Recent News

January 13, 2017

Celebrating a Successful First Year for our Cure Violence Project

Historically, residents of Queensbridge Houses have long dealt with the plague of violence. It has affected community members both directly and indirectly and, although it has ebbed and flowed over the years, it remains a persistent problem. According to the New York Police Department’s crime statistics, Queensbridge Houses is one of fifteen developments that account for 20% of all violent crime in public housing. To combat this trend, Mayor de Blasio launched the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety in June, 2014. As part of that initiative, Riis Settlement was invited to implement a Cure Violence program — a program aimed specifically at decreasing incidences of gun violence among young people, ages 16-24. In December 2015, Riis Settlement launched 696 Build Queensbridge – one of eighteen cure violence sites in New York City that seek to replicate a successful violence reducing model that treats gun violence from an epidemiological perspective.

The Cure Violence program was designed by Dr. Gary Slutkin, former head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Intervention Development Unit, and first implemented in West Garfield Park, Chicago in 2008. In that first year, shootings in one of the most violent communities in the US were reduced by 67%. As a result, the program gained world-wide recognition and rapidly expanded into conflict-ridden communities across the globe — earning many accolades along the way. The program model is based upon the idea that violence is a contagious disease and a threat to public health. It aims to resolve violence the same way any public health crises is treated: 1. Interrupting transmission of the disease 2. Reducing the risk of the highest risk. 3. Changing community norms. To interrupt the transmission of violence, staff members known as “violence interrupters” or “credible messengers” help prevent the escalation of violence by interjecting themselves into volatile situations and mediating the conflict by identifying the root causes of the aggression and talking with the parties involved.  To help those at the highest risk of transmitting violence, outreach workers meet with them one-on-one to provide support services such as helping the individual find employment, leave a gang, return to school, etc. To mobilize the community and change perspectives on violence, Cure Violence staff brings local residents, businesses, and faith leaders together with local at-risk youth to participate in gatherings and events that build bridges and help strengthen communities.[i]

696 Build Queensbridge has had a tremendous impact upon the community over the past twelve months — marking a record 359 days without a shooting. “On almost a daily basis we are engaging with high-risk youth and have interrupted hundreds of potential violent activities,” said the program’s manager, K. Bain. The team has organized several events such as an anti-violence walk through the neighborhood, a public screening of a documentary on the effects of violence, and a community cookout co-hosted with the Queensbridge Tenants Association and Fathers Alive in the Hood (FAITH). They have also created programming that caters specifically to female participants, such as a women’s empowerment group and a self-defense club. And, they have encouraged dozens of community members to sign a pledge against domestic violence. The staff also conducted a community needs survey with over 1,200 young people in the community to better identify their needs.  As a result, many more plans are in the works for year two, such as offering child care to participants, opening up a juice bar, starting an employment program, and creating an extensive referral network for those in need of legal aid, mental health, counseling, employment and more.

The 696 Build Queensbridge staff members are dedicated to the work of helping the youth in the community and they themselves represent the positives outcomes that are possible through the Cure Violence model: “99% of the staff has been formerly incarcerated,” said Mr. Bain, who explained that his “credible messengers” have had great success because they have experienced and dealt with the disease of violence in their own lives and now serve as “antibodies that can fight against it.” On January 19th, Riis Settlement will be acknowledging their commitment and hard work with a one-year anniversary celebration at the Queensbridge community center from 1-7 p.m. In attendance will be many local community leaders and elected officials, including Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, whose critical support brought this project to life.   We hope you will join us and see up close the positive impact that the 696 Build Queensbridge program is having on the community.


Remembering Amy Hagedorn


“Giving voice to people who were not heard from before is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward”

This past September, Riis Settlement said goodbye to one of its longtime supporters, Ms. Amy Hagedorn of the Hagedorn Foundation, who passed away on September 8th 2016, just days before her 80th birthday. Born in 1937, Amelia –Amy- Maiello Hagedorn was an inspirational advocate, humanitarian and champion of education and supporting opportunities. She earned an MSED from Baruch College of the City University of New York in 1973 and spent many years teaching preschool. Her passion for education and her experience with children was perhaps the reason behind her lifetime dedication to helping others, especially children, families and immigrants in need.

Ms. Hagedorn was married to Miracle-Gro founder Horace Hagedorn, and, in 1993, they created the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund at the New York Community Trust.  Since its creation, the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund has given nearly $65,403,917 in grants to more than 400 organizations – one of which was Riis Settlement.  The Hagedorn’s business and philanthropic philosophy was deeply rooted in a sense of responsibility to help others who were in need.

After Horace Hagedorn’s passing in 2005, a newly formed foundation under the leadership of Amy Hagedorn was created, under the name the Hagedorn Foundation. In addition to supporting non-profit organizations, the foundation provided scholarships to students at Baruch College of the City University of New York, as well as Queens College and SUNY Old Westbury.  Many years ago, Riis Settlement became a host site for the Baruch Hagedorn Scholarship interns and to-date has hosted thirteen interns in its development and communications department.

Ms. Hagedorn’s grace, generosity and support will forever serve as a legacy of her public service, and at Riis Settlement we are profoundly grateful to have known her and called her a friend. Her ongoing support of the organization helped sustain the organization in its work and helped give many families and children in the Queensbridge area a chance for a better future. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her family and loved ones. She had a genuine and graceful philanthropic essence, and she will be greatly missed.

Learning English Through the Lens of Art

The Riis Settlement Immigrant Services program provides English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes to almost 350 immigrants on a yearly basis. Each academic year consists of three semesters, and during those semesters students not only engage in intensive in-class learning but also have the opportunity to put their skills to practice by engaging in activities beyond the classroom that call for conversation. This past semester included a field trip to the nearby Noguchi Museum , which gave the students the chance to explore the sculptures and architectural designs of the renowned Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi.

Ms. Shannon Murphy, head of education at the museum and long-time collaborator with Riis Settlement generously provided the students and teachers with free day passes as well as small group tours. The tours lasted approximately one hour and were conducted solely in English. The students were engaged and very interested in learning more about the life of Isamu Noguchi, who “set a new standard for the reintegration of the arts, both traditional and modern”.[1] Students also had the opportunity to participate in a number of group activities; the first of which included an interpretation of the wooden, crystal, stone and glass materials Noguchi had used for his sculptures. Each student was asked to select their favorite material and then define the material, explain why they had chosen it, and relate it to their own lives.  The second group activity took place in the sculpture garden of the museum where students participated in drawing the exterior sculptures, interpreting their symbolic meaning, and presenting them to their groups.

The students really enjoyed the day and felt that it was beneficial in helping them improve their English language skills and make the connection between the art and their own identity. According to student, Miriam Bautista, “the activities let us create the same feeling-thing to express our own culture.”  And, student Aida Vega mentioned that she really enjoyed the trip because “the tour guide brought us to sit down – she asked us to choose things we liked.  We each got the things that reminded us of our country.  I thought about why it reminded me of my native country.”


The Immigrants Services program is committed to ensuring that its participants are given the tools necessary for success, and the ESOL classes are the cornerstone of this work.  The Director of Immigrant Services, Ms. Driftnery Martinez, strongly believes that “learning English is essential in helping students successfully integrate into their communities and become self-sufficient.” Furthermore, Ms. Martinez added that by obtaining English language skills, “students are better able to find and secure employment, communicate with health care professionals, law enforcement, and their children’s educators and become active participants in their communities.”

Teaching English through the lens of Art makes language learning fun. It allows for students of all levels to gain a better command of the language while learning how to think critically and explore their own creativity.  It also leads to improved attendance and a greater determination to learn. As Noguchi once said, “I perceive my limitations even as I work. There are times when I see nothing but restrictions, barriers. Learning takes time.” Program Coordinator, Johan Lopez, believes that “the English courses in combination with the field visits to cultural institutions allow students to explore different perspectives regarding their learning styles, therefore creating a safe-environment of inclusion, engagement and respect even when English is not their native language of communication.” Ultimately, it is that sense of community and mutual respect that really proves the value of our work.



Technology For All

On December 14th, Riis’ Senior Services program celebrated a wonderful milestone:  the graduation of its inaugural technology class. The program, which ran throughout the fall, was facilitated by Senior Planet and designed specifically to make technology more accessible to the senior adults living in the Queensbridge housing development.

Senior Planet is a project of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) – a New York-based non-profit organization that specializes in providing training and support to older adults in using technology to improve their quality of life and enhance their social and civic engagement.[1] They offer workshops in both English and Spanish, taking into consideration the multicultural attributes of the communities living in New York City. The workshops cover a variety of topics to help seniors learn and improve their skills. For example, the Beyond the Basics workshop teaches students how to use email, search for information on the internet, learn the basics of social networking, and protect their personal information.

The fall computer classes for seniors at Riis Settlement started in October 2016. Due to high demand, four different workshops were held twice a week for ten weeks. These included Computer Basics in English, Computer Basics in Spanish, Beyond the Basics, and Introduction to Using Tablets. Each workshop was comprised of 15 students and covered a breadth of material. The graduation ceremony was a proud moment for the students and many were on hand to congratulate them on their achievements. This included Riis Settlement Executive Director Chris Hanway, Executive Director of OATS Thomas Kamber, Director of Senior Services Robert Madison, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Chief Technology Officer of the City of New York Miguel A. Gamiño. Each student was awarded an official certificate of completion and following the ceremony a party was held for all.


Living in this era of technology it has become more essential than ever for people of all age groups to learn the skills necessary to navigate the online world. More and more entities are moving their business online, and if our seniors are to remain engaged and connected, it is vital that they learn how to navigate those online platforms. It is especially important for NYCHA residents, as the agency recently changed the tenant recertification process from paper to online. Additionally, many benefits such as social security must now also be accessed online. With that being said, our classes could not have happened at a more appropriate time, and their positive impact was significant. According to the Director of Senior Services Robert Madison, the most meaningful outcome was “the way the seniors embraced the classes and gained confidence in their ability to learn.” He further added that “the feeling of accomplishment upon opening their first email account or making their first Skype call to family was extremely rewarding.”

Riis Settlement’s long-running commitment to the residents of Queensbridge has resulted in numerous partnerships and collaborations that have brought much-needed services to the community over the years. The Senior Planet project, which was facilitated by OATS and made possible with funding from the City is a wonderful example of how agencies can come together to enhance the quality of life for the city’s most vulnerable residents and ensure that nobody gets left behind. As we embark on the second cycle of classes, we look forward to helping more and more of our seniors realize their capabilities and embrace the idea that technology truly can be for all.


December 29, 2016

Registration for our winter ESOL classes will begin soon!