The truth is, the fence surrounding Van Dyke Houses, located at 360 Blake Avenue in Brownsville, had not been painted in more than 25 years.
Most of the white paint had peeled away from the iron bars, which had long ago rusted over, giving the exterior of the housing project an unfortunate, worn and unwelcoming appearance.
So on Thursday, August 6, the New York City Housing Authority, along with residents of Van Dyke Houses, Healthfirst and four other local partners, including the volunteer team behind Afropunk Fest, held a paint party on the buildings’ grounds.
In total, more than 120 residents and volunteers —ages 6 to 65– came out to lend a hand on the beautification project, helping residents breathe new life into the entrance areas.
George Hulse, VP of External Affairs at Healthfirst, said the initiative was particularly important for his organization to co-sponsor because so many of the residents of NYCHA are members of Healthfirst.
“We insure one out of every 10 people who live in the city of New York. In NYCHA, we insure one out of every nine people,” said Hulse. “And so these are my members, and I want to keep them healthy. Normally when you think of wellness, you think of clinical health, and that is the main thing we do. But wellness has many legs, and one of the legs of wellness is the community that you live in– its self esteem.
“It’s a public-private partnership: We’re not painting for the residents; we’re painting with the residents. We’re just supporting them.”
Aside from the painting project, Healthfirst offers free exercise and nutritional classes at Van Dyke Houses every Wednesday and Saturday. And on September 19, Healthfirst will be back at Van Dyke to host a breakfast and then a health health fair down the block at Dr. Green Playground on Mother Gaston Boulevard and Sutter Ave where there will be free health screenings with doctors and clinicians, along with entertainment and other vendors.There will be another painting party of the playground’s fence and basketball courts in October, said Hulse.
Afropunk’s involvement came a little differently– by way of a new initiative it started this year called called AFROPUNK Army, an earned ticket program that gives fans the chance to volunteer in exchange for a free ticket to one of the upcoming shows on August 22-23, in Commodore Barry Park.
“The Festival this year is a paid festival– much to the chagrin of our core fan base– but we wanted to provide an opportunity that didn’t alienate our audience,” said Manushka Magloire, director of community affairs at Afropunk. “You can get to the festival by either paying, or you can choose to walk the walk and talk the talk by taking action in your community.
“We want to give young people the opportunity to know what it means to organize, what it means to care about something other than your Instagram page and how many ‘likes’ you have. As a reward, if you will, we’re giving away tickets to the festival. So if you do good, you get good. That’s sort of the philosophy,” she said.“We have several different ways for young people to get involved both in physical volunteer service projects and also by leveraging their social networks to be digital advocates for our partner organizations for social justice causes.”
For more information on joining the AFROPUNK Army, go here.
“NYCHA appreciates the partnership of Healthfirst and participating community organizations, as well as volunteers affiliated with Afro-Punk,” said a spokesperson from NYCHA. “We are deeply appreciative of the large turnout of passionate volunteers, and will continue engaging in innovative strategies to progress our NextGeneration NYCHA goal of a creating a safe, clean and connected communities.”