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Pan's Life Story

My Life Story As A Refugee here in America
By Pan Young

I am a 15-year-old girl and a sophomore at Bishop Maginn High School. I  live with my mother on Morton Avenue. I came here to America as a refugee back in 2014. Yes, that means that this year on July 12th me and my family will be here in America for five years. Now, the reason why I am writing this story is because I want to share what happened in my life here in America, and basically how I become who I am today.
 First, I want to share how is life here in America as a refugee. It is not easy at all. When I first came here, I felt like I was in a different world. Everything seemed so different — I mean basically everything: the culture, the language, obviously, the weather, the food and much more. Even myself — I felt like a different person living here. 
I still remember how I was struggling to speak or answer back to my teacher about how I felt at school, or how I am doing with school and life. And sometimes you do feel like you regret coming here since you feel like you don’t belong here That’s how me and my mother felt at first, especially when I go to school for the first time. Let me tell you, English is “ridiculous.” One word can have a thousand meaning and it can be translates to many things. English is my third language, and It took me lots of concentration and focus, trying my best to get used to the language and how to pronounce words and learn their definitions as well.

At Giffen Memorial Elementary School I was put in 6th grade, based my age. I bet I was 11 years old. I still remember the first day of school here. I was sweating the whole time and looked like I was about to cry and faint. My communication with others was not doing well; I was very shy and intimidated. I was assigned to English as a Second Language, or ESL, as well as regular classes. That’s where I met  the ESL teacher, Ms. Domenico. I believed she’s still there in charge of a little higher class of students who attend ESL like fourth graders, fifth graders and sixth graders like me.

And the day I met Ms. Domenico, I started to see the positive side of my life. I feel happier and more grateful to be here in America. She is one of the greatest people that I’ve met in my life. She taught me not just English language but many other things that had not made sense to me before then. 

She helped me to overcome my struggles and my fear of this new place and new culture and people. She also helped me with my behavior and encouraged my personality to come out of my shy un-outgoing personality to who I really am. She also helped my mother, giving her ideas on places to go to get answers to our questions. I could go to her and tell my problems and she will just help me through it without hesitation. 

I believe that’s why you don’t judge things too quickly. I realize she showed up to me for a reason and she assure me that I am not the only who feel and act like this. I was just shook — my brain couldn’t process what was going on with my life, I feel like that’s when I felt brave enough and my life started to change  I felt relieved and as time went on, before I even knew it myself, I start to make new friends at school and not being alone.
At Giffen I began to feel like a new me. I entered a new good chapter of my life  Bit by bit my new personality emerged, but my old self is still somewhere deep down in me. And you should never forget who you are and who you were; that way you will realize how far you’ve come, how much many things have happened and changed you, and how many things you’ve achieved. 

Before I end my story I just want to tell you a short message to all the others refugee out there those who are still struggling to get through their life. It doesn’t matter where you came from or who you are, don’t be afraid, and don’t be afraid to talk about yourself. I believe that you were born for a reason and live your life according to that reason. why you were born in the first place. And one more important thing is to love yourself. That way you can love and take care of others.


South End Priorities

South End Priorities
(Developed at June 28 SECC Meeting in response to the AC Land Bank’s cluster development proposal)

1.      Mixed income housing
    1. Homeownership
    2. Rental
2.      Local employment opportunities
3.      Mixed-use development (with local retail opportunities)
4.      Opportunities for local residents to buy shares in the developments
5.      Community benefit agreement.
6.      No currently vacant buildings should be- left vacant at the end of the process. (Either rehabbed or deemed too far gone and demolished).
7.      Save historic buildings where possible, use to enhance new developments.
8.      Commercial corridor that has clear and welcoming entrances
9.      Crime deterrents through improved infrastructure
    1. Address overgrown trees that block streetlights.
    2. Improved and upgraded street lights
    3. Deteriorated sidewalks
10.  Increase public trash receptacles
11.  Green/energy efficient developments- SUSTAINABILITY
12.  INTERCONNECTED - Smart City

NOTES: Our chance of success with this list depends in part on finding a developer who is willing to work with the community. The more specific we can be about how to achieve the goals on this list the better our chances of success. Specifically:
1.      Housing: What is the mix we desire of rental and owner occupied, and what is the mix of income levels? Numbers will be welcomed by developers even if they come back with their own.
2.      Employment: Write a plan to employ local people using the pipeline being established by current actors, including City of Albany youth programs, City School District and Mission Accomplished, BOCES and others. Can our work group take this on? Again, numbers help.
3.      Retail: If this is a demand, what is the appropriate retail for the Second Avenue area, and what has a reasonable chance of success? What is the developer’s role beyond building an appropriate space? Can we find an owner/operator for the business?
4.      Shares/Ownership: This is David Craft’s proposal and he is working on specifics.
5.      Community Benefits agreement can encompass any of the other items listed here.
6.      Vacant Buildings: The idea is that within the designated development area, the developer takes responsibility for all vacant buildings, including buildings not yet owned by the land bank (where feasible). The city now has the capacity to assess all vacant buildings as to future viability, and decisions on each building should be made in partnership with the Building Department, residents of the area and the developer.
7.      Rehab of difficult buildings should be more feasible because the project is in an historic area and the scale of the project is large enough to allow the developer to access state and federal tax credits.
8.      Crime Deterrent through physical improvements. It will be in the developer’s best interests to have these things done by the city. This is not untypical in new developments, and we can tell the developer we will work with him to insure the city commits its resources.
9.      Trash Receptacles (and improved street cleanliness): Ditto.
10.  Sustainability: There are lots of opportunities to plug into existing energy efficiency programs. (NYSERDA, Green and Healthy NY, Solarize Albany, etc.) Can somebody research what is available, put together a package?
11.  Interconnection: This section of the South End is a candidate for implementation of the city’s initiative to install Wifi on lighting polls, connect residents with the city. With the neighborhood’s support, a developer can ask the city to make this one of its contributions to the project.
Not Discussed:
School 17: This building on Second Avenue is currently in private hands, but could be crucial to the overall success of the project, providing space for both residential and commercial and even community space. Do we want to include a proposal for reuse of School 17?

It’s Now or Never For the South End-Groesbeckville Historic District

The “core” of the South End, between Morton and the Second Avenue area, was designated a federal historic district in 1984, with the best of intentions. The neighborhood has a rich history and its residents have had key roles in Albany for more than four centuries.. The idea behind the federal designation was first to build a sense of pride in a declining neighborhood, and second to open the possibility of  state and federal preservation funding.
But 35 years later, the South End’s historic status has done virtually nothing to help the neighborhood. Instead, twe are in a sea of Red X buildings and vacant lots. “Emergency” demolitions have demoralized residents further. Investment of any sort is a rarity, and the neighborhood’s historic status just makes it more difficult and expensive to get work done.
Time has done the work that good intentions could not. The economics of restoring buildings that have been left vacant and exposed to the elements for decades or more gets more and more difficult as time moves on.
Residents are fed up with the vacant buildings, and beginning to feel the power of their own advocacy. At the June 19 meeting of the city’s Historic Resource Commission a dozen residents showed up in support of the Albany County Land Bank’s petition to demolish 62 Alexander Street. Residents had collected petition signatures of practically everyone within a block of the eyesore building. Many residents knew the history of the building — the families who had lived there — and the extent of the deterioration. One resident said he knows for a fact that the building has been empty for 17 years.
I was told later that  members of the HRC was unaccustomed to this sort of turnout. Still, they managed to take a good half hour discussing the pros and cons of this demolition. They should be ready for many more, and hopefully won’t agonize so long over each one.
62 Alexander is being slowly taken apart, as the land bank seems to have learned how to do responsible demolitions that eliminate the clouds of toxic dust that have plagued residents in the past. We can hope that the city will follow their lead.
I do not believe that most neighborhood residents would advocate tearing down every old building in the South End. There are indeed many buildings that could be saved, restored and made into good dwelling places that give their street the character and beauty that we all appreciate.
But people are no longer willing to wait for something good to happen. The city has initiated yet another study of its historic preservation profile, but the emphasis is clearly on the Center Square, Ten Brock type districts. If historic preservation advocates want to save South End-Groesbeckville as an historic district, they need to do better than stalling tactics to preserve some buildings for some hypothetical future. They need to find a credible, realistic way to match plans with actual money, and development that is feasible in the immediate future.
The good news is that some new tools make decision-making much less painful. The new city ordinance that gives the building department the power to enter buildings on the Vacant Building Registry is a potential game-changer. Building inspectors can now make informed decisions on which buildings are beyond saving and which could be stabilized and then restored to use. It is even possible for the city, with neighborhood input, to set a goal of eliminating all vacant buildings within a three-year period. This would not only improve the health and well-being of residents, but also open the way for responsible development that includes both new construction on vacant land and restoration of the remaining viable historic buildings.

-- Tom McPheeters


Don’t Waste Food Waste! Join the Radix Center’s Community Compost Initiative!

Poor soil is the biggest obstacle to urban food production Much of the once fertile Hudson River Valley is now polluted and paved over. How can people who live in the most contaminated parts of Albany access healthy soil? The answer is simple: use local organic (once living) waste to produce fresh compost. Food waste, dead leaves, wood chips, and grass clippings can all be diverted from the landfill and reintegrated back into the environment as compost, a nutritional soil supplement used in gardening. Finished compost is amazing for a number of reasons: it restores nutrients and microbial processes to sterilized soils, improves moisture retention and pH, creates soil where none exists, and reduces the risk of exposure to soil-bound lead.

Albany’s Rapp Road Landfill is slated for closure. Composting is a good alternative to the dump.  In fact, it may be the sustainable solution that helps bring vegetables to food deserts and mitigates climate change.

The Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany is kickstarting the way for the Capital Region to compost more efficiently. Radix is a non-profit educational learning center and urban farm based in Albany’s South End. Ten years ago the site was a derelict parking. It now has a solar-heated bioshelter greenhouse that is managed as an indoor ecosystem with fish and flora integrated in an aquaponic system. Microlivestock like chickens and ducks live on the farm and eat food waste. The gardens use a rainwater collection system and electricity is provided by photovoltaic panels. As a demonstration site, Radix runs sustainability education programs and a farmshare. Radix works with the community advocacy organization A Village… Inc., to increase access to healthy, farm fresh food in the South End (classified as a food desert) by distributing at the Health Market, the only farmer’s market in the South End. Radix also encourages food waste diversion through the Community Composting Initiative (CCI).

The CCI is a weekly compost collection service in which subscribers get their food waste picked up at their curbside. The CCI also provides a hands-on example of sustainable waste management for our education programs. Volunteers, youth participants, and interns can touch, examine, and engage with all aspects of the compost process, from adding food scraps to the pile, to sifting fresh compost soil to garden beds.

Radix utilizes several techniques for composting. First, microlivestock such as chickens and geese eat food scraps, and thus lay eggs and defecate manure. Though they eat a significant amount of food scraps, not all is edible; what does not get eaten by the animals is mixed into compost piles with wood chips. When nitrogen-rich food waste is mixed with carbon-based woodchips, aerobic microbial composting begins and the compost pile heats up. As a result of the microbial metabolism, the internal temperature can reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, we harness some of the biothermal heat by running water pipes through the compost pile, and into the greenhouse. Over time, the pile cools and shrinks by almost 50% of volume, and earthworms take over the next part of the process. The finished product is a beautiful broken-down organic matter that is dark in color, with a sweet, rich earthy scent. This resulting soil can then be added as a fertilizer to our raised-bed gardens, replacing the nutrients that are lost with the previous year’s crop.

We believe that it is just as important to keep composting local as food production. When food waste is transported over long distances, the greenhouse gas emissions negate the atmospheric benefits of composting. Furthermore, in local “microbrew” composting, there is greater care put in to what materials get added in to the compost pile, screening out plastic trash, which in industrial scale compost end up getting processed anyway.

We offer a number of practical solutions: some organizations and businesses voluntarily donate their food waste to us; for those who don’t have time, we offer the compost collection subscription; and for those who want to compost local, but aren’t local to Albany, we offer to help match farms to food waste producers.

Composting food waste is an essential component of creating healthy, equitable, and sustainable urban ecosystems. Keeping food out of landfills and making soil helps fight climate change, addresses food scarcity, maintains employment, educates youth, and regenerates soil ecosystem health.

To support Radix, or learn more about our programs, check out www.radixcenter.org.

This article was produced in part with funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
 Any opinions, findings, and/or interpretations of data contained herein are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions, interpretations or policy of Rochester Institute of Technology and its NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or the State.

People of the South End: Sandra McKinley

Sandra McKinley is the founder of D.I.V.A’s for Christ, also known as D.I.V.A's, an organization she created around the same time that AVillage came to be. D.I.V.A's means “Divinely, Inspired, Victoriously, Assigned sister”. The mission of D.I.V.A's for Christ is to empower, strengthen, and encourage individuals living in low-income communities as well as those coming out of jails and other institutions through a network of services and programs designed to help them succeed and survive in today's world. Although D.I.V.A’s still needs a 501c3, one of its most significant focuses is in helping people gain access to construction jobs and the rebuilding of their community and themselves.

Sandra McKinley’s connection with God has been a throughline of her life. Her faith not only continually brings her guidance and restoration, but served as an inspiration for her community work.

“D.I.V.A's was revealed. It wasn’t something that I thought up. It was something that was revealed to me through my heart, through my situations and my struggles and my life. So as I grew to know who God was, he taught me who I was.”

Sandra McKinley cares deeply about fighting the oppression that black men and women face, and wants to break through the wall that separates our communities from true success. She thinks community members need to be empowered to hold non-profits responsible for the change they commit to make, and knows that connecting marginalized people to resources is a round-the-clock job. “D.I.V.A's is here to try to help them get to an open door. We can get them to the door, and they can stand and stare at it all day but if they don't walk through it then nothing’s gonna happen.”

Sandra McKinley’s organization is run by willpower and determination. She values the importance of getting the community the information that will help them the most. She knows that the systemic issues facing black people in poor communities loom large, and that even huge organizations can’t find resolutions for every problem. But as sure as Sandra’s faith serves as a guidepost for her values, there’s a Bible verse for that.

“If I was to use one sentence to describe what I do for D.I.V.A's it would be, ‘To walk someone through to the other side of where they are.' The bible tells us that we should be helping one another. Philippians 2:4 says, ‘Let each of you look not to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.’ And hopefully as I grab hold of somebody and walk with them, they will grab two.”

Sandra McKinley is a healer, a leader, a friend, and a coach, all in one. She aims to build the faith of those who feel that they have none left. Although Sandra is still trying to build her organization’s capacity, she doesn’t let that stop her from bridging the gap between youth and the type of opportunities she missed out on herself. “God shows us where we wasted time and by investing in someone else and my hope is that they won’t waste so much.”
She is an incredibly self-reflective individual, and talks about the lessons she wishes she could tell her teenage-self. “Somebody has to water your dream. Somebody has to encourage us. It puts joy in people’s hearts that makes them blossom. That makes that flower come up and their backs get straighter.”

I ask Sandra what brings her the most joy. After all, so much of her life has been intertwined with helping people through the hardest moments of theirs. Her answer comes with a brief pause, a bright smile on her face. “When I see someone who was down, get up.”

If you would like to support D.I.V.A’s, or know someone who could help the organization get a 501c3, e-mail Sandra McKinley at divasforchrist2017(at)gmail.com.


Impressions on Re-reading the Capital South Segway to the Future Plan

by Tom McPheeters
I was a member of the South End Action Committee and participated in the planning process that resulted in the Capital South Segway to the Future Plan in 2017. Aside from the title, I thought it was a good, inclusive process that resulted in an impressive document with real prospects. I was also on the South End Implementation Team, which was charged with overseeing the execution of the plan. That was discouraging, to see interest wane and gradually disappear.
So it was instructive to give this Plan a full reading last weekend, from the perspective of both yesterday’s ideas today’s realities. This is my subjective report:
The Plan had the optimistic goal of completing the first phase, “Stabilize,” in about two years. There was a heavy emphasis on the built environment, for obvious reasons, but, as it turns out, the strategies proposed for accomplishing the task of turning around the blighting influence of abandoned properties didn’t work.
Eleven years on, the situation with the buildings is worse, simply because the vacant buildings are older and even more deteriorated. But it is important to acknowledge these significant success:
·         Public safety has improved markedly, with all crime statistics trending downward, thanks to the Albany Police Department’s embrace of community policing, innovative gang outreach by Trinity and others, and more community participation. However, public perception has not caught up.
·         The Albany Housing Authority completed all the projects the Plan suggested, absent tearing down more of Lincoln Square. Habitat did one major new project on Alexander Street and is adding more homes to its Delaware Street project.
·         The Capital South Campus Center is a major outcome from the Plan, and a source of pride in the community. The reevaluation of the CSCC’s mission that is under way does not detract from this accomplishment.
·         Albany County created a Land Bank that has finally gotten control of the abandoned buildings and vacant lots, so that it is now possible to do rational planning and priority setting. In addition, the city has refocused its efforts to understand vacant property ownership, so that good data can drive decision making.
·         Community engagement and participation has increased substantially, thanks to the South End Neighborhood Association, AVillage…,Inc., a variety of newer community organizations, a revitalized Trinity Alliance and a helpful Albany Housing Authority.
·         The South End Improvement Corp. has increased its capacity and is now able to take a pivotal role in planning as well as in implementing rehab and redevelopment projects.
Stabilize: Still the goal
The abandoned property issue turned out to be much more difficult to solve than the plan anticipates, and nearly all of the suggested solutions turned out to be either unworkable or did not receive the government investment they needed to succeed.
Thus, we find ourselves with a new set of facts and a new set of tools — not necessarily better or worse, but not 2007.
Nevertheless, the Plan makes one valuable contribution, I think — the assertion that all of the various approaches to addressing abandoned property need to be evaluated not as individual enhancements but as one coordinated campaign to reach specific goals.
The Stabilize section addresses other important issues for the South End: Access to jobs, quality of life and community capacity. While none of these are completed, the question is whether we have learned enough and moved far enough in eleven years to warrant going on to “Energize.” The next step would be to form working groups to explore goals and strategies in each of these areas.
·         Access to jobs. Building wealth in the South End is a major unmet goal. The Campus Center discussion currently under way ultimately revolves around the intense difficulty of raising income levels in poor neighborhoods. Again, the Plan envisioned a multi-faceted but coordinated approach that has so far not materialized. However, the city has stepped forward with its new CAPRI initiative, so a South End group might want to plug into that while refocusing on relationships with local employers, including the Port of Albany, Albany Med, the Convention Center, the WAGE Center, etc.
·         Quality of Life can expand on the successes listed above, and move on to block level organizing and planning, etc. This is also where local “clean and green” efforts hold great promise, since both the city and the land bank now support the concept. We also need to recognize that qualify of life should include more than absence of crime and a more attractive neighborhood, but also touch on recreation, arts and culture.
·         Community capacity is an ongoing issue, as it depends in large part on volunteer efforts the work of a few large not-for-profits and a collection of a dozen or so small not-for-profits. The Lincoln Fund, a fund of the Community Foundation, is interested in working with these smaller not-for-profits to increase their capacity and explore areas of partnership and collaboration, while maintaining their individual character.

Not Addressed in the Plan: Then there are several areas not addressed in the Plan that have been the focus of these smaller not-for-profits. This indicates a high level of community interest that should be nurtured by a new coordinating body:
a)      Health and environmental justice
b)      School success and youth development
c)      Recreation, Arts and culture.

Grow the South End
This third section is admittedly futuristic, and most of the ideas presented are still beyond any immediate action at any level. However, events and individual decisions often drive planning in ways that nobody anticipated. With that in mind, several of the large concepts should be kept in front of a new community committee:
·         The redevelopment of Lincoln Square. While demolition of any of the remaining tower buildings depends on federal funding unlikely to appear any time soon, the prospects for developing 15 Warren Street are much brighter.
·         The South Pearl corridor, and especially the so-called “Capital South Square” (the DMV building, the county-owned parking lot and the other county buildings) could all be affected by real estate decisions. South Enders may want to preserve our options for a more community-oriented approach to that area.
·         The development of Giffen Memorial as a “community school.” This holds great promise for the South End both in terms of enhancing the educational experience of our young people, but also as turning the school into a community asset.
In order to have an impact on current developments that might affect those long-range concepts, this new community committee would need to establish itself as a body that can speak for all of the South End.   


People of the South End: George York

by Mahalia Cummings

George York has been living in the South End for twenty-two years. George is deeply committed to serving his community and consistently shows up for the South End community through his work at AVillage and the Children’s Café. George volunteers at The Children’s Café from open to close, five days a week.

George’s favorite part about volunteering at the Children’s Café is the familial atmosphere. One of the core aspects of its mission is to nourish people. George enjoys that this is a place that families can come together and eat, and have a good time while doing it.

He likes to be useful, which explains his role at the Café.  George wouldn’t necessarily consider himself a mentor, but he’s a presence that the kids at the Café can depend on. “You know, just basically like a big brother. I try to help to the best of my abilities, you know?” Whatever they need him for, he’s there. Whether it’s cooking, maintenance, or minding the youth of the program, George is an active participant. He is also close friends with the director, Tracie Killar.  He describes their relationship as “tight like brother and sister”.

When George first became an AVillage member three years ago, he was also in a position that put him directly in touch with the community. As former manager of the South End Healthy Market, he enjoyed having face-to-face interactions with the people of the South End, selling produce, and creating connections. People still come up to him and ask him if he’s going to be selling produce during the next Healthy Market season. When George first joined AVillage, he felt like he was receiving as much as he was giving.

“Actually, as I was helping people AVillage was helping me also.”

When asked what his favorite thing about AVillage’s mission is, he said it’s the drive to help people to the best of the organization’s ability. George also praises AVillage’s growth since he joined three years ago.

“It’s amazing. I believe it’s like a miracle. It takes work and it’s just the progress, you know. It’s progress, not perfection.”

George definitely embodies his own advice. His activities include exercise at the YMCA, taking typing classes at the Capital South Campus Center, volunteering, and weekly bowling. Keeping this schedule allows him to keep his mind occupied. It’s about balancing what he can while he gives back to his community. Over twenty-two years, he’s witnessed a lot of change, both positive and negative.

He cites the Capital City Rescue Mission’s expanded capacity as a positive, marking his desire to simply see people getting the help they need.

However, George wants to see more places built for children in the community, instead of buildings focused solely on business development.  Among other changes he wants to see is a shift toward less environmental pollution in the South End, and less violence. He hasn’t touched a cigarette in seven years, but wonders to what extent the air pollution is affecting him.

George York is greatly observant, but doesn’t simply stand by and watch. He works toward an empowered South End every day. He is a man of his community, a man of principles and routine. He enjoys listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire, and playing cards. He keeps to himself, but makes it a core principle to give back. Yes, George is a man who lets his silence do the talking. But he knows the value of reaching out to those around him, and is part of a ripple effect of the positive impact of individuals doing what they can to touch the lives of community members. “Goodwill and a little heart go a long way. When you speak heart to heart, people understand better,” he says.

I think all members of the South End community would agree that we need more Georges in the world.