Photo: Sahalie Donaldson. New York Assembly Member Amanda Septimo speaks with South Bronx educators and community leaders Tuesday evening in Hunts Point.

Hunts Point organizations and educators share efforts to help families weather pandemic

A small group of South Bronx educators, lawmakers and community leaders met Tuesday evening in Hunts Point to share how they’ve been helping children and families weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attendees sat in folding chairs strategically spaced apart to allow for social distancing as speakers highlighted programs providing students and their families with mentorships and tutoring, remote-learning technology, groceries and other valuable resources. Cool evening light filtered through the massive windows lining either side of the spacious room in the city social services building. 

“If you are here, it’s because you are part of this effort and every single piece of this community is so grateful for the effort you’ve put forward,” said Assembly Member Amanda Septimo to the group, explaining that she’s heartened by how many others know how special the Hunts Point community is. 

Community leaders acknowledged that the past year has brought about a great deal of adaptation. 

“Like many of you education and non-profit providers across the city, we had to determine quickly what our guidelines and goals were,” said Jill Roche Gomez, Hunts Point Alliance for Children executive director. “Since March 13 we’ve been saying the same thing. Continuity and connectivity.”

Gomez said those two words have guided the Hunts Point Alliance for Children over the past year as they’ve transitioned much of their programming online and continued to provide families with the resources and support they need. 

She said the organization has strived to identify gaps and provide the community with aid, such as distributing gift bags filled with construction paper, glue and other items for students who don’t have the items they need to participate in remote learning. Without these materials, Gomez said, they discovered students are unlikely to show up. 

Joined by Bronx lawmakers Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Amanda Septimo, South Bronx educators and organizations representatives stand in a circle while committing to enact change in their community. (Sahalie Donaldson)

Gomez also highlighted the organization’s tutoring program, which provides financial incentives to local college students to mentor and tutor Hunts Point students one-on-one, giving them “crucial connections” to the community and helping them navigate the challenges of remote learning. 

This program is being funded by the RTW Charitable Foundation, which recently provided  $1 million in COVID-19 relief grants to city organizations working in the areas hardest-hit by the pandemic. Areté Education, another South Bronx organization that provides academic, social and emotional support to students, also received funding from the foundation, using the grant to expand support services to families in temporary housing whose children have struggled to participate in remote learning.

“For many families, COVID-19 isn’t just a temporary health or economic crisis, but something that threatens their ability to thrive in the long term,” said Stephanie Sirota, RTW Charitable Foundation president in a statement.  “Especially for low-income children and families, or for those living in temporary housing, a lack of access to education and academic support during the pandemic can hinder their ability to continue on the road to success.” 

Sirota said she’s excited to be partnering with the Hunts Point Alliance for Children and Areté Education to address these issues. 

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi thanked community leaders for “really showing up” in such a visible and important way while many other systems in the city and state have failed. 

“We cannot do this work without all of you so just thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Biaggi said. “I think that in this moment all of us have a responsibility to take care of our children and take care of the future.” 

In closing, lawmakers, students and educators alike spread out into a large circle and each made a commitment to the group for how they plan to continue supporting students and their families.

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