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May: Life Lines Community Arts Project Presents “TOGETHER ON 40TH”

Life Lines performing "Too Much To Do Blues" in this year's spring show "TOGETHER ON 40TH"

“Life Lines” Community Arts Project is a free, nationally-recognized year- round arts and leadership program for youth, ages 10-21, that brings together the arts, education and social work to engage young people in group experiences that promote individual growth, encourage mutual aid, develop leadership and build community.

Each year, Life Lines presents an improvisational play that brings to life the struggles and vitality of young people and families in our diverse neighborhood. Although there is a skeletal outline of scenes, there is no written script for the final show. Instead, the characters play out their situations in improvised dialogue that changes from performance to performance.

Dance Troupe - "Out Here On My Own"

For the spring show, participants share their ideas, feelings and experiences with staff, which are then integrated into original pieces for the production. Students build their dance, vocal and improvisational acting skills before participating in a three-day rehearsal retreat in February in upstate New York to develop core content for the show. A second three-day rehearsal retreat in April brings together the dances, songs, ensemble pieces, scenery and props created by all of the Life Lines Groups and Troupes. Finally, after three months of intense creative collaboration and rehearsal, participants are ready to perform their final show in six matinee and evening performances for school and community audiences!

Mari and Delilah facetiming with Abuela
Mari and Delilah facetiming with Abuela
Franco and his son Eliot
Franco and his son Eliot

In celebration of Life Lines 40th anniversary, “TOGETHER ON 40TH” presents a glimpse into a lively 40th Street apartment building in Brooklyn, home to the extended León family and a few other “chosen” family members. We meet the four adult León siblings, their teenage children, the building super and his son, a neighbor who just moved in, and an up-and-coming social media influencer. We follow their day-to-day struggles and triumphs during the course of a school year as they encounter economic stress, manage their fears and anxiety, and navigate life transitions while striving to stay connected to the people they love. Family and friends turn to imaginative worlds and places of the mind to find levity and to fortify themselves to face the future.

Our heroes are haunted by the ghost of their past social media posts as they take on the adventure of adulthood
Our heroes are haunted by the ghost of their past social media posts as they take on the adventure of adulthood

The scenes, songs, dances and fantastical departures from reality illustrate that relationships have the power to carry us through life’s challenges. From our building on 40th Street, we see how individuals and communities– both here in Sunset Park and the world over– are sustained, nurtured and strengthened by the bonds we share with each other.

You're Not Alone: Friendship support - Naomi & Delilah
You're Not Alone: Friendship support - Naomi & Delilah

We are thrilled that our performances reached 1600 middle and high school students and over 500 family and community members. We are deeply grateful to our participants, parents, family members, school and community partners for joining us for this momentous milestone and for reminding us…

The Extra Mile Celebrating the Strength of Youth: Our Ladder of Leadership June 7, 2023

The Extra Mile

We are delighted to announce that we will be holding The Extra Mile event in-person and online on Wednesday June 7th, from 6-8pm at L’Wren in Sunset Park, Brooklyn!

Please join us here in Sunset Park and meet some of our amazing school-based staff leaders as we celebrate the strength of youth!

A hallmark of CFL’s program model is our ladder of leadership that provides meaningful roles and opportunities for young people and fosters long-term relationships that enrich our program environments. Participants build leadership skills in elementary school group experiences, move up into middle school service learning activities and then, in high school, become Counselors-in-Training (CITs) who serve as role models for younger children. CITs become our hiring pool of youth workers and group leaders who staff our elementary and middle school programs during their college years. Our ladder of leadership continues to recognize leadership potential and to promote capacity as group leaders move up to AmeriCorps members and Instructors. As staff progress through higher education and demonstrate increasing levels of competence, they advance to BA level Activity Specialists and then to Program Coordinators and MSW Program Directors!

Seventy Eight percent of our current school-based staff, including 10 of our Program Directors and Coordinators began as our participants, demonstrating the success of our ladder of leadership and ensuring that our programs are both responsive to and representative of the diverse community of Sunset Park.

We hope you will join us in celebrating our incredible school-based staff!

You can purchase tickets for the event by clicking the ticket link above or visiting our website

We look forward to seeing you in-person or online!

Teachers and CFL Artists-in-Residence worked with students to incorporate math and ELA in the designing of a quilt

April: “Life Lines” Interdisciplinary Arts Projects

At Center for Family Life in Sunset Park we emphasize the important role that the arts play in promoting skill development, creative expression, community-building and educational progress. We are proud to partner with MS 136/Charles O. Dewey and MS 821/Sunset Park Prep giving 6th grade students the opportunity to participate in the “Life Lines” Interdisciplinary Arts Projects which integrate the arts with social studies, science, math and/or ELA, fostering active participation and enthusiasm for learning.

During this program, which is funded in part by the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA), each 6th grade class participates in a 10-12 week-long project. Classes receive two Interdisciplinary Arts sessions per week facilitated by CFL teaching artists in partnership with MS teachers. Each class combines two academic subjects with two art forms (dance, theater, music and/or visual arts), resulting in unique projects that immerse students in an in-depth artistic process.

A student using stencils to cut out pieces of the class quilt
A student using stencils to cut out pieces of the class quilt!

The primary objectives for the Interdisciplinary Arts Projects are for students to engage in group cooperation, develop communication and self-expression, try new activities and expand their art skills, create and perform a presentation and deepen their understanding of academic subjects through the arts.

Working in small groups, students develop skills as they create, compose and choreograph. They build a vocabulary to discuss, critique and communicate ideas and to learn to interpret art in a cultural and historical context. Students collaborate in designing and implementing each aspect of semester-long Interdisciplinary Arts Projects, in a process that promotes leadership and teamwork, engages students with diverse learning styles, reduces anxiety around learning and requires active participation.

Students learning core subject material through dance!
Students learning core subject material through dance!

To support students’ learning and their process, CFL artists and their teacher-partners meet weekly to map a framework of activities for each session that aligns with student-designed projects. In addition, programming, logistics and curriculum alignment are coordinated by MS principals and assistant principals in collaboration with CFL Interdisciplinary Project Partner coordinators.

Each project culminates in a presentation of students’ work exhibiting the broad scope of students’ learning to an invited audience of family members, school staff, artists, agency staff and community. Presentations are interactive and engage audience members in student-led demonstrations, gallery walks and through questions and answers. At the conclusion of each project, students, teachers and artists engage in self-assessment, peer feedback and program evaluation.

Student artwork integrating science with art!
Student artwork integrating science with art!

Jessica Mercado, a 6th grade math teacher at MS 821 and a former MS 136 student participated in the in-school program as a student. Of her experience as a child, Jessica said:

“I participated in CFL as a 6th grader. We learned about science through music and dance. MANY years later, I still remember the song/dance from that unit (it goes something like…”amoebas live in water and in soil”). As a kinesthetic learner, I benefited from movement. It was great! Now, I get to participate in the CFL as a 6th grade math teacher. My students get to learn about plotting coordinates through art and drama! CFL has been such a blessing to Sunset Park and I am thankful to play a small role in what they are doing.”

Students during the fall semester created mobiles as part of a library beautification project which tied together an academic subject, the arts and the class's library period!

The “Life Lines” Interdisciplinary Arts Projects not only provide a hands-on approach to learning but are also an opportunity for students and teachers to get to know each other better and to work as a community. We are so grateful to our partners at MS 136 and MS 821 for collaborating with us to implement programming that is instrumental to youth development in Sunset Park.

Wellness Group Facilitators Mayra Restrepo and Diane Liu

March: Wellness Groups

As we emerge from pandemic restrictions and losses, our community continues to face a number of significant systemic challenges that impact the wellbeing and stability of residents. Mounting challenges impacting our community are tied to the reversion of critical relief policies passed by the federal government at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include the reduction in supplemental food stamp benefits (SNAP) and nearly double-digit inflation on basic foodstuffs including eggs, milk and other previously affordable staples that have contributed to increased food insecurity in Sunset Park. In addition, Congress’s failure to recertify the pandemic-era Child Tax Credit means the loss of financial relief for many Sunset Park families. The lifting of the COVID eviction moratorium and the depletion of the emergency rent assistance program (ERAP) at the New York State level also means increased hardship related to rental debt and housing instability.

To support our community through times of economic stress and uncertainty, we offer individual and family counseling. We see the real and positive impact that our counseling programs have on the mental health of participants. To address the truly vast scope of systemic challenges and their toxic impact on the community as a whole, we also facilitate Wellness Groups that address stability and wellbeing at a population level. We offer our Spanish and Chinese language Wellness Groups through generous funding from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.

Spanish Wellness Group flyer
Our 2023 spring Spanish Wellness Group flyer!

The primary focus of Wellness Groups is to promote self-care and self-advocacy, engaging group members through activities and guided discussions which promote the healing power of solidarity and community. These groups bond members as participants generate common feelings of understanding and empathy making members feel supported and heard as groups discuss ways for members to advocate for their shared needs. Groups serve to build community and solidarity as well as to create and maintain strong social networks. We have discovered that the peer-to-peer sharing and problem solving that takes place in the Wellness Groups is extremely powerful and has facilitated healing among those who have endured traumatic events or are currently facing hardships. 

Chinese Wellness Group flyer
Our 2023 spring Chinese Wellness Group flyer!

A self-advocacy activity that is popular with participants is “naming your barriers,” which builds skills related to problem solving and strategies for overcoming challenges. In this activity, group members begin by identifying barriers that they encounter in their own lives, but soon recognize that these are more often than not shared by many members of the community. This allows us to introduce opportunities to engage in shared problem solving and to emphasize the importance of solidarity to make changes that benefit the entire community. The groups provide participants with a safe space to share with others while building their confidence to advocate for what they need and connect to resources and opportunities.

Diane Liu, co-facilitator of our Chinese Wellness Group shared that these groups are particularly important for mothers who use the group to identify and share personal needs, to develop bonds with others facing similar challenges and to do so while their children are cared for by CFL staff who engage children in safe and enriching activities. During the hour and a half that group members share and plan, mothers can focus on discovering what they need to secure their own personal wellness. She also mentioned that the groups create a great access point for other CFL services. For example, she said that several participants in last fall’s Wellness Group later signed up for ESOL classes or attended family counseling!

Wellness Group Graduation
A photo from the Chinese Wellness Group graduation ceremony!

Participants receive a certificate at the last session and enjoy a graduation ceremony. This ceremony recognizes the work that participants have put in to improving their wellness and sharing in solidarity with their fellow group members, and gives them the chance to celebrate together.

We are so pleased to provide Spanish and Chinese Wellness Groups which further the group practice methodology that we promote at CFL, amplifying the ways in which group members contribute to each other’s growth and strengthen their community by strengthening each other. During difficult and stressful times, we see that our Wellness Groups bolster the enormous vitality that is inherent in our community and engender hope and determination in participants. 

We encourage any Spanish or Mandarin speaker over 18 years of age to join our groups which are led by trained peer-advocates and include engaging activities that promote self-discovery and group solidarity. Childcare is provided for group participants. Anyone with interest in joining our Spanish or Chinese Wellness Groups, or who can share this opportunity with others, please scan the QR code on the above flyers or click the button below. 

New York City tax team hold "free tax prep" sign.

February: Tax Season!

Center for Family Life in Sunset Park continues to assist eligible clients to file their taxes, alleviating the stress that so many of our clients experience when preparing tax filings and ensuring that millions of tax dollars are distributed back to our community! The returns and credits individuals receive after filing their taxes have a huge impact on the household resources available to the many low-income families who visit our tax site. We are proud that last year our team helped 2,688 people file their taxes, yielding close to $4.4 million in refunds. We hope to assist more clients this tax season and bring about a larger return to help stimulate our community economy!

Our free drop-off tax filing services are available to clients five days a week through April 18th. Those that qualify for our services include single filers with incomes of $56,000 or less in 2022 as well as families with incomes of $80,000 or less in 2022. Our services are made easy. Clients simply gather their documents, drop them off during their prescheduled appointment and pick up the completed return later! If they have questions at any point in the process, our staff is here to help!

A first time client receiving tax filing services at CFL!
A first time client receiving tax filing services at CFL!

CFLSP has received several letters in the mail from clients thanking our tax team for being friendly, helpful and available to support them through the filing process. We are grateful to receive such positive feedback and to hear how our services are personally impacting clients!

Completing taxes annually improves the lives of so many Sunset Park residents who receive refunds and who establish a valuable history of timly annual filing. Our CFLSP Tax Manager, Juan Obando, stresses the importance of these services explaining how they “are bringing money back to the community when [people] need it most.”

A letter we received from a client who used our tax filing services!
A letter we received from a client who used our tax filing services!

In addition to our regular tax filing services, Center for Family Life also began the Self-Employed Tax Prep Program (SETP). SETP seeks to help self-employed individuals who often struggle to understand their tax filing obligations and to keep proper tax filing records. This program is crucial to helping people learn about the basics of tax filing through education and workshops. SETP also provides tax filing assistance and recordkeeping guidance to make the filing experience smooth and worry free. This program is expected to expand by June of 2024 to provide additional services and to serve even more New Yorkers!

An overview of SETP!
An overview of SETP!

Whether for our regular tax filing services or SETP, our tax filing team works incredibly hard each day to ensure that our community members receive the best service possible. We value all of our clients and are grateful for the support that we receive allowing us to help them. If you have not already, be sure to visit our website to sign up for a tax filing appointment if you are eligible!