More than 1,600 underprivileged children have been “granted” the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Local elected officials and community leaders gathered on January 13 to announce that a $500,000 Promise Neighborhood planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) had been procured for the children of the Astoria Houses.
The grant, which was secured by Zone 126, an organization aiming to increase the number of low-income children in Long Island City and Astoria who complete high school, will be used to create “cradle to career” educational support for the young residents of the housing development and the surrounding community. The funding – presented to only 20 organizations nationwide – is being combined with a $350,000 contribution by the Elmezzi Foundation, which created Zone 126, and $400,000 in private donations.
Zone 126 also plans to apply for a federal implementation grant from the U.S. DOE, which could acquire $4 to $6 million in further federal funding.
“This grant is an exciting milestone for all of us; our staff, our partners – the residents, schools, nonprofits, public officials and funders who invest in education in Astoria,” said Chris Cutter, executive director of Zone 126. “We have been working together on this initiative for the past four years and now have the backing we need to plan a cradle to career continuum of supports for children in our community.”
The Promise Neighborhoods program, which was launched by President Barack Obama in 2010, aims to address the difficulties faced by students in impoverished communities by providing a wide range of services, including improving an area’s health safety, and stability, expanding access to learning technology and Internet connectivity and boosting family engagement in student learning.
“I’m absolutely thrilled because of the possibility of giving so much aid and support to 1,600 of our young people here in western Queens,” said Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, who strongly campaigned for the grant. “It will help bring the American Dream to so many young people. [This program] is very comprehensive. It is about screening their eyes and hearing; giving them the tools they need, whether it be computers or learning aids to help them compete; providing support from their families and their community in after school program and tutoring; helping them plan and finance their college education; and helping them move forward to become leaders in our great country.”
During the next year, Zone 126 will determine what services are most needed in the community, after which the organization will develop a detailed plan to address them.
According to Claudia Coger, the president of the Astoria Houses Residents Association, the grant is essential for the children of the housing development, who she believes have been prevented from fully reaching their potential.
“This is so important to us, because in this district, our children are rating very low, and they are unable to compete when they get to middle school and high school,” said Coger. “This grant will plant the seeds in this community that our children will be competitive from Kindergarten through the rest of their lives. This will empower the lives of so many children, that they will have a jump start from the crib.”
Parents of Astoria Houses were also enthusiastic about the grant, which has increased their aspirations for their children.
“This grant will be important for my kids,” said Kevin Harris, a resident of Astoria Houses who has a 14-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter. “This is about having the right kinds of programs for our kids. Hopefully the after school programs will help my son advance in science and math. If they can help him build his self esteem it will be great for him going forward to college. Maybe it can help him be a doctor.”