Astoria House residents showed their determination to make changes in their lives for themselves and their children, according to Canisha Ingram, a mother and resident of Astoria Houses, at Community Pride Day on Saturday.
The event was organized by Zone 126, a community group dedicated to supporting further education at the public housing complex. Kids played games, got their faces painted, took turns in a blow-up castle and ate meals, while their parents attended educational workshops. About 250 people attended.
“I came to find out a lot of people had the same problems more or less, worrying about obesity for young kids and diabetes; making sure they get enough to eat and not eating junk food,” said Ingram, who has lived in western Queens her entire life.
“A lot of people didn’t know about different disabilities in children, like dyslexia, and resources [available],” Ingram added.
Astoria Houses is a public housing complex with 22 buildings and 1,000 apartments that is home to more than 3,000 people.
The event was also a perfect venue for Zone 126 to announce a $350,000 grant that will go to PS 171’s summer program for 200 children living in Astoria Houses. Building Educated Leaders for Life worked with Zone 126 to raise the money for the grant.
Zone 126 contributed an additional $20,000 for summer programs.
“This program has the ability to improve the educational outcomes for 1,600 students or more, living in Astoria Houses,” said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.’s chief of staff, Jonathan Chung. “It’s breaking cycles of poverty.”
The grant, which was awarded to the organization in May, is $100,000 more than initially expected, according to Chris Cutter, executive director of Zone 126.
“There hasn’t been anything like this in the community in two decades,” said Cutter, referring to the $350,000 grant.
“They’re trying to make a change and I am in support,” Tia Haines said, a long-time Astoria Houses resident and community activist. She is a frequent volunteer at Zone 126 events and meetings.
“You have to be for change and practice what you preach,” Haines added.
She is the first person in her immediate family to attend and graduate from college and wants to act as an example to her nephew, which encourages her to get involved in the community by helping her neighborhood.
“I just want him to be into school, ‘school is cool.’ The dropout rate is so high; 13- and 14- year-olds are not going to school. I always say, ‘It’s not how you did. It’s how you do it,’” Haines said.
Zone 126 provided a van shuttle service from Astoria Houses to the carnival site, so residents could easily attend. The organization also posted signs throughout the public housing complex to promote the event and encourage involvement of residents.
“These kids are capable of going to college. These kids are capable of succeeding. What we need to do is make sure they’re supported from the day they’re born to the day they graduate,” Cutter said.
Zone 126 is recognized as a “Promise Neighborhood” after winning a federal grant for $500,000 last December from the U.S. Department of Education. The federal designation, which was given to 19 other distressed communities nationwide, gives these communities access to $10 million to create programs promoting education for children.
In the original version of the story above the funding relationship between the nonprofit group BELL and Zone 126 was misstated. BELL does not give grants but shares costs with partner schools and organizations. We regret the error.