Red Hook and Gowanus youth organizations to receive $1 million from federal budget

nydia velazquez with community organizations
A group of 11 community-based organizations in Red Hook and Gowanus have been granted $1 million from the federal budget to expand and improve their programs.
Kirstyn Brendlen

Eleven youth and educational organizations based in Red Hook and Gowanus are receiving $1 million in federal funding to boost their programming, Rep. Nydia Velázquez announced on Tuesday.

More than 250 organizations initially applied to receive the funding, Velázquez said at a press conference, but the money was only supposed to be allocated to 10 groups. Then, a collective of youth-based organizations approached her with a new idea.

“[They] said, we have been having discussions among community-based organizations in Red Hook about creating a collaborative,” she said. “I said, OK, right there, that’s the way to go. If we decided to come together as a community … we then will have a holistic approach with different visions but with the same intentions. And that is to take care of our kids in our community.”

The money will be divided among the organizations, including the Red Hook Art Project, Red Hook Community Justice Center, and Cora Dance, and distributed by local cultural center Pioneer Works.

“These nonprofits serve working-class families including at-risk youth,” Velázquez said. “This initiative will serve public housing residents and open educational pathways in areas that need them most.”

Velazquez with student from organization receiving funding
A young student voiced her support Red Hook’s myriad arts and education programs as Rep. Nydia Velázquez announced $1 million is headed to 11 organizations in the neighborhood. Photo by Kirstyn Brendlen

One of those organizations is Red Hook Rise, founded as an after-school basketball program by Ray Hall and his brother, Earl, in 1991.

“We created a books and basketball program, just using basketball as a tool to get the kids to come in and read,” Hall said. “We had huge success with kids who were usually sitting in the back of the classroom, we got letters from all the principals around here about the kids sitting up in the front of the class and participating.”

Hall and his brother both work full-time and aren’t paid for the work they do at Red Hook Rise — and they wouldn’t want to be, Hall told Brooklyn Paper. The funding the organization receives will provide opportunities to expand their economic development and training programs, setting up kids for financial success and stability in the future.

“Every kid is not going to make it to college,” he said. “I was one of those kids who never wanted to go to college. When my father died, I had to get a job. My mom was struggling with three boys, so going to school wasn’t an option for me. I learned a trade, I learned electrical and plumbing. That’s what I would like to see happen out here.”

Working alongside the Red Hook Initiative and other local groups, Hall wants to create apprenticeship programs where kids can learn trade skills so they can take care of themselves even if they don’t have the opportunity to attend college – or don’t want to.

One project that’s particularly needed by the community is the local expansion of Heartshare, a citywide human services organization with a Cornerstone program at Wyckoff Gardens, a public housing development in Boerum Hill. 

The community center at Gowanus Houses has been shuttered for 17 years, even as residents and city government officials have advocated for its reopening. The New York City Public Housing Authority and the city allocated millions of dollars for its renovation and reopening in 2019, but the much-needed center has remained closed. The same year, money was promised to renovate the Wyckoff Gardens Community Center, but a contractor for the project was never found.

gowanus community center
Davis hopes the funding will allow HeartShares to fill the gap left by the Gowanus Community Center, which is still closed even after politicians announced funding for its reopening in 2019. File photo by Kevin Duggan

Late last year, the city council committed to getting both centers up and running as part of the Gowanus rezoning agreement

But the city and NYCHA take a long time to make good on their promises, Theresa Davis, vice president of the Gowanus Houses Tenant Association, told Brooklyn Paper. Knowing that money is headed to a nonprofit with roots in the community and plans to expand their services is promising, she said, because the children in the neighborhood have limited options for programs and activities after school.

“My kids are grown, 35 and 37, but to see the other kids out there not having nothing to do, just getting in trouble,” she said. “I see the work that they do in Wyckoff. And I’m happy, because some of our kids go to Wyckoff. I want to see that in Gowanus. That would be so awesome.”

Organizations Brothers Dream, Alex House, Hook Arts Media, who host the annual Red Hook Fest, and PortSide New York, who will be using their $115,000 allocation to fund youth maritime education were all part of the application and will be receiving federal funding for their programs.

Bundling together the information and programs in Red Hook is Red Hook Hub, a website operated by the nonprofit Red Hook Initiative. That site will get a boost with the money allocated to the Initiative, said Maureen Friar, the org’s Interim Chief Operating Officer.

“We put it in the application as a collaboration of all the organizations here,” Friar said. “And I think that really speaks to the power of collaboration and community.”

Update 4/4/22: This story has been updated with the names of all 11 organizations receiving funds.