I got into community service because of my kids. I saw what they saw and got scared. I didn’t want them living on a block where kittens die casually and dead trees stand leafless. I didn’t want boys and girls playing in a schoolyard where the water fountain doesn’t work or where all that’s left of the basketball hoop is a hole in the ground. My sons taught me to care about people, plants and pets.

I serve on the school Parents' Association because I see how teachers and staff go the extra lap around the schoolyard track for our kids. I plant trees because 5 years ago the teen across the street, observing graffiti and broken glass, commented: "Miss Maria, we don't live in a very nice neighborhood." Environment really does impact children.

Take up a cause. If you start something, others will pitch in. "Yes, it's important to say "no" sometimes. Then again, saying "yes" more often than "no" leads to a meatier life with more meaning.


Compost for Brooklyn

Compost for Brooklyn (C4B) is a former, weedy lot turned community composting project serving South Kensington and Parkville. Its volunteers are devoted to composting, ecological restoration, and raising environmental awareness in the neighborhood. They garden, write poetry, bake cookies, and—they compost.

Thanks to C4B I have not had to trash coffee grinds in three years; Bustelo, Columbian, Hazlenut creme, all spent java gets magically converted to "brown gold" in C4Bs tumblers. I tote this compost home to my postage stamp garden, work it into the soil and wowza! an invasion of killer tomatoes in August. 

C4B is looking for more volunteers to run open garden hours so they can keep the gates open to the community to share nature-inspired haikus, eat snickerdoodles and, on compost drop-off days, to unload their spent Bustelo. Interested in signing up to keep this oasis of green going? You can sign up to volunteer for shifts here.

Don't live in Kensington but still want to compost?  Most farmers' markets accept your banana peels and egg shells. Live in Queens? No excuses! NYC Compost Project offers drop off-sites in Jackson Heights, Forest Hills, Sunnyside, and other points around the borough:


The PA of PS 217

The Parents' Association of PS 217  serves roughly 1,400 schoolkids speaking 32 languages at home. It's an honor and a challenge to volunteer. Parents help sustain a high level of arts enrichment through ambitious fundraisers which involve more than selling cupcakes and throwing shave cream pies in the face of the social studies teacher. (Though we do both well!)

In addition to fundraising, mamas and papas pull off community-building events like movie matinées, Science Night, Harvest Fest, and a "Friendship" dinner.

We are also developing a project close to my heart: chess at 217. A free, after-school chess program started three years ago, has tripled in size. In the second year I ran an additional chess club out of my home on Friday nights. We've just added Chess-In-The-Schools. This non-profit committed to enhancing academic performance and bolstering self-esteem among inner-city youth through chess will introduce the game to every 3rd-grader this year. We are also writing chess grants to support additional, after-school chess enrichment for our advanced kids.

Care about chess or any other PA initiatives? Send me an email.


Community Board 14

"You can never have too many titles". So said neighbor "Mr. Donald" when he appointed me public member of the environment committee of CB14, while handing me a stack of business cards, reflecting my new appointment.

I look forward to our quarterly meetings. There I learn about planned projects well in advance of their arrival, like the multimillion dollar ice skating/roller rink in Prospect Park. Sometimes I even weigh in on proposals, like where to hold outdoor movie nights in the nabe. Recently, the district manager reached out to me for advice about where to position park benches on the outskirts of our 217 schoolyard. I was happy to offer my opinion.  This never would have happened if I wasn't a familiar face around the Community Board. Don't you love the idea of a curbside bench facing a school garden?

How can you get involved? Join your community board as a public member of a committee that interests you. For example, CB14 has these committees to choose from: Community Environment; Education, Libraries, and Cultural Affairs; Human Services; Youth Services; Public Safety; and Transportation.


Brooklyn Animal Action

No better way to ruin your day than to open your front door to a kid with a lifeless kitten cradled in his arms: "Please Miss Maria, can you save it?" This happened twice. The feral cat colony spanning our block and the next was out of control. Cats routinely got flattened crossing Foster Avenue. I took action—Brooklyn Animal Action.

BAA volunteers are dedicated to bettering the lives of animals in distress. They Trap-Neuter-Return (spay/neuter feral cats and return them to the streets in managed colonies), find homes for adoptable animals, and educate the public. Since 2010, BAA has found "furrever" homes for more than 1000 cats. I wish all ferals could reinvent themselves as pampered house pets.  Perhaps more important though, BAA treats its forever ferals in a loving way. These volunteers help neighbors stop the stray cat explosion and create sustainable, humane environments for non-adoptable cats to live out their lives outdoors.

Volunteers work directly with the community, helping neighbors help animals themselves. We believe anyone can be a rescuer, with a little help.

Please visit the Volunteer page to help, or make a donation right now!


Sean Casey Animal Rescue

SCAR is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, no-kill animal shelter with locations in Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park. These safe havens take in rescued, wounded, unwanted or unmanageable animals from individuals, zoos and other shelters. They rehabilitate dogs, cats, reptiles, amphibians, birds and small mammals and put them up for adoption. We celebrated my son's 8th birthday by touring the Sean Casey collection of adoptable animals and walking dogs around the block. Drop by anytime to walk a dog.


Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest

Confession: I don't care much about winning. Sure it would be fun to hold a press conference on our winning block, or at least be acknowledged with an "honorable mention" for our block effort in tending 15 street saplings, but having the paparazzi flutter in for best window boxes is not why I've entered our block 5 years running...

Here's the real reason:

According to former Mayor Bloomberg's NYC Population Projections by Age/Sex & Borough, 2000-2030:

"Brooklyn will continue to be the most populous borough, adding another 10.3 percent after 2000 to achieve a population of 2.72 million in 2030, close to its 1950 historical high of 2.74 million."

It seems like everyone wants to live in Brooklyn. Wasteful habits die hard, but die they must if we're going to accommodate growth. Brooklynites must consume less and plant more.

East 9th Street participates in BBG's Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest because we want to send the message that new trees—not illegal driveways—are the way to go.

Check out this year's winners and consider registering your block next March for the Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest:

It took 2014's winning block 17 years to take top prize!

Want free compost and mulch for your street trees?

Want free daffodil bulbs in the fall?

Feel free to reach out to me for help in mobilizing your neighbors to beautify your block.

It was the first day of school and my boys had to sashay past a row of 9 dead street trees alongside the PS 217 schoolyard that hadn't survived their first summer. I got them replanted that fall and organized bucket brigade watering parties the following August. The second round has taken hold and contribute to our oasis for family recreation on Coney Island Avenue. Here's a story on the challenges of keeping street trees alive in New York City:


New York Restoration Project

As founder of New York Restoration Project (NYRP), Bette Midler is the "wind beneath my wings". Like me, this inspirational singer-songwriter believes in the power of "the rose"; the impact natural beauty has on the human heart. NYRP wants the souls of all New Yorkers to benefit from greener public open space. Working citywide since 1995, NYRP has cleaned up and greened up neglected neighborhoods, bringing private resources to areas that lack municipal support. In partnership with the city of New York, NYRP is also overseeing MillionTrees NYC, a challenge to plant 1 million trees within the 5 boroughs by 2015. I have showed up at several tree giveaways and have walked away with dogwoods, flowering pears, and paw paws. When I ran out of room in my own backyard, I found homes for saplings in our 217 schoolyard.

Want to sign up for your free tree? Visit nyrp.org.