Obama gives funds to kids

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (r.) applauds a local organization, Zone 126, winning a $500,000 federal grant to develop a plan for Astoria Houses children to get better access to education. Photo by Rebecca Henely
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Zone 126, an organization created to get children who live in the Astoria Houses better access to education, has received a $500,000 planning grant from President Barack Obama’s administration to to broaden learning opportunities for the public housing complex’s children.

“This is a joyful day for us here in Astoria Houses,” said Claudia Cooper, president of the Astoria Residents’ Association.

The Promise Neighborhood Grant is a U.S. Department of Education program designed to bring educational opportunities to underserved neighborhoods across the country. Zone 126 is one of only 20 organizations nationwide to win it this year.

Representatives of the public housing development, Zone 126, its founding nonprofit the Elmezzi Foundation and elected officials gathered Friday at a conference to celebrate the win.

“It is an incredible opportunity for us to help others,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria). “I am so excited about it.”

The Elmezzi Foundation is a charity organization built by Thomas Elmezzi, who helped create a new formula of Pepsi and expand the company, and his wife Jeanne.

Lynn Grossman, president of the Elmezzi Foundation, said Zone 126’s mission to help increase educational opportunities for Astoria and Long Island City residents, from the time they are young up to when they leave college, came out of a survey conducted by the Elmezzi Foundation from 2009-10.

The survey asked residents about how important certain services were to them and the access they had to those services. The survey found that residents were the most concerned with education and that Astoria Houses residents were the most interested in the survey.

“This is much more of an isolated area,” Grossman said. Astoria Houses is on a peninsula of Queens at Astoria Boulevard and 1st Street.

The $500,000 grant will be used to pay for the operational expenses, staff and consultants in developing a strategic plan for improving educational opportunities in the area, Grossman said. Throughout the next nine months, Zone 126 will be holding work groups and councils to determine what resources currently exist, the needs of the community and how to meet those needs.

“I’m so touched and eternally grateful to the Obama administration for giving us this grant,” Grossman said.

The grant will be supplemented by $350,000 from Elmezzi Foundation and $400,000 in private funding.

After the planning period is over, Zone 126 will apply for the $6 million Promise Neighborhood Implementation Grant in September to help put its plan in action. There will only be five recipients of this larger grant throughout the country.

“It’s a lot of, lot of, lot of, lot of work the next nine months,” Grossman said.

Chris Cutter, the interim executive director of Zone 126, said less than 900 yards away from the peninsula on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the children receive enormous opportunities for education.

“Every child in this community deserves the same things those kids across the river do,” Cutter said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Posted 6:56 pm, January 18, 2012
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