Nonprofit founded by alum expands local STEM programs

THE GREAT PUMPKIN   |  Students Justo Rodriguez, Thomas Anderson, and Louis Enamorado install wiring into a jack-o’-lantern during ELiTE’s Halloween Hardware Hackathon earlier this year.

THE GREAT PUMPKIN | Students Justo Rodriguez, Thomas Anderson, and Louis Enamorado install wiring into a jack-o’-lantern during ELiTE’s Halloween Hardware Hackathon earlier this year.

Although Columbia alumnus Chelsey Roebuck founded the local nonprofit Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering just four years ago, the organization has been recognized for its work with a grant to expand and improve its programs in the West Harlem community.

The $33,440 grant from the West Harlem Development Corporation enabled ELiTE to scale up science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programming to serve 250 students from four local schools.

Roebuck, SEAS ’10 and ELiTE president, said the grant will support the group’s efforts to deepen its impact in Harlem by running a variety of after-school STEM programs.

Created as an undergraduate student project in 2009, ELiTE runs a hands-on science and engineering summer camp in rural Ghana in partnership with Engineers Without Borders.

Over the past five years, the summer camp has grown from the classrooms of a rural village in Ghana to a primary school in Tanzania and university campuses in Ghana, Jamaica, and Mexico, offering workshops and trainings in everything from software engineering and robotics to ecology and astronomy.

Now, Roebuck co-teaches computer science and mechatronics classes as part of the regular school schedule for sixth-grade and 11th-grade students.

Earlier this year, ELiTE held a Halloween Hardware Hack­a­thon event at the Frederick Douglass Academy, where 23 advanced mechatronics students were given basic electronic circuit components and pumpkins and were instructed to hack their own jack-o’-lanterns.

Columbia mechanical engineering professor Robert Stark was one of the judges at the event. He has volunteered his time working with the high school’s Robotics team and is now offering shadowing opportunities to students interested in the Columbia engineering labs.

“That’s a big part of ELiTE—not just teaching, but saying, ‘Here’s someone that can give you opportunities, if you really are interested, to do something with it,’” Roebuck said.

The event served as a culminating project for the first unit in the mechatronics class. The requirements were fairly broad, which allowed students to pursue their creativity by adding lights and sound to their pumpkins.

“That’s the spirit behind innovation, anyway. Use your environment, use what’s around you,” Stark said.

Roebuck said ELiTE plans on making a big push for recruitment on Columbia’s campus in December so that the organization can get more volunteer instructors to help students during these workshops.

“We’ve had different undergrads and grad students volunteering with us in schools, and I’d love to be able to get more,” he said.

Columbia’s National Society of Black Engineers recently visited FDA to speak to multiple classrooms and distribute college-oriented information as part of its annual A Walk for Education event.

NSBE Technical Outreach Community Help Chair Tolu Akinade, SEAS ’15, said the chapter was able to visit seven classrooms during its visit, including Roebuck’s mechatronics class.

“We loved speaking to the students and are definitely looking to go back to the school,” Akinade said. FDA Principal Joseph Gates and Vice Principal Pasquale Cusanelli were both present at the Hack­a­thon event.

“The best way to learn is what we’re doing in these classes,” Cusanelli said. “What Chelsey’s foundation is providing, as well as Columbia University and the increased support from Columbia, is helping these students.”

“For me, a lot of the opportunities that come as a result of being recognized for these awards are almost just as valuable as, if not more valuable than, the money,” Roebuck said.

“With awards and recognition, it’s never really about the money,” he said. “More than anything, getting the support networks and the communities that really help the students grow is what I’m most interested in.”

This story is part of a series of profiles of organizations that receive grants from the West Harlem Development Corporation.  |  @ColumbiaSpec

U.S. Census Bureau to Hire in the Boroughs (NYC):

This fall the U.S. Census Bureau will hire over 500 temporary Field Representatives to conduct the New York City Housing & Vacancy Survey (NYC-HVS). This survey is conducted every three years to comply with the City’s rent regulation laws. The Census Bureau has conducted the survey for the City since 1965. Applicants who wish to take the Census test for the NYC-HVS must reside within Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan or the Bronx. The pay rate for Field Representatives in these areas is $16.92 per hour. Employment will last about four to six months. To learn more about job requirements and qualifications call us toll free at 1-800-991-2520 (Select option 2 for recruiting) or send an e-mail with your complete address and phone number to:

East Harlem Merchants to Pay Homeless to Tackle 125th St. Trash Problem

New East Harlem Merchants Association Trash Plan

New East Harlem Merchants Association Trash Plan

HARLEM — For more than a decade, neighbors have complained about the hundreds of homeless people who gather at a bus stop at Lexington Avenue and 125th Street to commute to shelters on Ward’s Island, blaming them for contributing to the garbage overflowing from the trash cans.

Now a Harlem business improvement district is hoping to employ some of the 700 to 900 homeless people who ride the M35 bus to help clean up the mess, recruiting local property owners to contribute to a fund to pay them to keep the area clean.

Kwanza Smith, executive director of the New East Harlem Merchants Association, has reached out to the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless to develop a program to hire homeless men to clean the area. When she brought the executive director of ACE New York to the corner he said it was one of the filthiest he had ever seen, Smith said.

“We are sensitive to the fact that these men are homeless. We want a plan for them,” Smith said.

The goal is to raise $75,000 to employ eight people to clean the area between Fifth and Second avenues, between 124th and 126th streets, five days a week.

So far, the association has raised almost $16,000 with an online fundraiser and by reaching out to local businesses, asking them to donate $3,000 a piece.

Property owners such as Artimus, 125th Street Gateway Ventures —  for whom Smith works — Wild Olive Market, Blumenfeld Development Group and the Northern Manhattan Nursing Home have contributed to the fund.

Despite tremendous development in the area, including a Pathmark and co-ops, cleanliness has not kept pace with the improvements. A recent cleanup effort by 60 volunteers collected 50 bags of garbage filled with food containers, paper and cigarette butts.

“This has been going on for years. People who walk up this street feel like the neighborhood is one big trash can,” Smith as she stood next to one of the overflowing trash cans. “We’ve had all this development over the past 10 years so this area shouldn’t look like this.”

Kwanza Smith, executive director of the New East Harlem Merchants Association, knows that by the time sanitation trucks ...

Kwanza Smith, executive director of the New East Harlem Merchants Association, knows that by the time sanitation trucks …

At 3:30 p.m. on a recent afternoon the four trash cans at the corners of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street were all filled to the brim. Smith warned that by the time sanitation trucks arrived the next day, the trash would be blowing around the streets.

“Today isn’t even that bad,” Smith said.

The merchants association is also trying to get more frequent trash pick-ups and larger trash cans.

The neighboring BID, the 125th Street Business Improvement District, has street cleaners, but its boundary ends at Fifth Avenue. The group is in the planning phases of  a river-to-river expansion, said President and CEO Barbara Askins.

Askins said having a cleaning crew has made a big difference further west on 125th Street.

“This is a step in the right direction because businesses want to see an organized effort to address the problem,” Askins said. “People are not willing to invest in an area that is dirty.”

When a pizzeria at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street closed recently, Smith said a conversation with the owner revealed that the trash and general environment of the area contributed to their departure.

“It’s hard to maintain a business on this end of 125th Street,” she said.

By Jeff Mays on September 23, 2013 6:48am | Updated on September 23, 2013 6:48am

As Tourists Come and Go, Harlem Churches Lose a 10% Lifeblood

Tourists fill the balcony of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ while pews for members go empty.

Tourists fill the balcony of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ while pews for members go empty.

The tourists started lining up two hours before morning worship service on West 116th Street in Harlem. Most were dressed in everyday clothes, contrasting with the dark suits and prim dresses of the largely African-American congregation in the historic sanctuary of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ.

The Rev. Roger Harris, an associate pastor, made his way from the back of the line in his pinstripe suit. “Good to see you, glad you came,” he said, offering grins and handshakes on a recent Sunday. The tourists were herded to the balcony until, as in several churches in Harlem, they packed the seats there. Down below, where the congregation has dwindled over the years, there were plenty of empty seats.

The tourists often put offerings in the collection basket. But then they are gone. And so despite the draw, churches like Canaan are struggling. And at the heart of the struggle is a contradiction: As Harlem’s fortunes rise, tithing — the traditional source of the churches’ money — is fading away.

Harlem’s historical base of African-Americans has been dwindling. Those who remain have regularly tithed, setting apart 10 percent of their incomes for their church, in times good and bad. But now that has changed, too.

“Your tithers are your people who really keep your church going as a whole,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles A. Curtis, the senior pastor at Mount Olivet Baptist Church and the chairman of Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement.

“With the drop in population,” he said, “you have less people to tithe.”

The Rev. Jesse T. Williams Jr., senior pastor at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, said, “Giving is a form of worship, and an expression of thanking God for what God has given us.” At his church, he said, tithes in recent years were down about 12 percent.

Canaan, now with 1,000 members, has lost 500 since 2000, which increased the amount of room available for tourists. Without the tourists, Mr. Harris said, the senior pastor would be “preaching to an empty balcony.”

And tithes are down 20 percent, though other offerings at Canaan have been stable. It is not clear how much of that money comes from tourists.

Some churches have experienced drops in tithing of as much as 50 percent, said Deborah C. Wright, the chief executive of Carver Federal Savings Bank, leading them to seek loans from her bank.

“Clearly this is a transitional period,” said Canaan’s senior pastor, the Rev. Thomas D. Johnson Sr., who celebrated his seventh year at the church last month. “I believe that Canaan and all of our strong churches in Harlem are determined not to become extinct. This institution must survive, not only for the congregation, but because of who we represent.”

The story of Canaan, and its current struggle, is shared by many of Harlem’s churches. It was founded in 1932 in the spirit of what elders call a country church. Many early congregants were migrants from the South, sharecroppers under Jim Crow, steeped in a worship tradition. As more families came, the church grew.

The previous pastor, the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, led the church for almost 40 years, until he retired in 2004; he was an architect of the civil rights movement and an aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He was a fighter,” said Mr. Harris, who has a goal of increasing church membership by at least 50 within the next year.

In 1970, Mr. Walker once stood on the trunk of a car near the church and, through a bullhorn, preached a sermon about drug-dealing in the neighborhood. “We’ve been living dangerously for a long time,” he told his curbside congregation of 300, and whoever else was within earshot, “and we’re not afraid to name names.”

The black church, he often said, was the primary resource for the black community. “It is where black people have the ultimate decision-making power,” he said in a 1979 newspaper interview. “Black folks will pay church dues before they pay their rent.”

Under Mr. Walker, whose black-and-white portrait hangs in Canaan’s lobby, membership swelled to the point where ushers had to put chairs in the halls. The Canaan that Mr. Johnson inherited, however, looks remarkably different. So does the neighborhood. Where African-Americans once made up the bulk of Central Harlem’s population, they are now less than half. Economically, million-dollar homes and trendy restaurants glimmer amid stubborn pockets of blight.


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First NY civil rights museum to be built in Harlem

NEW YORK — Plans are underway for New York State’s first civil rights museum to be built in Harlem.

The plans were announced Friday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The officials said the museum will be built on a stretch of 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Boulevard. Officials say the Museum of the Urban Civil Rights Experience will use Harlem as a lens through which to view the wider civil rights experience in cities across America.

The museum will be housed on a 42,000-square-foot stretch of property that will also contain a new national headquarters for the National Urban League.

Mixed-income housing and multi-level retail space will also be provided for after groundbreaking occurs in 2015.
—Copyright 2013 Associated Press

Small Businesses Pay Price for Harlem’s Success

For more than a century, Harlem has been one of New York’s most densely populated districts. And while it has always been a magnet for African Americans, it has also been one of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas. Today, Harlem is experiencing an economic surge largely due to an influx of outsiders attracted to its plentiful housing and a growing black middle class. But as VOA’s Adam Phillips reports, the trend comes with a price. Small Businesses Pay Price for Harlem’s Success

Carolina Flower Shop Too, forced out of business two years ago, mounts comeback with help from West Harlem Progressive Democratic Club

Uptown politico Corey Ortega hatches plan to use club’s storefront space as business incubator, community center

Carolina Flower Shop Too owner Phil Young (l.) with Harlem Progressive Democratic Club president Corey Ortega (r.).  Read more:

Carolina Flower Shop Too owner Phil Young (l.) with Harlem Progressive Democratic Club president Corey Ortega (r.).
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When one of Harlem’s oldest flower shops shuttered two years ago, its owner thought he may never return.

“I thought maybe it was over,” said Phillip Young, who owned Carolina Flower Shop Too on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.

The shop had been in Harlem for more than 70 years and boasted clients ranging from Billie Holiday to Martin Luther King Jr. But insurmountable debt forced Young — a third-generation owner — to call it quits.

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Easing the Passage From Prison

Irving Brewster, with his 5-year-old daughter on his lap, held his certificate at a “graduation” ceremony for ex-offenders who completed a nine-month re-entry program at the Harlem Community Justice Center.

Irving Brewster, with his 5-year-old daughter on his lap, held his certificate at a “graduation” ceremony for ex-offenders who completed a nine-month re-entry program at the Harlem Community Justice Center.

As family and friends made their way through the metal detector and past the uniformed guards, Lloyd Williams sat off to the side, going over his speech, mumbling to himself. In a few moments, the courtroom in the Harlem Community Justice Center would be filled with parolees turned graduates. After spending half his life in prison, Mr. Williams, 46, wearing a crisp suit and tie, was the valedictorian of sorts, one of the night’s guest speakers.

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Harlem and Bronx Leaders Demand Fairer District 8 Lines

CITY HALL — Local leaders from East Harlem and the South Bronx are calling on City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to help redraw District 8 council lines they believe will be fairer to both neighborhoods.

A group of leaders from East Harlem and the South Bronx are calling on Council Speaker Christine Quinn to help draw District 8 council lines that they feel are more fair to both neighborhoods.

A group of leaders from East Harlem and the South Bronx are calling on Council Speaker Christine Quinn to help draw District 8 council lines that they feel are more fair to both neighborhoods.

On the steps of City Hall Thursday, the leaders accused Quinn of hampering the lines the Districting Commission drew for the two neighborhoods — creating new lines that would extend the district farther into The Bronx while removing 30 blocks.

“What I need the speaker to understand is that the East Harlem community has a very long memory,” said East Harlem district leader and Community 11 board member Peggy Morales. “This is the same community she will need to come into to gather support for the mayoral seat she is after.”

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Harlem build fund is wasting

A taxpayer-funded nonprofit with $55 million in the bank that was supposed to create a Harlem renaissance has stalled in its mission.

No new loans or grants from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone have been approved for local businesses or cultural groups in more than a year.

The governing board for UMEZ — the New York Empowerment Zone, which must approve all spending — hasn’t even met in a year. Its last meeting was on Dec. 14, 2011, and its next scheduled one is Jan. 23.

A UMEZ spokesman blamed the lapse on “scheduling difficulties.”

The NYEZ board, which includes Rep. Charles Rangel, met four times in 2010 and twice in 2011.

 At the December 2011 meeting, $400,000 was earmarked for UMEZ to begin work on Mart 125, the long-stalled redevelopment of a former indoor market that has been empty for a decade.

The city, which owns the market building on 125th Street, last year named UMEZ as the developer for the $20 million project which will create about 47,000 square feet of cultural, office, and retail space. But UMEZ only recently hired a development consulting firm, according to the city.

UMEZ opened its doors in 1995 after Rangel wrote the legislation creating empowerment zones in distressed areas throughout the country. The nonprofit started with $249 million in federal, state and city dollars in its coffers.

The group now has about $55 million left.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, UMEZ doled out $9.9 million in grants to groups including the Harlem Arts Alliance, the Hispanic Federation, the Museum of African Art and the National Jazz Museum, according to its latest tax filings.

The group gave $2.7 million to Alianza Dominicana, a Washington Heights social services agency, by turning a loan to the group into a grant, which it did not have to repay. The money went toward Alianza’s new headquarters, but that building is now largely empty since the nonprofit closed its doors this summer.

Critics have charged UMEZ is hoarding its cash in order to keep itself going and pay administrative salaries.

UMEZ President Kenneth Knuckles’ salary and benefits totaled $240,853 in 2010, the latest figure available. He is set to get a retirement package of more than $570,000.


Last Updated: 3:49 AM, December 23, 2012