Mayor announces new youth initiative at Mill Brook

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the Mill Brook Houses in Port Morris on Tuesday to announce the launch of a new initiative to create 50 new soccer fields for young people across the five boroughs over the next five years.

by Samali Bikangaga. Mayor de Blasio huddles with Bronx kids at Mill Brook Houses on July 11.
by Samali Bikangaga. Mayor de Blasio huddles with Bronx kids at Mill Brook Houses on July 11.

Some adults say building repairs should come first

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Mill Brook Houses in Port Morris on Tuesday to announce the launch of a new initiative to create 50 new soccer fields for young people across the five boroughs over the next five years.

Working with the U.S Soccer Foundation, The New York City Football Club and Adidas, the public-private partnership will invest three million dollars for the fields and afterschool programming for 10,000 kids. The goal, said the mayor, is to create recreational opportunities for young people in poor neighborhoods, thereby helping to combat illnesses such as obesity.

“The vision we have for New York City is one where it doesn’t matter what zip code you live in or what country you hail from, you have opportunity,” de Blasio said. “That opportunity includes recreation, sports, and health.”

The first eight sites will be constructed by next year and will be available to the public year round, he said, adding that Mill Brook Playground will be one of those sites. The local program would bring afterschool soccer and soccer clinics, mentoring programs, youth summits and festivals.

Some 40 kids from around the borough helped publicize the launch on Tuesday at the Mill Brook playground on East 135th Street, sporting blue jerseys with the New York City Football Club logo. The initiative will expand Soccer for Success, a U.S Soccer Foundation afterschool program that calls for creating safe havens for residents in underserved neighborhoods.

FC players and coaches were also present for the announcement, as was Sporting director Claudio Reyna.

“I always used to think, ‘wouldn’t it be great to have somewhere to go play with my friends and other kids that love soccer,’” said Reyna, who was born and raised in Livingston, New Jersey.

Mill Brook residents had mixed feelings about the new program’s importance compared with other pressing needs. Paulette Williams, 48, said the new recreation program is good news, even if long overdue, but she was concerned about ongoing safety issues in local parks where young people play.

“It’s a blessing to have this program, but it’s late,” Williams said. “They spent all this money on the parks but the kids can’t enjoy it because we have to worry about gunshots.”

Hector Burgos, 54, a handyman, has lived at 640 Mill Brook Houses for 25 years. Although the mayor’s program may help unite local kids, he said, it amounts to little more than a strategic distraction.

“He’s alleviating a problem by coming up and giving us this, but expecting us to forget about that,” Burgos said. “If you have a kid that’s getting sick because of mold in the bathroom, or lead in the stairs and you know about it, why would you break ground on soccer camps that kids will be too sick to be able to enjoy.”

Mill Brook residents have long implored NYCHA to address unsafe housing conditions like broken doors, mold, lead paint, broken elevators and unsanitary conditions in their buildings. Last year, the Housing Authority announced that the complex would be part of NextGeneration NYCHA, which calls for new projects to be built on underused spaces within existing complexes to generate cash for repairs and new, affordable housing.

Sid Will, 34, a retail worker, said he had been unaware that the mayor was coming to the neighborhood and was surprised when he saw him there. Though the program is good for the children, he said, the money could have been used for more repairs and affordable housing.

“Soccer can be played at any time of the week,” he said. “These issues need to be fixed before people get sick, hospitalized, or die.”

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