Participants attending a community engagement session held by the Bronx Community Foundation. Photo: Brianna Knibbs

Emely Paulino Cuevas recalls the moment she suffered a severe asthma attack that resulted in an ambulance rushing her to the emergency room. 

When paramedics arrived at her Mott Haven residence, she told them she wanted to go to New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. However, they told her they has to transport her to Lincoln Hospital, since it was the closest hospital. 

She described her admission to Lincoln as her “worst experience.” She said she had to wait two hours before getting to see a doctor. 

“It’s just different, it’s not the same as Presbyterian Hospital,” said Cuevas, adding the wait time there is “five, ten minutes. I shouldn’t wait hours.” 

Cuevas was one of more than 100 Bronxites who attended a community engagement session at Schiff Family Great Hall at the Bronx Zoo on Tuesday, to brainstorm about ways to improve life in their borough. That included young people from Urban Plunge, a group from Fordham University’s Center for Community Engaged Learning, that Cuevas belongs to. 

The session was the latest in a series of about a dozen workshops organized by the nonprofit Bronx Community Foundation over the summer, to gather ideas about how to improve daily life for residents of the Bronx.

At the Aug. 22 session, participants created their own vision board by selecting whichever category they thought was the most pressing issue confronting their community, then using arts and craft materials to draw up solutions. Afterwards, each table presented those solutions to the larger group.

In upcoming months, The Bronx Community Foundation will gather the opinions it gleaned from the public sessions, then create a blueprint and a strategic plan, in order propose next steps to resolve the issues residents say matter most.

“There’s a lot of division. In a lot of ways in the Bronx, we get in our own way, we compete with each other,” said Rose DeStefano, strategic consultant at the Foundation. “We’re trying to heal and bridge gaps between groups, between neighborhoods, and different cultures, different types of people. In that way, I feel optimistic because this is something that is new that hasn’t happened in the past.”

Bronxites like Cuevas said they hope negative stereotypes about their neighborhoods that lead some to feel defeated, can be overcome.

“I’ve been told to my face that the South Bronx is dirty, it’s ghetto, there’s criminals. These are people from New York too,” she said. “Even if that were to be true, it’s just harmful stereotypes,” she continued.  

Participants’ primary concerns centered on public health and access to health care, neighborhood development that includes longtime residents in future plans, and quality education.

The Bronx Community Foundation will host a session in the fall called “What We Heard,” at which they will invite organizations and facilitators to discuss what they heard from participants from the summer engagement sessions.  

DeStefano said that the foundation will release reports containing the data they gleaned from the meetings, to be followed by the release of the blueprint in early January.



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