HCCI's Young Adult Supportive Services Program
HCCI's Young Adult Supportive Services Program
Each year, nearly 1,000 young adults “age out” of New York City's foster care system on their 21st birthday. These young people are often unprepared to live on their own, and are more likely to drop out of high school or become homeless.
Since 2008, HCCI’s Young Adult Supportive Services/Independence Starts At Home (YASS/ISAH) program has helped young adults who age out of the foster care system become more self-sufficient, and lead productive lives.
The program is housed in HCCI’s heralded David & Joyce Dinkins Gardens (Dinkins Gardens) on West 153rd Street, the first affordable green housing in New York City. Of 85 low-income units, 26 apartments were set aside specifically for youth in the YASS/ISAH program. Youth who have aged-out of foster care are referred by local foster care agencies, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and the Agency for Children’s Services (ACS).
"HCCI is deeply committed to aiding this special population," said HCCI's First Vice Chair, Joan O. Dawson, PhD. "The lack of parental support makes these young people extremely vulnerable. We are doing our best to enable them to lead happy, successful lives."
Six years ago, Mary Brown, now 27, was one of those youth. When she aged out, she moved into an independent living program offered through her foster care agency. “I was living in an apartment under supervision for about a year and a half,” said Mary.
In a supervised independent living situation, according to Mary, every person has their own bedroom within the apartment but they share the common space (living room, kitchen, bathroom). “It's the agency's way of preparing you to live on your own. They'll give you a certain amount of money every week and you had to be responsible. You had to come home at a certain time.”
In late 2007, Aysha Schomburg, Mary's former caseworker and mentor, told her about YASS/ISAH. “Transitioning into my own apartment was something that I wanted to do and HCCI's program was perfect for me.”
In order to be eligible for the program, participants must be between the ages of 21 and 26 and have aged out of foster care within the past two years. They must also show proof of income for three months (or six consecutive paystubs). “Residents have to be interviewed by staff to assess interest in program participation and commitment to self-sufficiency,” said Robin Brown, Life Skills Coordinator and Program Administrator for YASS/ISAH.
Apart from gaining her own living space and real independence, Mary also credits Brown for her unending support and for being a valuable resource to her during that transition into adulthood.“The goals of the program are to achieve social, emotional and mental well-being; to help the youth become economically independent and build sufficient support systems,” said Brown. The program offers several different services to help make life easier for their participants, which range from mentorship and assistance with educational and career opportunities to budget counseling, apartment and childcare referrals.
“Robin treats you the same way that she would treat her own children,” Mary said with emphasis. “She's been very instrumental in getting us help whenever we need it—paying the rent, the light bill or anything else. Sometimes you don't know how to talk to other people, especially just coming out of foster care. It's good to have an adult there with you. Not someone to do everything for you, but to help guide you along the way.”
Brown has known Mary for over two years now and since joining HCCI's YASS/ISAH program, she's noticed how much Mary has grown in that time.
“Mary is goal oriented and strong minded,” said Brown. “Her strength lies in her self-advocacy. Mary has been able to move forward in spite of her circumstances.”
Prior to aging out, Mary was active in promoting policy changes for children in foster care. “One of the programs that I helped implement was called Youth Financial Empowerment (YFE). It shows young adults how to save money.”
Mary now works as a concierge at a popular hotel chain in Manhattan and plans on returning to Bronx Community College in the fall of 2014. Through her achievements, notably her work as a youth advocate, Mary has been able to sit down with city officials, forcing them to look at foster care from a different perspective.
“Sometimes adults can see things as one-sided,” said Mary. “They don't see it from the position of the person who's living in foster care. They only see it from policy. I could tell them about what's going in foster and group homes and bring these problems to their attention.”
According to Robin Brown, Mary is just one of 19 young participants of the program who's currently living in Dinkins Garden.
Residents Rejoice! HCCI Preserves Affordability for 447 Apartments
The Year 15 Preservation Program in Action
FEATURING: Miriam Bradge
VIDEO TESTIMONY: Valarie Settles
Since its inception in 1986, the mission of HCCI’s Office of Real Estate Development (ORED) has been to create housing for low to middle income families living in Harlem. When a building needs upgrading and it requires rehabilitation, ORED determines its current condition and puts a plan into action that both enhances and preserves the home.
Together with NYC's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), HCCI's ORED and their revitalization efforts strongly benefited from The Year 15 Preservation Program. This tax credit incentive program provides low-interest loans to residential units in order to preserve both the quality and affordability of low income housing throughout the city. To date, 447 apartments in the Bradhurst section of Harlem alone have been rehabilitated thanks to the combined efforts of The Year 15 Preservation Program and ORED.
“This project took a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Malcolm Punter, Director of Real Estate Development. “Through it all, we were able to deliver on our promises and stay true to our mission of ensuring that the families of Harlem have access to high quality, affordable housing. It’s wonderful to see all of our good efforts come to fruition.”
Miriam Bradge, 64, is a retired administrative worker from the phone company who currently resides at 2730 Frederick Douglas Blvd. “I've lived in this area all my life, just here and one other place,” said Bradge during our recent interview. She was one of the first residents to move into the building back in 1994. In that same year, the building's rehabilitation efforts first began.
“Whole blocks were empty. They've warehoused buildings in our neighborhoods for so long and we knew this was coming,” said Bradge as she discussed witnessing the gentrification firsthand to her native Harlem. “Most of the stuff that they're building now is not affordable. It's really sad for people who want to stay in this area and they're being priced out. We're lucky [that] we're here. I could not move right now into what I have. I couldn't afford it.”
Bradge was just one of 68 residents whose apartment went under renovation. “It was two years ago in February,” said Bradge. “The whole process took two or three days. And the guys were very accommodating.”
From the kitchen to the bathroom, Bradge walked me through her apartment to show me all of the work that had been done. “This is mine,” as Bradge happily pointed to the wall color which she picked herself. She recalled how efficient the team of workers, who came in shifts, were as they painted, plastered and installed new appliances in her kitchen. The crew even took on a job not scheduled in their work in the apartment.
“I had surface mold in the [main] bathroom. At first, the [worker] said that he would only take down the [moldy] wall.” After further inspection, it was decided that the entire bathroom would need a complete overhaul. “They tore it down to the bare bones and they put in mold resistant plaster, a new sink, toilet, medicine cabinet, light fixtures and they resurfaced the bathtub.”
Not only did Bradge still reside in the apartment during the renovation, but the crew did a thorough clean of the apartment after their work was done.
ORED's Punter has known Bradge since 2008. “Ms. Bradge is a tireless community worker,” said Punter. “As a long term resident of Harlem, she has committed herself to helping her fellow neighbor within the building she lives and in the community.”
Bradge's apartment was certainly a hub and it was hard not to notice the love that she receives from all those who depend on her. “I've got my babies and my grandbabies,” Bradge said with a glowing smile. A proud mom and grandmother of 10, some of whom lives with her, she is far from slowing down.
Between her family, her neighbors, and her friendly dog Spartacus, Miriam Bradge continues to be a vital member of her Harlem community.
“Being here has been a good experience. This is my hometown. I couldn't go anywhere else and have what I have.”