By Kami-Leigh Agard
This past Tuesday, January 31, locals from all walks of life and neighborhoods on the peninsula and Broad Channel made it their business to attend a virtual town hall, in which the community was invited to express their vision for Rockaway’s first and only, Family Enrichment Center (FEC). From the name, to the location and program offerings, more than 60 people participated in this Zoom town hall to pinpoint where and how the FEC, a community-based facility sponsored by NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), can best serve residents of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
In March of 2022, Rockaway-based, Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation (OBCDC), was amongst nine city-wide awardees selected to run ACS FEC expansion sites. Launched in 2017, FECs are warm, home-like walk-in centers, proactively co-designed by the local community. These centers are purposed so families and children can connect with neighbors, volunteer their time, and access critical resources. Utilizing the FEC as a safe and supportive haven, ACS aims to ultimately reduce the risks of involvement with the child protection system. Last year, ACS announced that it would be expanding the FECs from three sites to 30 sites over the next three years. The new centers are located in hard-hit neighborhoods identified by the city’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity (TRIE) based on their equity burdens and the impact of COVID-19. Since then, ACS has been seeking local community-based providers with deep ties to their communities, to run the new sites.
This town hall, attended by ACS and other already-established FEC location reps, was the second hosted by Rockaway’s newly appointed FEC Director Curtis Turney-Rentas and Family Advocate Arly Ramos. The first town hall was held in person earlier this month on January 17 at the Beach 41st Cornerstone Community Center.
Like the first town hall, scores of residents were overflowing with ideas. For the FEC’s name, suggestions included: Rock the S.E.A. (Support Educate Advocate), FEC By the Sea, R.O.C.K. (Resources, Opportunities, Community, Knowledge), Rockaway Beach FEC, FEC By the Bay, Rockaway FEC-Where Families are Built and Communities Thrive, R.O.C.-Resilience Opportunities for the Community, and many more.
As for location, town hall attendees zoomed in on various areas throughout the peninsula. A few popular ones were Rockaway Commons, (the shopping mall strip on Rockaway Beach Blvd, where Key Food is located); 217 Beach 92nd Street, formerly occupied by Muay Thai gym, Crom; the Mott Avenue area, including where the soon-to-be-opened Teen Library will be located; an empty lot on the corner of Beach 54th Street and Beach Channel Drive; another empty lot located behind the Human Resources Administration building on Beach 59th Street and Arverne Blvd; Edgemere Commons; and Seagirt Blvd.
However, it was with what programs and activities the FEC should offer, that attendees got even more innovative, contributing to a mile-long list.
Some ideas shared were classes for financial health at different stages of life (kids to seniors); a cafe staffed by local autistic residents, also used as an art exhibition space; mental health coping skills, including battling cyber bullying; birthing classes/workshops for new mothers; college readiness and access; sensory gyms/workshops for children with autism; Mommy and Me dance classes; nutrition and healthy cooking classes; literacy and computer classes for seniors; adult PTSD workshops; coding and tech workforce job training; healthy social media engagement classes; vocational training; mentoring between seniors and youth; natural disaster emergency preparedness classes; swimming lessons and water safety; tutoring for students; grief therapy—how to cope when a loved one has passed on; boy and girl scouts; employment training for special needs individuals; and writing and dance therapy sessions.
As for sentiments about the town halls and what’s next in the FEC’s timeline, FEC Director Turney-Rentas shared the following with The Rockaway Times:
“The turnout was great. Each town hall achieved what we set out to accomplish—making sure we incorporate the community, not just including them with giving us ideas, but to also make it known that they will have an active role in implementing these programs. The town hall attendees actually did the work for us and took ownership, and this is what we set to achieve at each at town hall.
“Next steps are securing our physical space, deciding on the FEC’s name, and collaborating with community organizations. The goal is to secure the location in the first quarter of 2023. And again, I truly want to let it be known that the FEC is for all of Rockaway—east, west, and Broad Channel. We really want this FEC to be truly representative of Rockaway’s diverse residents—regardless of age, neighborhood, special needs and culture. The FEC will be a co-designed space, and we encourage everyone to take ownership of this center.”
As for individuals concerned about whether they would be disqualified from participating in the FEC due to an open ACS case, ACS/FEC Director Crystal Young-Scott said, “The center is a safe place where anybody can come in, and we welcome those families that are struggling. They may need some concrete support, they may need some food or clothing. We also are assessing for neglect and risk. These are conversations that we will have privately with the family. So, we ask that in the space, there’s a private conference room, where the staff can sit with the family and create a safety plan. Sometimes you do have to call the state central registry because of the severity of what the family is telling you, and we will support that family in what’s happening. For families that do have active ACS cases, we want them to come because they still need support. If you’re under court order supervision, it’s not forever. It could be two years. If you become part of the FEC family and are showing that you’re taking a leadership role, this can also help reduce the time that you’re under court order supervision. So, it’s a supportive environment, where we work with everyone, whether they’re in crisis or not.”
Currently, the FEC’s annual budget is $550K. The center is hiring for two more job positions: Community Liaison and Parent Advocate. They are also actively recruiting volunteers for the Parent/Adult Advisory Committee and Teen/Young Adult Advisory Committee.