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A Brooklyn Family Tale - Center for Family Life
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Center for Family Life: Interview Transcripts: Sister Geraldine
Sister Geraldine

The enrichments that you hope to bring to families are, you know, learning enrichments: literature and reading and then the arts. We have a very strong belief in the value of the arts at the Center. Bringing dance not only exposes children and families to worlds outside of themselves, opening up worlds that come to them through the arts, but opens up their own ability to create art; to create dance and to bring out their own cultures. What is city life like and how do you express that in theater and in fine art? And how do you express that in dance and music?

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And I think that that's obvious in our three school programs, that we have an emphasis on that. But it's just to enrich people's lives so that it isn't all the stress of daily life, and of paying the bills, and of working, and of keeping the job, and of managing child-care, and all those things. To kind of supplement and assist parents in doing that for their children and for themselves, to bring some kind of enjoyment into their life.


I have absolutely no fear of walking anywhere in my neighborhood day or night. Now, I think it is a safer community. I think there are enough demographics that tell us that; that we have a lower crime rate, things have gotten better.

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And I think that's because -- I don't know -- people get along better with each other, and we see this potential, for example, when we saw the Chinese community moving into Sunset Park, and the Latino community there. As a community, we saw that that was something we needed to work on before it erupted in our faces; that there was competition for housing and jobs and what have you.

So, we've tried to work on that. I mean, there are incidents here or there, but we keep working on it. I do think that we don't have the rawness of the gangs. I think that there's ... the efforts right now are not so much how do we reduce violence in the community, but how do we get better reading scores.

And how do we enhance the skill level of our young people and of our parents to get better jobs. It almost seems like that is the unanimous agenda; that we're at a different level of work than in the earlier days. Then, it was really the violence in families and the violence in the schools. And I don't know if this is just because I'm chauvinistic about my neighborhood or whether you would find the facts that would tell us that it is a safer community to live in.

But personally, I feel now ... I mean, I could run a dance tomorrow and not worry in the same way I did maybe 20 years ago when we ran our first dances.

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Social work is practiced in different ways here at the Center. And one way it is practiced by our professional staff is with the families who come and present themselves either through a referral or through their own, you know, initiation of asking and seeking help. Then a social worker is assigned and people engage, and choose to engage, in counseling.

But, as you may know, we also have a lot of other ways in which social workers are involved in the life of the community and in families. And that happens primarily at our school sites, where the work that we're doing at those school sites is youth development. It's school-aged childcare; it's a dance company; it's a basketball league; it's, you know, counselors in training.

And inevitably in those exchanges, if you're a professional social worker, you pick up on issues that may come up with young people in those situations.
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Over the years, I've noticed that working with families who have histories of kind of being beaten down, getting messages both within their own immediate family or from the world outside that they're not capable or that they don't have strength ... often it's harder to engage with these families or these individuals in ways in which you do see the strength and you believe in them.

And, it's harder for them to buy into that because they become so, so comfortable with the negative identities and they're not comfortable with their strengths and their positives. And so somehow when you experience them and their relationship with them, they're a little confounded and not quite trusting.

And so, it takes time.

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