By Bill Parry
The men in blue have arrived in Dutch Kills.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) announced last Thursday that he is expanding street cleaning efforts by workers from the Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing and Able program to include 36th Avenue as well as a 10-block stretch from 27th to 36th streets.
“In the heart of Dutch Kills U.S.A. is 36th Avenue, a special stretch of both commercial and residential properties which represents the diversity of the neighborhood,” Van Bramer said. “This program was so successful in Woodside and Hunters Point that we extended it there and now we’re bringing this amazing organization here.”
The Doe Fund’s street cleaning program is now in 10 Council districts in Queens, and every day they clean 150 miles of New York City sidewalks. Van Bramer allocated $150,000 to bring Ready, Willing and Able workers to his district this year alone.
The “men in blue” are all formerly homeless men who are participating in a nine-to-12-month transitional work program. After one month to three months of street cleaning, the men choose recession-proof career tracks and spend the rest of their time at the Doe Fund training, earning certifications and developing skills they need to achieve permanent self-sufficiency upon graduating.
“It’s an opportunity for them to work and improve their lives,” Van Bramer said. “The men in blue become a part of the neighborhood where people know their names.”
And they become extra sets of eyes that can help make the streets safer as an added benefit.
When Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) expanded Doe Fund street cleaning into central Astoria and Ditmars Boulevard earlier this year, it paid one unexpected dividend.
On May 31, Astoria resident Alice Jaworsky witnessed a Doe Fund worker named Jerome Fowlkes spring into action near Athens Square Park on the corner of 30th Avenue and 31st Street.
“I observed Jerome run out into the intersection between the park and the 7-Eleven franchise and scoop up a child about 2 or 3 years of age who had wandered into the intersection,” Jaworsky said. “If a car came down the street, a driver may not have seen the small child.”
The child’s mother had been inside the playground at PS 17 with another child and had not noticed that her daughter was missing.
“Out of bad comes good,” Jaworsky said. “If there was no Ready, Willing and Able program, there would have been no Jerome Fowlkes in Athens Square Park to do what he did.”
Eric Darby joined the Doe Fund last month after being unemployed for eight months. The Crown Heights, Brooklyn, resident was part of the contingent of the men in blue at the Van Bramer announcement in Dutch Kills.
“If we see or hear of a child, or anyone in trouble, of course we’re going to do something to help out,” he said. “We’ll always look after the children, absolutely.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.