From Bergdorf's to the Bronx: How LISC NYC is helping change the way public school students eat

LISC New York City provides the Settlement Housing Fund (SHF) with financial and technical support to help bring healthy food and good eating habits to students at the New Settlement Community Campus, a unique combination public school and community center in the Bronx.

15 Jan 2013 - Sam Dolgin-Gardner, LISC

As a former executive chef at the restaurant atop the chic Bergdorf Goodman department store, Darryl Burnette knew how to please a finicky clientele.

Darryl Burnette
Before his stint at Bergdorf Goodman's, Chef Darryl Burnette trained in the CIA. (That's the Culinary Institute of America, of course!)

With his fair but firm demeanor, he kept the Fifth Avenue lunch crowd happy while managing the ambitious kitchen staff. But since September, Burnette, 41, has been working to please a crowd that gives new meaning to the term fussy eater—1,100 Bronx kids at the New Settlement Community Campus, a combined public school and community center in the Mt. Eden neighborhood.

"The first reaction I got wasn't, 'Yuck!' "It was, 'What is this? I don't wanna try it,'" says Burnette, who had a tough sell on his hands. Out went the traditional New York City public school fare of frozen pizzas, tater tots and pre-packaged fruit cocktail swimming in syrup. In came grilled cheddar on whole grain bread, fresh fruits and unlimited trips to the raw salad bar.

A joint project of the Settlement Housing Fund (SHF), New Settlement Apartments and the NYC Department of Education, the New Settlement Community Campus and its nutrition program rely on support from LISC New York City's Green and Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative. LISC and the SHF partnered with Wellness in the Schools, a nonprofit that brings culinary-institute trained chefs into public school kitchens and classrooms through its Cook for Kids program.

LISC NYC has long been affiliated with the SHF, a provider of affordable housing and social services in New York City. The Campus is their first direct collaboration. LISC NYC initially supported the Campus with $8 million in New Market Tax Credits, which went toward financing the building's construction.

Completed in September, the building houses two schools that serve students from pre-K through high school, and a gleaming new community center that is open to the public. Their shared facilities include a pool with swim classes, a full-sized gymnasium and theater, dance and fitness classrooms and a roof garden.

The doors open with the first school bell at 8 a.m. and stay open until 9 p.m. for after-school and adult evening classes in the community center. The "8 to 9" schedule creates a mixed-use facility that not only serves students, but more than 3,500 low-income residents of the nearby New Settlement Apartments and the surrounding neighborhoods.

LISC NYC Program Officer Annika Lescott with State Farm Insurance’s Hector Camilo, Jr., New Settlement Apartment's Jack Doyle and Carol Lamberg, Executive Director of  the Settlement Housing Fund at the opening of the New Settlement Community Campus.
LISC NYC Program Officer Annika Lescott with State Farm Insurance's Hector Camilo, Jr., New Settlement Apartment's Jack Doyle and Carol Lamberg, Executive Director of the Settlement Housing Fund at the opening of the New Settlement Community Campus.
According to New Settlement Apartments' Executive Director Jack Doyle, the Campus "brings additional options for families" that previously had to send their children to older, overcrowded school buildings lacking in amenities.

Colleen Flynn, who runs LISC NYC's Green and Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, knew that rebuilding a neighborhood requires more than financing the construction. It takes a layered approach using both physical infrastructure and the expertise of LISC and its partners to provide the quality-of-life services that turn a down-trodden community into a place people choose to live.

"We don't think about just one building, we think about what the community needs as a whole," says Flynn.

"Our goal is to bring services to these areas so that they become neighborhoods of choice," explains Matthew Leber, LISC NYC Community Development Officer, who helped to secure the New Markets Tax Credits which went to fund the Campus's construction.

Like many low-income urban areas, the South Bronx battles the persistent problems of childhood obesity and lack of access to fresh produce. So LISC NYC partnered with State Farm Insurance and the federal government to provide more than $150,000 in grant money to bring nutrition and healthy eating to the Campus.

Still, breaking old high-fat, processed-food habits hasn't been easy. That's where Burnette comes in.

Veteran science teacher Judy Lewis plunges into her work hands first.
Veteran science teacher Judy Lewis plunges into her work hands first.

"What really broke the ice was the applesauce class," he says. In the first of a series of cooking classes, he taught elementary school science teacher Judy Lewis's kindergarteners how to smash and stir apples into a snack that was both fun to make and nutritious to eat.

"Now I can say, 'Hey, you liked the applesauce, try this, you can trust me,'" Burnette says. "Kids started coming up to me saying, 'You know, I cook at home. I'd like to get a recipe for salad dressing or to try something new.'"

Anticipation is running high for the next class, which will teach 7th- and 8th-graders to make hummus.

Lewis's students have been using a roof garden built courtesy of the State Farm grant to learn where food comes from. Up on the roof, her students weed beds of plants and collect the edible parts to create a home-grown salad.

"For many of them, it was the first time they'd ever had their hands in earth. They didn't realize that they could eat these kinds of things," Lewis says of her junior horticulturists. "For most students, it was the first time they'd seen food come directly from the ground and end up on a plate."

> Learn more about the New Settlement Community Campus

> Visit the LISC NYC website

Article Type: LISC Article