The headquarters of The Centre of Family Life in Sunset Park in South Brooklyn are situated within the terrace houses in this area of Brooklyn. It’s a lovely sunny day and I walk slowly from the subway exit. You can see the highway stretching miles into vanishing point down this bottom half of Brooklyn. On either side of the highway runs tree lined houses running down towards the industrial harbour to the West. I feel very safe here even though my guidebook stopped a few pages ago. The area serves the blue collar workers, it is multicultural but I’m not in the minority. As a Mum myself I think about pushing buggy’s (strollers) up and down the streets, shopping in the local groceries, however, there is no particular hub as such like cafe’s and bars as there are further up in Brooklyn and I’m not sure where the local supermarket is. The centre is embedded in the heart of the community providing family counselling and after school club provision since 1978. It has grown and developed over the years and has responded to the socio economic changes with regards to the influx of Chinese immigrants to the area over the years. I met Bela Rex-Kiss who is development director for the program and is based here, this is one of the many sites around the Sunset Park community.
The origins of the centre follow the common theme underpinning the history of child and family welfare in New York, in that it is a Faith Based Charity. To me this charity embodies everything I can think of from services in the UK; A One Stop Public Benefits, Healthcare, Housing, taxes and immigration, translation services. Joined up working with numerous schools; the centre is dedicated to supporting extra curricular activities that promote individual growth through their Community Art Project ‘Life Lines’. There’s a Job Shop, ESOL, Wrap Round Care including cultural and recreational activities for primary and secondary school children. Parenting programs, Family Counselling, Life Long Learning, and Foster Care. Community members of all ages gather at the Neighbourhood Centres to participate in indoor and outdoor sports, dance and performing arts, arts and crafts and a lending library. What isn’t in the brochure, but does exist are the crisis intervention services. The program maintains strong links with specialist Domestic Violence Drug and Alcohol Misuse services and has a direct line to these when referring families
Bela hands me a published report from 2009 which I clutch to. There’s something about actually visiting these places that you just can’t get via the internet. Collecting leaflets and small pieces of photocopied information on the day, to me, as an outreach worker, are gold dust.
Like the Episcopal Centre in the Bronx the program recognises what works for the community and involves members of the community and past parents to volunteer/train and retain for local knowledge, without this it just would not work. They go deeper. They have just opened up a new cooperative for undocumented immigrants an enterprising program empowering these members of the community, a marginalised population that are notoriously hard to reach. The stability of the program gives guidance and trust to these families.
I want to get a peek at the river and the city from here but I’m stopped by the derelict structures of the industrial warehouses and garages, and think of the end scene of Dirty Harry and turn my flip flops the other way quickly! I pass a group of men sat outside an army surplus shop. One is a grandfather holding his grandson chatting with his mates. I pass another elderly couple pushing their grandson along the side road. The parents will be at work I think.
Bela if you’re reading this, I would like to return and see the programs in action. I’ll call you!