“It’s a pleasure to be here to celebrate multiculturalism,” Mark-Viverito said. “I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and I came to New York City at the age of 18, and I’m very proud of who I am. We live in such a beautifully diverse city where we can learn so much of all the cultures that are represented.”
Decorating the walls above the gymnasium on the main floor of the settlement house were displays designed by the children who rely on the center’s resources. The night also featured several performances from groups of all ages, as well as craft displays by local vendors.
After taking in the displays and performances, Van Bramer said, “Nights like tonight are everything that is right about our city and about our neighborhood.”
Jacob Riis executive director Christopher Hanway couldn’t have agreed more.
“It’s one of our most anticipated events of the year,” Hanway said. “It gives the opportunity to showcase all the great work being done by our young people.”
Among the activities celebrated was the launch of a new Read-a-thon program, a pledge system-based reading program for youngsters.
In its 125th year, the organization has been operating out of its current location at the Queensbridge Houses since the 1950s.
While he is grateful for all of the support his organization receives from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Hanway said one of the biggest challenges facing the settlement is getting the authority to approve maintenance work.
“In many ways, in most ways, NYCHA is a very good partner; they do a lot of good work for the community,” Hanway said. “The problem with NYCHA is that they are heavily subsidized by a lot of sources, including the city, state and the federal government, and those funds have been shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.”
Van Bramer last year set aside $300,000 to ensure a new air conditioning system for the Jacob Riis gymnasium and bathroom repairs in the basement of the structure for use by the elderly and disabled. There have been delays, however, in approval for work orders by NYCHA that have slowed the process significantly, according to Hanway.
“NYCHA has this huge backlog of repairs, capital work that needs to be done, and after the council member worked really hard to allocate $300,000 for the A/C and the downstairs bathroom, NYCHA wasn’t able to move on it,” Hanway said.
The good news is, while the much-needed air-conditioning may not be ready by this summer, it is in the works and will be installed soon, according to Hanway.
“We actually have a timeline to get it fixed by next winter at the latest,” he said.