By Rich Bockmann
Summer interns from City Comptroller John Liu’s office brightened smiles on a rainy day last week when they stopped by South Jamaica to donate some much-appreciated sports equipment to the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center.
Liu intended to visit the center himself, but heavy rains Aug. 1 made for heavy traffic, and the comptroller had to turn around en route. Liu spoke with TimesLedger Newspapers on the phone and praised the work the Bell family has done since the community center opened last year.
“It’s been a labor of love,” he said. “It’s really caught hold in the community at a time when basic services are badly needed.”
Enrollment at the center has more than doubled, from 40 to 88 youngsters, since it opened in May 2011.
Liu said he wanted the interns to realize that public service meant more than making sure the city’s departments were fiscally honest.
“This year we had about 900 applications for 36 positions. These associates are really the cream of the crop in the fields of accounting, legal and investment analysis,” he said. “I always try to emphasize that public service also means getting out into the community and helping people in the community.”
The community center was established in memory of Sean Bell, who was shot and killed by plainclothes police officers in a hail of 50 bullets just hours before his wedding in November 2006. The center occupies a small space, at 107-52 Sutphin Blvd. There is enough room inside for arts-and-crafts activities, but when the rambunctious youth need some space to run around, they head outdoors to 108th Avenue, a section of which the NYPD blocks off for the center’s use.
On rainy days, however, the youngsters use the gym at nearby PS 48, which is where they were last week when the associates dropped off soccer nets, tee-ball stands, hula hoops, footballs, basketballs and baseballs.
Tyree Blount, 16, is one of the staffers at the center employed through the city’s Summer Youth Employment program. Blount lives not far from the center and said he does see the center’s work as community-building.
“We see ourselves as family,” he said.
The associates said they even spent the morning helping the children write their elected officials to get more funding for the center.
“They were writing letters about the Sean Bell Center and their view on violence,” said public affairs associate Tyler Yim, 20, from Long Island. “I was really surprised. One kid was asking me how to spell words like ‘commemorate’ and ‘circumstances.’ I think he was in the third-grade.”
Patricia Hogan-Currie, the center’s office manager, could not contain her laughter when she was asked what the children wrote about.
She said one young girl was “hysterical” when she went in the rest room and found kitchen utensils in the sink.
“She started screaming, ‘These aren’t supposed to be in here!’ But they were in the bathroom because we don’t have a kitchen,” Hogan-Currie said. “So she wrote to the mayor, ‘Money. We need more money for a bigger center.’”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.