Barack Obama’s nomination speech gave hope and promise to a small group of Uptown Manhattan followers.

December 20, 2008

Barack Obama accepted his Democratic Presidential Nomination in front of more than 80 thousand cheering and inspired supporters in Denver. Obama made history as the first African-American to be the presidential nominee in this the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ famous “I have a dream” speech.

Obama delivered a speech that moved supporters not only in Denver, but miles away in New York City. Three thousand miles away in New York City’s Inwood section. In the mainly Dominican neighborhood, a small group of 10 enthusiastic Obama supporters gathered to listen to his speech in New York City District #7.

Retiree and Obama supporter, Linda Drigant hosted the Obama Watch Party in her living room at 610 Academy Street in Inwood. The living room had “Change” campaigns signs posted on the wall and windows. Throughout the speech some waved the “change” signs, others clapped and cheer along the way. “Like Keith Olbermann would say…He knocked it out of the park.” Drigant said she was happy with Obama’s promise to take care of the issues every American is facing today. “I like that he is talking about renewable energy, the economy, 401-k, social security and tax cuts.” She says that she has been following Obama since he gave his 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Iowa.

Another Obama supporter crowded in the apartment was Sara French. She has been working away from the country for over 16 years. This will be her first presidential election. She said she felt that the speech demonstrated Obama’s presidential potential. “The speech was incredibly impressive. I feel optimistic and it is a pleasure to be an Obama supporter.”

French said that she also likes the tax cuts that Obama says will benefit 95 percent of working families and the proposal to create renewable energy.

Belvey Ross, 27, of Harlem, said she was pleased that Obama outlined his recommendations for change in the current government. Ross, a teacher at The Academy for Language and Technology in the Bronx said she was pleased by Obama’s expressed interest in improving the education system. She also said that by recruiting a new force of teachers can also bring in new technology to her school. “We have a chemistry lab in our school and there is no equipment. The city gave the Yankees money to build a second stadium, but it couldn’t give us money for our lab. That’s the change we need.” Ross also said that hopefully these new changes by Obama can improve things at 65 Court Street which is the New York City Department of Education Headquarters.

Education is not the only issue that Ms. Ross is hoping Obama can change. She did not have health insurance for over 5 years and luckily did not suffer any major illness, but was not able to see a doctor as a result. She hopes that Obama’s universal health care plan would keep others from having to go through the same thing. “Other countries like Taiwan and Japan are doing better and unless the United States government gets it together people will continue without health insurance.” She also said that “it is cheaper to fly to South Korea or Thailand then it would be to go to a hospital and get surgery in the states.”

Mrs. Drigant was eagerly waiting for this speech because every time the standards are set higher. She said that Obama speeches were very “inspiring” that many of her friends were afraid that he would not be able to out do the previous ones. “He did above and beyond. We were setting the bar too high each time, but somehow his eloquence and strength in his words go above it every time.”

For the democrat Drigant, she said that she has never though in her lifetime to be able to see an African-American run for the presidency or become the president. “I have never been so proud of my country. I know what this country is like and I know it irritates millions the fact that he is black.” The last one dream that Mrs. Drigant would like to see is to witness the nomination of Barack Obama as the first Black President of the United States.

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In Uptown Manhattan, volunteers give help and get back satisfaction.

December 20, 2008

On a typical afternoon, men shoot pool, play dominos and watch the news at the STAR Senior Center at 187th Street. This center is a crucial part of the Washington Heights neighborhood. It provides help to many senior citizens in the area. They have a lunch program and meals-on-wheels for the homebound seniors. They also provide nutritional counseling, recreation, and field trips.

A group of 3 volunteers keep their promise to provide help to 1300 seniors and learn from those experiences. They sat on a round table to discuss their next task after serving lunch to over 160 visitors.

Belle Cestero has worked at the center since 1992 along with 40 volunteers. She said that she likes to help. “I like the idea about volunteering. It is a wonderful thing to help people in need. It is all for the center.”

Virginia Carbone is an 84 year-old volunteer. She has helped at the center for more than 30 years. And she said that volunteering and being social helps her cope with her own problems. “I’m here to enjoy myself with the people around me to forget my problems and pass time with the people that I am here with.”

Volunteers like Belle Cestero said that she has learned through her job that some of the seniors have problems, yet she finds ways to be helpful. “Throughout my time here, I’ve learned that people have a lot of problems and you do whatever you can to help them. For me, helping them is also good for your mind.”

Diego Gonzalez is a 40 year-old single parent of two. His wife passed away and he has worked at the center for more than a month in the kitchen. He serves food, delivers meals, fixes up the tables, and provides help with anything that’s needed.

Gonzalez said that volunteering is about doing physical work, but also about offering up friendship. “You have to treat them well and give them love and attention. You have to serve their food with love and I like doing my job with a lot of pleasure.”

He also said that he sympathizes with them because many are alone and need the help. “Many people come to this center because they don’t have family, or anyone to help them and one sympathizes with them. They need someone to give them a helping hand.”

Some volunteers also said that even though there are daily hardships they continue to provide their free services to people who need the help.

Virginia Carbone is one of those who continue to give. “You look at a person, you think, for instance like me. People look at me and say; Jeez that woman has no problems. She is so happy. But when I go home and close my door. I do have a lot of problems. I cry, but that’s it.”

The volunteers at the STAR center agree that helping out in the community and a person in need is necessary.

Belle Cestero said that they need help preparing and delivering food, setting up tables and merchandise for the Bazaar sales.  “Our center needs help and whoever helps out is appreciated.”

She also said that they need financial help. “We need the money. We need a lot of money here. I wish people would realize that and volunteer in many different ways.

The STAR Senior Center accepts financial and material donations, but it is always looking for a few good people to donate their time and friendship.


Suicide Prevention Campaign for Latina teens in Brooklyn.

December 19, 2008

One in five Latina adolescents attempt to commit suicide. They are more likely to take their own life than any other group in the United States.

Which is why two young Latina girls held campaign posters on each side of the podium at a press conference announcing the opening of a hotline in both English and Spanish to assist young Latinas with depression and to decrease the alarming rate of attempted suicides.

The Woodhull Medical Center announced a Latina Adolescent Suicide Prevention Campaign this morning at the predominantly Hispanic, Progress High School in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

“The high numbers were alarming and as a parent, it was a call to action. It is important for them to know that there is help available if they need it,” said Iris Jimenez-Hernandez, Senior Vice President of Woodhull North Brooklyn Network.

Dr. Leonel Urcuyo, M.D., Chairman of the Woodhull Medical Center said that the strategy of the campaign is to prevent suicides, identify the “red flags” and to educate the parents and the community about suicide. “Many of the suicide attempt victims end up in the emergency room instead of a psychiatrist office. There are alert signs that many don’t see and it is sad because about 80 percent of attempted suicides are committed by people who did not want to do so,” said Urcuyo.

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the United States. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinas have the highest suicide rates attempts of any adolescent group in the US. 21 percent of Latinas ages 14 thru 17 have attempted to commit suicide compared to 10.8 percent of African-American girls and 10.4 percent of White girls.

“The pressures faced by young Latinas are overwhelming. Those pressures are made worst by often feeling disconnected from their communities or not Speaking English well enough to ask and receive help,” said actress Janet Dacal who is doing public service announcements on radio for the campaign.

This is the first prevention campaign in New York City addressing Latina adolescents and was approved and sponsored by the New York State Office Of Mental Health. There is an emphasis to address the links between parents, schools and students.

There were 36 Latinas involved in the research process from Progress High School. One of them is Diana De Leon. “They asked my opinion about suicide and ever since it has helped me develop an awareness of the issue to help other girls, said De Leon while speaking about a friend that attempted to take her life by eating rat poison.

Math teacher, Sandyrose Rolon has taught at Progress High School for over a year and she said that this initiative has helped her and some of her students to understand the changes in behavior. “Young people talk more to their peers than to their parents. By having young Latinas involved in this campaign we hope that the message will get across.”

The prevention campaign will include public announcements on radio, print ads, flyers, and posters. They hope to raise awareness and encourage young Latinas struggling with suicidal thoughts to seek appropriate help from suicide prevention sources in the community. To get the message across the Woodhull Medical Center is using the star power also from Dacal’s cast mate Lin-Manuel Miranda of the Tony Award Broadway musical ‘In the Heights.”

Miranda and Dacal have 60 second radio public announcements in both English and Spanish. “Programs like this are important for the community. Like many people, I was stunned to learn about the high number of Latinas who attempt to commit suicide,” said Miranda.

For now, the people involved in this initiative hope that it reaches the most vulnerable and that suicide rates drop among Latina adolescents. “It is important that they know that God has a future for all of us,” said De Leon.