Ribbon Cutting, Revitalization, and Refreshments

September 20th marked the Ribbon Cutting of 1561 Walton Avenue and the renovation of the New Settlement Apartments. ESKW/A are the Architects for 1561 Walton Avenue, which is the latest project in our over 30-year working relationship with Settlement Housing Fund (SHF), which includes the nearby New Settlement Community Campus.

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

Alexa Sewell, President of SHF, welcomed a gathering of over 50 representatives including government officials, financial partners, developers, contractors, and—of course—architects. We are honored that she described 1561 Walton Avenue as a “gorgeous building,” which is SHF’s 18th to date.

“It takes a lot to make this happen: not only resources, but the values of fairness and justice, and multiple bright minds,” Sewell said. “This project represents former CEO Carol Lamberg and SHF’s huge commitment to the neighborhood, and we’ve remained steadfastly committed to it.”

But the real reason everyone was there, she added, is the residents, “who are ultimately the bedrock of this community.”

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

Sewell then welcomed up Joseph Ferdinand, who lives in the new building, to say a few words.

“I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t really believe in perfection. And I know that sounds crazy, but I’m being real,” Ferdinand said, before describing a rather perfect scenario enjoying his new apartment and performing all the seemingly simple tasks of upkeep and care within it, doing so with a notable sense of pride and responsibility.

Before Sewell invited RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner/CEO of NYS Homes and Community Renewal, to the podium, she noted that it was RuthAnne’s birthday and led the room in a round of “Happy Birthday.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than celebrating this project,” Visnauskas said, noting the holistic approach the Bronx community has taken to revitalization, including building a healthcare facility, arts center, and infrastructure. She also added that since 2001, Governor Cuomo and his office have helped finance 14,000 apartments, and last year the Bronx marked its lowest level of unemployment in 18 years at 4.8 percent, a direct result of these revitalization efforts.

The final speaker was Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). She congratulated all the stakeholders and partners in attendance for working together.

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

“Projects like these aren’t a marathon or a sprint,” Torres-Springer said. “They’re a relay.”

And with that, attendees sprinted (read: walked briskly) to 1561 Walton Avenue’s ground-floor community room for refreshments. We were honored to be a part of the ceremony and the project—and are proud to continue the work of building affordable housing in New York City into the future. Thank you to SHF and the Briarwood Organization!

(Daughtry Carstarphen, our Project Manager on 1561 Walton Avenue, recently left ESKW/A to become VP for Capital Projects at BRC. We miss her around the office but were very happy that she was able to reunite for the celebration.)

 

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Celebrating Very Special Mothers at Hour Children’s Ribbon Cutting

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Hour Children Inc. celebrated their official ribbon cutting at the recently completed Hour Apartment House III. Among the many honored guests were Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, Greg Birch from New York State Homes and Community Renewal, Brett Hebner from the Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation, and Deputy Director Raymond Hodges from NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Each honored guest remarked on the beauty of the building stating that this project is more than affordable housing: it’s housing that lends dignity and is a place of healing, blessing, and hope.

The 18 families at Hour Apartment House III are all formerly incarcerated mothers who have reunited with their children and are on a journey to improve the lives of their families. The event was particularly poignant as we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday. This brings us to the most powerful part of the ribbon cutting: the women and children who spoke to the group. These speakers shared their stories of struggle, encouragement, and triumph all at the hand of Sister Tesa Fitzgerald and the staff of Hour Children. One young man spoke with wisdom beyond his years of life being like an arrow: “sometimes you have to be pulled backwards to shoot forward.”  Another woman, Vinita, spoke about her many struggles and how Sister Tesa never gave up on her, pulled her out of difficult situations, and sent regular letters of encouragement to her while she was incarcerated. Vinita, who loves to talk, then faced Sister Tesa head-on and said, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

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With Mother’s Day coming this weekend, we are very happy to acknowledge the amazing and inspiring women at Hour Apartment House III. All mothers struggle to do the best for their children and the journey these women are on is one we are proud to be part of. We are glad to see them all taking pride in their new apartments and forming a strong community where borrowing a cup of sugar is no big deal.

We are especially inspired by Sister Tesa, without whom the program wouldn’t exist and countless lives would have taken a very different path. She is fearlessly committed to helping these mothers and missed no opportunity to remind the funders and politicians that they would be hearing from her again very soon!

Architect: ESKW/A; General Contractor: Fazio Construction