Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Cookies For All
By Sahar Muradi


Patriotic Cookies. Mom’s Perfect Pumpkin Bread. Chocolate Ovaltine Surprise.  Those were some of the featured cookies at the LES Girls Club’s 2nd Annual Holiday Cookie Swap fundraiser last weekend at La Vie. For a $20 ticket, I received a big golden tin and entry into a jackpot of sugar!  Cookies (homemade!) went for about $1-2 a piece, with all proceeds from the event benefiting the Club’s culinary education and job training programs.

The Girls Club was founded in 1996 to provide services for teen and pre-teen girls in the Lower East Side.  Today, it offers a host of programs and opportunities for young girls, ranging from mentoring to art workshops to a fair trade girl-made gift shop!

Under the tenor of Treble, the all-girls a capella group, and with my free proseco in hand (oh dear sponsors), I nibbled my way through the crowd.  The restaurant was packed with Girls Club staff, members, volunteers, supporters, judges and cookie addicts like me.

I bought my first one, a chocolate peppermint rapture from fourteen year-old Stella. She’s been a member of the Club for 3 years.  Stella said she originally joined because her mom was active in the Club, but she quickly saw how much it benefited her and the community.  “They help us get prom dresses!” she said excitedly, referring to the Club’s annual prom dress give-away that sees droves of girls line the street in anticipation.  Her friend Chelsea beside her, member for 7 years, beamed, “I love everything about the Club!”

I wound my way through the maze of tasty tables and met Mandolin, a young woman who has been volunteering at the Club for a year.  She became a volunteer, she said, because she grew up with a single mom, no siblings, and few resources, and she knew the value of having a great after school club.  She likes that the Club is a place where no one judges anyone and it’s educational.  Mandolin is a mentor in the monthly Culture Club Mentoring Program and meets about once a month with her mentee for social activities, from gallery tours to baking. Next month, they’ll learn how to knit.

Lisa, another mentor, was selling cookies with her mentee, Aizhanae.  Lisa got involved because she lived in the neighborhood and would pass by the Club every day and grew curious about what they were doing.  Aizhanae had heard about all the cool opportunities for girls her age and signed up.  This was their second “date”. In fact, it was really cute, a little awkward and full of shy smiles.  How was it so far, I asked. “So far, so good.”

On my third round of the room and on a sugar high, I met the founder and executive director of the LES Girls Club, Lyn Pentecost.  She said that because of the changing demographics of the LES, membership was growing among young Asian girls.  Looking at the crowd, too, I noticed a real cross-section of the neighborhood.  Apparently, there are some 15,000 teens in low-income housing in the area.

Just a few months ago, the Club broke ground on their 12-story, 35,000 square feet building on Avenue D.  The building will include a recreation center, yoga rooms, art facilities, and recording studios.  Above, there will be 77 market rate and subsidized apartments. I think of my neighbor, Tom, who’s lived in the LES for twenty years and says, there was a time he wouldn’t go past Avenue B.  And now, you have to dodge yoga mats.

Amidst the proseco and shiny blueprints, I thought of the enthusiasm of girls like Stella and Chelsea and Aizhanae.  And I wondered how I, too, might have benefited from a girls empowerment program as a recent immigrant kid in Elmhurst or as a transplant to suburban Florida.  Well, one thing was for sure. The cookies were damn good.

PHOTO CREDIT DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Community Announcements
Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Monday, May 2 at 6:30 pm -- Rutgers Community Center, Gymnasium - 200 Madison Street (btwn Rutgers & Pike Sts)

Brooklyn CB7, Land Use/Landmarks Committee Regular meeting
Continued discussion on potential 8th Avenue rezoning

Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

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