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Soon, when the drilling stops and the dust settles, Mott Haven/Melrose will have a new Family Enrichment Center at 109 Bruckner Blvd.
Director Amanda Perez said that the community space — currently just drywall and dust — will soon become a “warm, welcoming, and homelike” space for people to get connected to resources and participate in activities prompted by community requests.
The center, anticipated to open April 15, was developed with community input on everything from programming to technological equipment to furniture, even the organization’s name, she said. (The group will adopt a creative name selected by the community once the center is officially open). The community space will feature a kitchenette, multimedia room, bookshelves, “community closet” with donated clothing, and other features based on community demand.
All Family Enrichment staff are from the Mott Haven/Melrose area. They know the neighborhood well, and Perez said there is “not a lack of resources but lack of accessibility to those resources.”
The enrichment center, she said, exists to bridge that gap: “If there’s a problem, most likely the solution is in the community already.” Perez explained that the Enrichment Center is not a service provider in itself; rather, it is a gathering space that links people to existing resources and “magnifies” what is there.
Three Family Enrichment Centers (FECs) are already operating in Highbridge, Hunts Point/Longwood, and East New York, and the city’s Administration for Children’s Services plans to open nine more across the city in 2023, with 30 new centers total by 2027.
While the downstairs space is being constructed, the third floor office — called The Sweet Space — is open to the public now, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The hardwood floors, windows allowing natural light, and multiple sofas give it a cozy feel. Perez and her full-time staffers, Christina Gwathney and Julian Diaz, are busy hosting community members in the new space.
Visitors have been dropping by The Sweet Space to socialize, and Perez and crew have hosted small events, such as “Parent Cafe” discussions and a “Sip and Paint” to benefit an organization working with foster parents. Perez emphasized that the center is for anyone in the community who has a stake in children’s lives — not just parents. The group anticipates visitors of all ages, from babies in strollers to the elderly, and they plan to foster a natural “intergenerational exchange.”
“The FEC is like a blank canvas,” Perez said. “It’ll be how you want it to be.”
The Mott Haven/Melrose Family Enrichment Center will host a grand opening this spring. Follow them on Instagram @Southbronx.fec