Connection Story: Social Resiliency in Hunts Point

This is the second installation of the Hunts Point Connection Stories that we are publishing to spotlight different voices and stories about resiliency in Hunts Point for the benefit of community residents and others. This month, Maria Torres and Paul Lipson, two of the four co-founders of The Point CDC, reflected on the history of The Point and social resiliency in Hunts Point with Charlie Samboy, Assistant Vice President of Government and Community Relations at NYCEDC, a native of the Hunts Point area. The following is a short summary of their conversation.

Growing up on Tiffany Street & 163rd in the Bronx, the neighborhood of Hunts Point felt like a world away — it was literally on the other side of the tracks. Despite the disconnect between our neighborhoods, I always felt as much a kid from Hunts Point as anyone else. As a young child I attended St. Athanasius School, and spent my afternoons in the Hunts Point Recreation Center and The Point to stay out of trouble. Little did I know that some 15 years later I would be working in a capacity to help contribute to the growth and development of the neighborhood.

My role at NYCEDC is to create and sustain collaborative relationships with stakeholders, community groups and elected officials from the Bronx. Throughout my tenure, Hunts Point has been a major focus of our work as the City is investing over $150M in the infrastructure of our food distribution center, working with HUD to advance $45M in resiliency projects across the peninsula, and redeveloping the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, to name a few.

As it pertains to our resiliency work, while many people think of building resilience simply through physical infrastructure, social resiliency speaks to the social networks that enable communities to bounce back from emergencies — these can range from hurricanes to heat waves. As the City began to engage the Hunts Point community on resiliency, one of the strengths that appeared is the strong social bonds that have helped advance issues of equity, environmental justice, and youth development. One organization that has been involved in building and maintaining these connections is The Point CDC. I spent an afternoon with Maria and Paul, two of the four co-founders of The Point, who shared their stories with me.

Since its establishment in 1993, The Point has been a fierce advocate for many initiatives on the peninsula — from the closure of the NYOFCo incinerator to the creation of the South Bronx Greenway to brownfields cleanup and now the Hunts Point Resiliency Project. The creation of The Point was formed as a response to declining investment and lack of opportunities for Hunts Point residents. Reflecting back on that era and her experience, Maria described Hunts Point as “the heart of great gang territory, crack, and vacant buildings…But I kept coming back.” Maria and Paul wanted to fill a void for youth in Hunts Point who faced many barriers and needed spaces for leadership and community development.

After meeting Mildred Ruiz and Stephen Sapp, the four co-founders created The Point as that gathering space. Although many community-based organizations faced closures and difficulties with funding, The Point persevered. Paul credits this to having a physical space that gave The Point a stake in the fate of Hunts Point. “You had a really favorable lease and then you bought it so that enabled you to stay here. Other organizations…they relied on donated space, rented space. The other thing you had was a pretty loyal following of people in the zip code. Kids who grew up here, in the Point.” These pieces remain integral to the success of The Point since it first opened its doors at 940 Garrison Avenue, where they are still located to this day.

Maria and Paul’s experience getting The Point off the ground during a difficult era informs their collaborative approach to community organizing. In the past twenty years, The Point and other partners have found creative ways to tackle issues affecting Hunts Point residents by working together. Maria highlighted this point in a story about a group of youth from the The Point that took truck traffic and pollution into their own hands by riding around on bikes with walkie-talkies and informing the police when there were trucks illegally idling in their neighborhood. The creative use of community strengths to address neighborhood challenges is what has enabled the community to advance environmental justice — and now resiliency — in Hunts Point.

While The Point is working very closely with us on the Hunts Point Resiliency Project, they are also advancing the South Bronx Community Resiliency Agenda with support from the Knight Foundation. This initiative is designed to address broader issues of environmental justice in the South Bronx and complimentary to our work in Hunts Point. However, advancing resiliency extends beyond these two efforts. Maria described how social resiliency is built into all of the different programs and opportunities that The Point offers, such as the Summer Youth Leadership Program, the After School Arts Residency Program and the teen community leadership group A.C.T.I.O.N. (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood), to name a few. “We like to think that it all ties in. Community revitalization and resiliency, all those things tie in to people in the community: the youth, the arts and culture.”

As the Hunts Point Resiliency Project explores opportunities for a more resilient neighborhood, it also supports opportunities for strengthening social networks. Partnering with organizations such as The Point, Urban Health Plan, Rocking the Boat, Youth Ministries for Peace & Justice, Hunts Point Alliance for Children and others to do more effective public engagement will also lead to building on a strong foundation of existing connections and continuing to strengthen bonds between these network of stakeholders in Hunts Point. It is my hope that in the years ahead I can reflect back on this work and know that I played a role in helping to build the capacity of community groups and local residents, and to better understand and respond to the vulnerabilities Hunts Point faces — a community I’ve been rooted in since my childhood.

- Charlie Samboy

We want to hear your story! If you are interested in being featured in a Hunts Point Connections Story, please email us at huntspointresiliency@edc.nyc.