's actually the most natural thing in the world to volunteer" he said, "but you wouldn't know it because so few people do. You are the people that do."

After watching a slideshow depicting the work they did this year, volunteers Willard Hawkins, Antoinette Brice, Tiffany Murray and Victoria Renna shared thoughts on their experiences. Willard, who has volunteered with the Mediation Center for many years, as well as worked with labor organizing and other endeavors, said that this was "the most meaningful and rewarding experience" he's had as an activist. Antoinette spoke of the son she lost to gun violence, and how she now works with S.O.S. to tell young black and latino men that they are "men of purpose and men of destiny," whose lives are meaningful and not worth wasting on gun violence.

Volunteer Antoinette Brice admires her new volunteer shirt
Tiffany Murray, who began volunteering this year and ultimately hosted and planned an event, spoke of the many communities she has lived in, and how she particularly wanted to be involved in this one because it is, "one of the most vibrant and empowering communities I've ever encountered." Our Mediation Center intern and YO S.O.S. Youth Organizer Victoria Renna said that her experience here taught her how to speak to people and be an activist. "People here actually like coming to work every day," she said, admiring the S.O.S. team and Mediation Center staff for their hard work to help the community.

Finally, the S.O.S. team came out to thank the volunteers for their support. Outreach Worker Supervisor Lavon Walker explained how important it was for the team, who risk their lives in their work to reduce gun violence in the streets, to feel that people in the community appreciated and supported their work. Before heading home volunteers received t-shirts and certificates of merit, and promised to join us for our "100 Man March to End Gun Violence" next Sunday, June 27th.

To get involved with the S.O.S. as a volunteer, email Ariana Siegel at siegelar@crownheights.org, or contact the Mediation Center at 718-773-6886, or visit us at 256 Kingston Avenue.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Farmer's Market in Brower Park Today!

Photo by Seeds in the Middle
Seeds in the Middle, an organization that promotes healthy living among Brooklyn kids by organizing farmer's markets and other activities, is launching a market in Crown Heights today! Two farmers from Upstate New York will sell fresh produce directly to Crown Heights residents in Brower Park every Friday from 1 to 7 p.m., beginning today, Friday, July 12, and running through the fall. The farmer's market will be located at Brooklyn Avenue and Prospect Park, next to the Brooklyn Children's Museum.Some Mediation Center staff will be there- join us to welcome the farmers to our community!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Mediation Center is hiring!

We are looking to add a new member to our team!  The Crown Heights Community Mediation Center is hiring an “Office Manager and Neighbor Services Coordinator."  The Office Manager is a critically important member of our team.  Please help us get the word out about this position and apply yourself if you think you'd be a good fit. 

The person in this role plays an integral role in keeping the office organized, communicating about the Center’s programming to the public and attending community meetings, maintaining various contact databases, providing referral services to walk-in clients, and performing all necessary fiscal duties. The Office Manager may be tasked with community programming on an as needed basis, such as organizing a resource fair or planning a tabling event.

This position requires a highly organized, detail-oriented individual, capable of taking initiative and working with minimal supervision in a fast-paced environment. Time management and the ability to prioritize are important skills for this role. The individual must be courteous, have excellent communications skills, and be comfortable working with people from a diverse range of backgrounds. The ideal candidate has some supervisory experience, an interest in community-building and anti-violence work, and some familiarity with New York City public benefits and services.

For a complete job description and instructions on how to apply, please click here. The deadline to apply is July 31st, 2013.