THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre
First lady of New York City Chirlane McCray is pictured with Queens Courier Publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis.

Calling Queens “a model” of what New York City can be, the city’s first lady Chirlane McCray outlined her efforts to expand education and mental health programs in an exclusive interview with The Courier.

McCray sat down with Courier Publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis following an open forum in Kew Gardens on mental health issues affecting Queens residents on Monday. She and her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, have made a concerted effort toward focusing on mental health issues and breaking down barriers preventing New Yorkers in need from obtaining access to appropriate care.

Providing residents with proper access to mental health services and other basic needs is essential to a healthy city both in mind and body, yet many New Yorkers have been deprived of them in recent years, according to McCray.

“Having the resources to have a roof over your head, access to food, clean air, arts, physical education, so many other things we consider common sense and basic, yet we take them away,” she said. “When you strip them away from a community, what do you expect to happen?”

McCray stressed the importance of the city not only providing basic services to its residents but also using programs to develop role models for the city’s youth.

“There are so many” mentoring programs “but we need more,” she said. “Through the Mayor’s Fund, we have instituted a youth employment center” powered through donations from local businesses which provide “jobs for young people.”

“But it’s not just jobs,” McCray added. “It’s internships and mentoring young people year-round. We’ve doubled the number of jobs since last year, and we want to do even more in the coming months.”

The city is also expanding its mental health resources through special clinics aimed at helping 62,000 students in need. The universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) also plays a critical role in a child’s mental health and long-term education, she noted.

“One of the reasons why pre-K is so important is to reach the children early,” McCray said. “We want children to be assessed, evaluated early because if they have challenges in the classroom, they’re not going to get the kind of education they need.”

The first lady also noted that the NYPD is receiving additional resources not just to tackle crime, but also to address the mental health needs of crime victims.

“We’ve actually put money into making sure that in every precinct, there will be someone trained in” handling domestic violence cases “and working with victims,” McCray said. “We’ve never had that before.”

This effort, she remarked, will help develop “a different kind of relationship” between the NYPD and the communities it serves.

The full interview can be viewed below.

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