Volume 77 / Number 27 - December 05 - 11, 2007
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City orders teen education program out of building

By Clark Merrefield

Loisaida, Inc., which for decades has provided teen education programs on the Lower East Side, is in danger of temporarily losing its building at 710 E. Ninth St.

The danger, as it develops, is beyond imminent. Loisaida president Luis Nieves said the group was instructed by the city, which owns the building, to vacate last Friday.

The reason, Nieves said, is that the city wants to make major repairs.

“When we met with them they did say that they would allow us to come back whenever the renovation is completed,” Nieves said. “But we have never seen anything in writing.”

Loisaida does not have a concrete plan if they do have to vacate the building.

“If the city decides not to give us an extension I’m really not sure what we’re going to do,” Nieves said. “It would create a crisis for us.”

Though no extension offer has been made, Loisaida is still occupying the building as of early this week. Nieves said Loisaida is working with the New York City Housing Authority to find a temporary location.

“But we do want to be able to return to the building,” he said.

Another nonprofit group that has expressed interest in the building is University Settlement. Its president, Michael Zisser, said University Settlement suggested to the city that the building be renovated to provide housing for foster-care kids who are aging out of the system.

Zisser added that Loisaida would be allowed to return, and that other, similar community organizations would also be allowed to use the space.

Because they are unsure when they will have to leave, Loisaida is preparing for the difficult transition as best they can. Computers and books are being packed up. Artwork has been taken down. Bare white walls have been exposed for the first time in years.

“It feels so sad in here,” Assistant Director Raquel Santana said.

Loisaida’s programs, however, are continuing as scheduled.

Last Thursday, health educator Marco Garcia from Ryan-Nena Community Health Center held an H.I.V./AIDS workshop for eight high school-aged peer educators. The teens sat around four plastic tables pushed together, and Garcia stood at the head. He distributed a questionnaire and went over the answers aloud.

“Is there a difference between H.I.V. and AIDS, guys?” he said.

“Yes,” most of the teens quickly replied.

Reverend Laura Cartagena, Loisaida’s college coordinator, said the peer educators will pass along the information they learn to their schools and the community. Loisaida’s other programs include college prep, guidance for young fathers and pregnancy prevention.

The city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which Nieves said is in charge of the property, was relatively tight-lipped about Loisaida’s situation. In a statement, A.C.S. said it will talk to Loisaida about their use of the building, but provided no further details.

Santana said no matter where Loisaida calls home, the organization is resolved to carry on its mission.

“The organization itself has done so much for the community,” she said. “We’re committed to continue with the work we’ve done here for all these years.”


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