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New Bed-Stuy Housing Development Gets Mixed Reception

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INTRO: A new multi-million dollar development in Bed-Stuy aims to increase affordable housing while providing supportive services for homeless families and former inmates. Jessica Gould report.

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New York Program Helps Autistic Adults Lead Healthy Lives

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HOST INTRO: Half a million children with autism will reach adulthood in the next 10 years. And as they grow up, a new network of support is growing up alongside them. Jessica Gould looks at one New York City program working to combat isolation among autistic adults by proscribing a healthy dose of chitchat …

—-

Anton has a lot to say. Get him started on one of his favorite subjects …

ANTON: I collect videos of game shows and I also look on the Internet for other people who also tape game shows.

… and he’ll talk your ear off.

ANTON: I really like British game shows. A lot of the game shows in the U.S. aren’t very good.

In fact, when it comes to his passions – game shows, musicals, or pre-Elmo Sesame Street — it’s hard for Anton to know when to stop talking.

ANTON: (Fade under and out) They’re all show and not enough game. They’re too dumbed down.  

Anton has Aspergers, and like many people on the autism spectrum, he has trouble reading social cues. So he often speaks in monologues, talking at people instead of with them. This type of social awkwardness has been a problem for as long as he can remember.

ANTON: Back in the 8th grade I was the target of bullies. … They said I didn’t have people skills. And I’m thinking the boys who abuse me for fun are just kids being kids?

Now 27, Anton says he’s still struggling. His last job was almost three years ago, working on the 2010 census and he lives with his parents.

ANTON: But they won’t need me again for another 10 years.

And he continues to have a lot of trouble making and keeping friends. He thought he had found his soul-mates with some other theater types. Then they told him they didn’t want him hanging around anymore.

ANTON: It was really upsetting last year being rejected a lot, being persona non grata with the kind of people I thought would be accepting of me. So I asked other people where they would go if they wanted to fit in.

That’s when Anton heard about the Adaptations program at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. Adaptations helps young adults with special needs make friends and find jobs. For Anton and other individuals with Aspergers, a big part of that is learning to make small talk.

MERCER-WHITE: I can’t help but noticing you have a gymnastics t-shirt on.

Rebecca Mercer-White teaches the social skills class at Adaptations. And this isn’t just idle talk. It’s part of Anton’s new education.

ANTON: My uncles own a gymnastics school in Charlotte, North Carolina.

MERCER-WHITE: And Are you from North Carolina?

ANTON: My mom’s is from North Carolina. But I’m not. I grew up in New York City.

Every Tuesday evening, a small group of men and women in their 20s and 30s gather in a JCC classroom to work on the finer points of everyday conversation. Grown men and women — some coming straight from work and still wearing their business suits — stand in a circle and toss around rubber balls.

MERCER-WHITE: Good, good.

Mercer-White says playing catch is an ice breaker, a way to get her students to relax their bodies and loosen their tongues. But it’s also a metaphor – tossing the balls back and forth mimics the rhythm of conversation and the importance of give and take. She doesn’t want any monologues here.

MERCER-WHITE: So even when you’re throwing it, another could be coming at you. Like talking with a bunch of friends in a crowd.

Next on the agenda: workplace banter. A woman in her early 30s named Paulette says she has trouble making conversation with people in her office elevator.

PAULETTE: Why is it sometimes easy and sometimes it’s awkward?  

One of the other attendees – a man named Richard – chimes in to offer what works for him.

RICHARD: So far my answer to that is a combination of body language and attitude. When somebody comes into an elevator, and they’re looking down, or not making eye contact, they have a glower on their face, I feel that’s somebody who wants to be left alone. When somebody comes in, smiling they’re very friendly.

It all seems simple enough. But experts say the inability to perform these basic communication skills can prevent individuals with Asperger’s from getting and keeping jobs, forming friendships, falling in love and living on their own.   Michelle Gorenstein-Holtzman is a psychologist who specializes in treating people on the autism spectrum.

GORENSTEIN-HOLTZMAN: We do see increased levels of depression and anxiety in the population. So allowing a place for these individuals where they can go and socialize and teach these skills is really important for their quality of life.

And yet, as concrete as these classes at Adaptations are, Gorenstein-Holtzman says studies of children with Aspergers found that it’s tough for them to use the skills they learn in workshops back in their regular lives.

GORENSTEIN-HOLTZMAN: The biggest downfall in all social skills research has been the generalization aspect. So if a child is learning a social skill in a clinic room and they are doing really well … they might not use that skill on the playground.

For his part, Anton – the 27 year old who just wants to talk about game shows – simply wants to keep the conversation going.

Jessica Gould, Columbia Radio News


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Learning The Real Lesson Of A Wedding

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HOST: Jessica Gould got married twice in one year. And she says it took two ceremonies to understand what a wedding is all about.

NARR: Michael proposed in early spring 2009. It was sunset, at the water’s edge in Annapolis Maryland. We kissed and walked the cobble stone streets, hand in hand, peaceful and in love. We knew just what we wanted. A long engagement of about a year and a half with a simple wedding, maybe about 30 people, sometime in the fall.

But my parents had their own ideas. My dad suggested getting hitched at the Harvard Club. My mom filled an accordion file with ads for Amsala dresses, Tiffany wedding bands, All Clad cookware and fine china. It seemed like every day she had a new dish to discuss, but I wasn’t interested. Finally I told her that if she mentioned china one more time, I’d go there and never come back.

You see, Michael and I considered ourselves to be a pretty low-maintenance couple. Our ideal evening involves eating takeout and watching the Bachelor. And yet, as the months wore on, we found ourselves mired in debates over bands versus DJs and chocolate instead of red velvet cake. The guest list ballooned and so did our budget. By winter we had put down money on an old mansion outside D.C. and hired a caterer. We were expecting about 150 guests in October.

Then my grandmother, Nanny found out she had cancer. Nanny and I spoke nearly every day, and she was the first to embrace Michael as part of our family. If she was going to see us get married, we had to do it fast. So the arguments about cake and cutlery melted away as the family swung into action. We began to plan a small pre-wedding wedding, for close relatives, in my uncle’s backyard.

It was a damp day in late April when Nanny and I went to get our hair done by the man who had styled her faux blond bouffant for more than 25 years. Then I slipped on the simple white dress I bought at J. Crew, linked arms with my parents and walked across the grass to meet my husband. Nanny’s 90 year-old friend Jake played a Bach solo on the viola. Nanny read a sonnet by Shakespeare: Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Michael and I promised to love each other, in success and failure, illness and health.

Under a small tent on the patio, we drank champagne and sunk our forks into my mother’s homemade blueberry pie. Nanny said she had never been happier or felt better. Maybe her doctors were wrong and she’d make it to the big wedding in October after all. But just three days later, she had a heart attack. And a month later she was gone. After that, there were no more fights over table cards and cake flavors. I didn’t register for fine china and inherited Nanny’s platters instead. And I began to embrace the October wedding as a celebration of and for family and friends.

When Michael and I got engaged in Annapolis four years ago, I thought our wedding was supposed to be about us, our love, our tastes and preferences. But what I learned along the way is that weddings — and even marriages — aren’t just about the couple. They’re about family — the family that came before, the family you build, and the family you leave behind. And that’s the most romantic thing of all.

HOST: Jessica Gould and Michael Pellegrino will celebrate their third anniversary next week. They aren’t planning another wedding. But they haven’t ruled it out.

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Female Wrestlers At New York Public School Get Own League

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HOST INTRO:

After years of fighting for equality on the mat, female wrestlers at public high schools
across New York City are now in a league of their own. Jessica Gould reports …

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More Counseling for Students in Sandy-Damaged Areas

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HOST: More than four months after Hurricane Sandy, students in storm- damaged areas are still struggling to return to their academic routines. Now the school system is committing more than 2 million dollars to offer academic enrichment to students who fell behind. Jessica Gould reports.

Gladys Munez watches as construction workers replace the walls in her Red Hook apartment. Most of her belongings lie in a heap in the middle of her living room. It’s a mess. But she worries that’s nothing compared to the chaos in her son Jonathan’s head.

MUNEZ: I think what affected him was the darkness. Not having heat. One night he’s sitting in the chair he said Mommy I feel like I’m driving crazy. When are we going to get heat? When are we going to get light? I said no it’s going to take time. It’s going to come.

For thirteen days after the storm, Munez and her sixteen-year-old son sat in their public housing apartment, surrounded by darkness, wrapped in blankets — waiting out the cold. It was a month before Jonathan Munez made it back to school. And he’s still trying to catch up.

JONATHAN: Like everybody was ahead I didn’t know what to do in class because I was stuck behind because of the hurricane. A lot of my classes I’ve been getting 50s and stuff.

In other words, Jonathan is failing. Badly. And he’s not the only one. At a hearing in February, educators told city council members that many students saw their grades sink after the storm. Santos Crespo is president of the union that represents school counselors.

CRESPO: Buildings can be repaired and in some cases replaced. … But the damage that I’m talking about is the post-traumatic stress that many of the children in those areas are going through.

Crespo praised the city for investing in school buildings after the storm. But he said it’s time to invest in students and their schoolwork.

CRESPO: Whenever there’s a severe rain storm the children for lack of a better word freak out. Obviously, they’re not learning ready.

Crespo called on the city to provide tutoring for students. And later that day, the city announced it would do just that – spending an additional $2 million on “academic enrichment” for students affected by the storm. The money will go to 39 of the hardest hit schools in the next few weeks.

Studies show that students who fall behind during disasters often stay behind for years to come. Lisa Jaycox is a behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. She researched the impact of Hurricane Katrina on students back in 2005. And she says New Yorkers can expect students to struggle for a long time if no one intervenes now.

JAYCOX: They may do worse this year and then not get into the classes they want next year. This really has the possibility of pushing them off their trajectory.

NARR: Gladys Munez says she’s not going to let it get to that point with her son. His school won’t be getting any additional funding from the city because it wasn’t directly affected by the storm. And she plans to keep lobbying officials until Jonathan gets the services he needs.

MUNEZ: Now we’re planning to have tutoring. And maybe summer school. And see how we can push him more.

NARR: Her son Jonathan may be ready for that push now. He just started counseling through a state-sponsored program. And he says he’s beginning to feel better. He used to love basketball, but he hadn’t played since the storm. Until this week.

JONATHAN: I went to play basketball a day ago and going there it made me feel good about myself to see my friends and stuff.

NARR: He just hopes he can carry that same can-do spirit from the basketball court to the classroom.

Jessica Gould, Columbia Radio News

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Red Hook Residents Celebrate Re-Opening of Fairway after Hurricane Sandy

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HOST:
Four months ago today, Hurricane Sandy flooded the Fairway Market in the low-lying Red Hook neighborhood. Known as the market like no other, its loyal customers have had no choice but to get their grub elsewhere…until today. Shoppers flocked there early this morning to celebrate the grand re-opening of the store. Jessica Gould reports.

REPORTER:
Brooklyn resident Clara Duckett got in line at Fairway at 7:30 AM, hours before the store was scheduled to open. But Duckett says that’s just what you do when you’re a Fairway fan.

DUCKETT:
The fish is wonderful. And the bakery is superb. And of course they have the best lunch counter and the best lobster rolls in town.

Howard Glickberg’s family has run Fairway for three generations. He says Sandy left five feet of water in the store. The produce was drenched. And the equipment was ruined.

GLICKBERG:
Boxes of cornflakes soaked in water. Guk and all our equipment touched by salt water.

Employees worked at the Manhattan stores, while construction workers gutted the Red Hook facility. But Glickberg says he never considered abandoning the historic building.

GLICKBERG:
I had a long talk with the building and she said she’d never seen anything like this in 150 years and hopefully we won’t see it for another 150.

But Glickberg says the event is about more than the store.

GLICKBERG:
It’s actually a celebration of Red Hook.

The Grand Opening featured speeches by city officials, music, free samples – even a visit from Brooklyn’s Miss America. The Lobster Pound and Red Hook Winery also opened today. Saint John Frizell, owner of the nearby Fort Defiance coffee shop, says the re-opening of the store is a big deal for local businesses.

FRIZELL:
Fairway is kind of like a big brother to all of us that does bring a lot of people to the neighborhood and because of it a lot of people know where Red Hook is and how to get here.

But, just a few blocks away, life is still far from normal for many residents. Sonae Ketter lives in public housing on Dwight Street. She says there’s mold in her apartment, and the building still isn’t connected to the power grid.

KETTER:
I don’t think the basement is finished yet. We have a generator producing heat and hot water but anything could happen.

Still, Ketter — who used to work at Fairway — is happy to see the store come back.

KETTER:
Yeah it’s just like home for me. You don’t even know. I’m just really so excited the store is opening.

Ketter says she saved the extra food stamps she got during Sandy. And she’s going to use them today.

Jessica Gould, Columbia Radio News

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Are Voting Rights Under Threat?

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HOST INTRO:

JESSICA: The Supreme Court will hear a challenge next week to a section of the Historic Voting Rights Act. The case concerns Section 5, which requires many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to get permission before making changes that affect voting. The case is pitting civil rights leaders against states’ rights activists, who say the law is outdated. I spoke with Keesha Gaskins, who says that ensuring access to the polls is crucial.

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Critics Attack Costs of Obama’s Pre-K Expansion

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HOST: In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama said one of his priorities is the expansion of pre-kindergarten education. New York state made a similar pledge fifteen years ago. But as my co-host Jessica Gould reports, parents here have discovered that passing legislation is only the first step.

REPORTER:

N1: Soni Sangha didn’t think arithmetic would be a big part of her son’s pre-K experience. But as he neared his fourth birthday, she immediately started doing calculations.

A1: Private school in our neighborhood is pretty expensive. Those cost upwards of $20,000 easily, and it’s probably $25,000. It was the choice between sending our child to private pre-school for that year, or saving for college.

N2: So Sangha and her husband decided on public pre-school. But in stroller-saturated Park Slope, there was a lot of competition for relatively few slots.

A2: I think when we applied, we were one of 400 people applying to the same schools. So the odds are just not stacked in your favor. We were hoping that we would get into a school, but of course, we didn’t get in.

N3: In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to make high-quality pre-K available to every child in America.

A3: Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.

N4: Specifically, his plan would distribute dollars to states based their share of four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families so that schools and other providers could expand their offerings.

Betty Holcomb, policy director at the Center for Children’s Initiatives says it’s an important plan, supported by decades of studies.

A4: The research shows going all the way back that the graduates of early childhood programs graduate from high school, go on to college, and even have higher earnings into their 40s.

N5: So she says funding early education will eventually pay for itself.

A5: Our argument about that is that it’s really clear if you invest early you’re going to save the school system a lot of money later.

N6: The argument is familiar in New York, which was one of the first states to set a goal for universal pre-K back in 1997. Since then, funding for early education has more than doubled, but pre-k is expensive, and many parents like Sangha are still scrambling for slots.

A6: I think it’s a great sentiment. But saying it and doing it are two entirely different things.

N7: Kay Hymnowitz of the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute says that’s the trouble with Obama’s plan: Expanding early education is a great idea. Getting it done — that’s the hard part.

A7: My first thought was good luck trying to bring this up to scale.

N8: The first obstacle, she says, is money.

A8: Consider that we have deficits as far as the eye can see. States are going to have to cut back in all kinds of areas.

N9: And she says the promise of economic returns down the pike isn’t going to help balance state budgets now.

A9: Because you have to put the dollars in up front. The pay off won’t come until many decades down the  line. This is a difficult time to take on what is a very big experiment.

N10: Instead of universal pre-K, she recommends starting with smaller programs to figure out what works best before trying to replicate them on a national scale.

A10: The best programs we’ve had have been very, very small. Expertly designed. Reviewed. With fabulous teachers who were highly skilled.

N11: As for, Sangha, she ultimately teamed up with fellow parents to create a pre-k co-op. But as she prepares to send her second son to pre-k, she says the same challenges still exist.

A11: In my neighborhood this is the conversation people have year after year after year.

N12: And it may be up to the next generation to figure it out.

Jessica Gould, Columbia Radio News

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