Nonprofit’s grants to help Astoria kids

Chris Cutter (c.), executive director of nonprofit Zone 126, gives small grants to Fannie Johnson (l.) and Cheryl Boone for their proposals to provide activities and learning opportunities for Astoria Houses youth. Photo courtesy Zone 126
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Zone 126, a nonprofit designed to better the educational opportunities of children living in Astoria Houses, gave 14 grants to individuals last week for small-scale programs that will allow young people to participate in fun trips, learning experiences and events.

Chris Cutter, the Zone 126 executive director, said in a statement that the grants were created to encourage residents to think up unique ways of dealing with problems the community faces.

“With the infusion of these additional resources, residents of Astoria Houses will now be able to enrich their children through these positive experiences,” Cutter said.

Zone 126 is a Promise Neighborhood, a participant in a U.S. Department of Education program that gives funds to nonprofits to improve the educational opportunities for children in distressed urban and rural environments from birth to college and the beginning of a career.

The nonprofit focuses on helping Astoria Houses, a public housing complex at 420 Astoria Blvd., and hopes to expand in the future to helping youth in Ravenswood Houses, at 21-10 35th Ave. in Astoria, and Queensbridge Houses, at 10-06 41st Ave. in Dutch Kills/Long Island City. It was founded by the Elmezzi Foundation, a charity built by Pepsi magnate Thomas Elmezzi and his wife Jeanne.

Michael Dolmatch, a spokesman for Zone 126, said 41 people submitted grant applications to Zone 126, but only 14 were selected and the awards were distributed at a Community Grants Awards Ceremony held at the Astoria Tenants Association July 10. Winners received funds of between $500 and $2,000.

Some of the grant winners proposed taking children or young adults on trips. One grant winner got money to take young people to a Broadway show, while another proposed tours of places throughout Astoria and Long Island City. Some grant winners will be providing lessons in a variety of fields such as nutrition, playing piano/keyboard, playing softball or how to use computers.

Other grants went to winners who would be hosting speakers, such as a Saturday lunch series that would expose teenagers to community members with successful careers.

Some winners will also be using their grants to hold special events, like a ball for LGBT youth, a fashion show for disabled or disfigured youth and a “School is Cool” day to recognize those who graduate elementary, middle or high school as well as college.

In January, Zone 126 was one of 20 nonprofits across the country to receive a $500,000 planning grant from the DOE to develop a strategic plan to improve education options. The federal grant is unrelated to the smaller monies distributed at the ceremony.

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

Posted 12:57 am, July 19, 2012
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