The green-and-white balloons were a big hit. They entertained the children who skittered about the P.S. 169 cafeteria and occasionally paused to ask for help snatching the string of one that had drifted wayward toward the ceiling. Three young boys staked out the middle of the room and batted a white one back and forth as it just barely kept afloat.
Their parents, meanwhile, huddled on either side of long cafeteria tables with pencils in hand to fill out a survey for the Sunset Park Promise Neighborhood. The 12-page survey asked about education, child care, family health, and more. (A sample question: “What are the most common reasons your child is absent from school?”).
The event was certainly a success. Its organizers, Lutheran Family Health Centers and the Fresh Air Fund, easily met the goal of 200 attendees from the community. But it also illustrates the challenge facing Lutheran and the other community groups that have signed onto the Promise Neighborhood project.
“We are working with residents of the community and with organizations,” Stacie Evans, director of Lutheran’s Community Empowerment Program, explained, “to develop a plan for what are the services and systems that you would like to have in place in the community to support families and children.”
Few of the parents had heard of the Promise Neighborhood project, even after volunteers had been knocking on doors around Sunset Park for a week. This event, which doubled as open registration for the Fresh Air Fund’s summer programs, gave Evans and her team a chance to reach parents before this week’s deadline. They distributed more than 100 surveys to those in attendance, including Veronica Bonola and Ivan Aragon, who sat with their third-grade daughter, Giovana.
“The survey is very complete, well put-together,” said Aragon, speaking in Spanish. He praised P.S. 169 for the quality of its extracurricular programs, but added that sometimes it’s hard for him and his wife to participate. “They don’t put out the information, the flyers in Spanish. Everything is in English,” he said. (Both Spanish and Mandarin translators were on hand on Friday.)
The stack of completed surveys will be added to the 250 counted and sitting in Evans’s office at Lutheran, part of a much larger pile still to be tallied, and more are still coming in. Just today, volunteers from P.S. 24, a second elementary school in Sunset Park, delivered 100 more.