New York Daily News Highlights Safe Horizonís Childrenís Center in Bronx Family Court
Posted on: Thursday, October 13, 2011
Surprising Oasis For Kids in City's Courts Run by Safe Horizon
New York Daily News
October 13, 2011 (NEW YORK, NY) - A long line of grim-faced and nervous-looking people wait to go through the metal detectors at the entrance to Bronx Family Court, where human dramas play out daily in its drab hallways and maze of courtrooms.
In an out-of-the-way, small room on the seventh floor, there is color everywhere, from the large yellow sunburst on the wall to the blue toy trucks and green dinosaurs that volunteer Thelma Jones uses to amuse 2-year-old Pablo while his mother sorts out her legal problems.
There's also laughter here. And quiet smiles. And the occasional, normal screams of a child, either because he was just dropped off or because he's being picked up - and doesn't want to leave.
This is the Children's Center, one of six in the city's courts run by Safe Horizon, the venerable victim assistance group.
It resembles a kindergarten, and provides a cheery, nurturing environment for kids whose family situations run the gamut from abusive parents to battles over custody or child support.
Safe Horizon used to operate 10 centers in courthouses around the city, but last April four fell victim to budget cuts.
The Bronx Children's Center opened 27 years ago, and sees 400 children a month, some for a half an hour or all day, some just once and some many times in their young lives.
Sometimes when the parents return to retrieve their child, they are angry at the outcome of their court proceeding.
"Our staff is trained to deal with it," said Jesse Colchamiro, education director for Safe Horizon.
They couldn't do it without doting, dedicated people.
Like Antonia Polanco, who has worked there since the beginning. She took the job after raising her children and grandchildren.
"It's challenging," said Polanco. "In my world, I never imagined so many abused children."
There are equal parts sadness and reward.
"Some kids who were here return with their own kids and are in court," she said. "But a girl came back to let me know she was in college, and another boy came to show me his uniform, he's in the Army."
A tiny, quiet boy sat at a table eating (and spilling) cornflakes. After several mouthfuls, he pointed to the napkin near his bowl and whispered to Polanco.
"That's to clean your mouth after you finish your cereal," she said brightly, helping him wipe his lips.
Jones is a volunteer foster grandparent with the city's Department for the Aging, as the patch on her white blazer attests. She is one of two who work at the Bronx Center.
She didn't want her age mentioned, but she is well beyond retirement age, yet has come to the center in rain or snow, Monday to Friday, for 13 years.
"I was in customer service for 40 years," said Jones. "I hate the house, I stayed home three years and I got bored....I think we should give something back to the community."
She raised four kids, and has 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
"I still baby-sit for them, too," she said with a laugh.
"They're a vital part of the program," said Colchamiro. "We count on them, they take ownership, it's their center."
Pablo, a dark-eyed, curly-haired toddler, screamed and cried after his mother dropped him off.
"Mommy's coming back," Jones cooed. She eventually got him to sit and play, and smile.
"You have to like children to do this," said Jones. "We try to do the best we can with them."
When his mother came to get him, Pablo screamed again as she tried to take him out the door.
"They fall in love with you," Jones said.
Read the original article, "Surprising Oasis for Kids in City's Courts Run By Safe Horizon" - http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2011/10/13/2011-10-13_surprising_oasis_for_kids_in_city.html