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Busloads of asylum seekers continue to arrive at Port Authority, and West Siders are welcoming their new neighbors with community gatherings, donation drives and school supply fundraisers.
Over on 10th Avenue at The Skyline Hotel, where many newly arriving families have been housed in a temporary shelter, community organizers from the Open Hearts Initiative welcomed residents with a sidewalk chalk meet and greet. “We’ve found that casual community events like chalking are a great way to welcome folks and start to build connections between housed and unhoused neighbors, and this event was successful on both counts. We were really glad to have Midtown neighbors coming together to send messages of care and compassion, and it was awesome to see kids having so much fun making art. We’re excited to continue building connections with our neighbors at the Skyline Hotel and finding ways to provide community support,” organizing leader Sara Newman told W42ST, as the group posted opportunities for further volunteer events on Twitter.
Local leaders are also joining the effort to supply families in the coming days. City Council Member Erik Bottcher’s office, in collaboration with State Senator Brad Hoylman, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Mark Levine, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, Community Board 4 and the Open Hearts Initiative, is organizing a donation drive to collect supplies for area families this Tuesday.
“We live in a time of great need,” Bottcher said in a statement. “Thousands of asylum seekers from Central and South America — many of whom are families with small children — are arriving in New York City with nothing but the clothes on their backs. New Yorkers displaced after the end of the eviction moratorium are entering our shelter system. Unhoused people are living on the streets in numbers we haven’t seen in decades. On Tuesday, August 30, from 8:30am to 4:30pm, we will be collecting donated goods for our fellow New Yorkers in need. If you’re unable to donate in person, please consider contributing to groups like Team TLC NYC who are providing basic needs and support to asylum seekers in New York City.”
And as New York’s first day of school approaches, the area’s teachers and parents are taking extra care to ensure that (despite potentially significant Department of Education budget cuts by the Adams administration) schools and new students are supplied with what they need. Officials from the Department of Education (DOE) have confirmed approximately 1,000 asylum-seeking students have enrolled in the city’s schools, with 50 new students headed to PS 111. DOE Chancellor David Banks told reporters last week that he and other DOE officials were working to provide additional language-support and social service programs to the arriving students in an initiative called “Project Open Arms”.
Over on the West Side, community members were taking their own measures to ensure schools were ready. “We’ve been just talking as citizens about what’s going to happen,” said Aleta LaFargue. “Is anybody thinking about these schools? Not only are you going to have more kids enrolled, but kids that are probably going to need a lot of supplies.” LaFargue has been working to boost area teacher supply lists in hopes of getting classrooms prepared to welcome returning and new students, some of whom have just arrived in the US.
Joanne Ramirez, a 20-year teaching veteran at PS 111, was thrilled to see the first fundraisers fulfilled through the campaign. “With a lot of the children from asylum-seeking families coming, we really need to focus on language development,” she said, “so the materials that we requested for this year are around helping kids develop language and storytelling.” She hopes to fill at least one more supply list as the first day of school approaches.
For Ramirez, the mission to help kids in Hell’s Kitchen schools is part and parcel of being a lifelong neighborhood native. “I was born and raised here,” she said. “My parents are old-school Hell’s Kitchen people — they met in Hell’s Kitchen in the sixties. I went to Sacred Heart, but since I was a girl all the boys went to PS 1111, so I’ve grown up in that school. And after teaching three years elsewhere, I decided to come back and I’ve been at PS 111 for 20 years.”
Having witnessed the school and neighborhood change over the years, Ramirez has now taught multiple generations of families at PS 111. She and other local educators take keeping Hell’s Kitchen a welcoming, open place very seriously. “The neighborhood has changed so much from when I grew up. It was scary for many years, and then it changed to the point where it was a whole different neighborhood —we’ve all stayed,” she added. “Hell’s Kitchen people that are committed to Hell’s Kitchen, we’ve stuck around through the good days and the bad days. PS 111 has seen those changes where we’ve had some really great years and we’ve had some difficult years. But there’s a core group of us that have invested our lives there.”