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HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services (HSVS) Surfside Gardens Cornerstone Program in Coney Island has been left without a permanent location since Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012.
The community has been waiting over five years for a resolution. “Because of Superstorm Sandy, and quite frankly because of government bureaucracy and incompetence, this has not been reopened, but we are doing everything possible to hold their feet to the fire,” said Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents District 47, including Coney Island, Seagate, Bensonhurst and Gravesend.
“The building is nowhere near ready to be moved into. If you look at the playground, there’s broken glass everywhere and bullet holes in the slides. It’s very sad. Every time I’m there, young children come up to me and ask if the Center is opening soon. They are waiting and we don’t have an answer,” said Brooke Rosenthal, Vice President of Youth Development at HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services.
The closure of the Center has directly impacted the community’s exposure to unsafe, sometimes fatal conditions. “Tragically, last year, a 10 year old child was shot in the street. We have lost quite a few young men to street violence. If we had the program, we would be able to give them the support they really need,” said Joseph Packer, a lifelong Coney Island resident and community leader.
“It’s a resource for the community and for our youth. As a child growing up, I participated at Surfside and (the program) shielded us from participating in wrongful activities in the neighborhood,” said Mustafa Ahmed, a Surfside employee and alum.
Parents and children alike depend heavily on Surfside Cornerstone, which provides after-school, evening and summer camp programs. “Surfside saved my life when I went back to school. My son does his homework after school and participates in the weekend program too,” said parent Kaden Jones. Her two daughters previously attended Surfside.
“Due to the displacement, the Cornerstone Program can’t fully offer children in Coney Island the opportunities they rightfully deserve. They are kids who have been denied many opportunities throughout their lives through no fault of their own,” said Treyger.
Over half of Cornerstone program participants who reside in NYCHA housing are often from high-poverty households and may be more likely to perform below grade level in reading and math. The Cornerstone programs are critical to closing the gap and ensuring that kids aren’t left behind. “I was at a first grade level and now, I’m at a third grade level. The teachers here gave me some strategies and now, I get it easily,” shared a student at the program.
“Surfside has moved five times to nearby locations, including Liberation High School, Carey Gardens Community Center and P.S. 288, where the program is temporarily running now,” explained Felicia Turner, Educational Coordinator and an employee at Surfside Cornerstone Program for over 10 years.
After the storm, the HSVS Surfside Gardens Cornerstone team wanted to organize its own cleanup, but the structural damage was irreparable. “After Sandy, our students, their parents and seniors had no place to go. We had little constancy for children who very much need stability and support. We no longer had late hours, so teens roamed the neighborhood and were subject to street violence. We could no longer run our parenting classes,” explained Radayza Montas, Director of the Surfside Gardens Cornerstone Program.
“Seniors, who found activities with the children the highlight of their day, now have even fewer reasons to leave their apartments. Our program is more than an after-school and summer camp. It’s an intergenerational community space,” said Montas.
“Coney Island is a small place, but it doesn’t have a lot of services. We desperately need educational, cultural and recreational programs,” said Ronald Stewart, lifelong resident of Coney Island and involved with the HeartShare St. Vincent’s program for 25 years.
“There is a way to help. Share this video and your Surfside story on social media using #FixSurfside,” said Rosenthal.