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The Decision to Stay Brings Revitalization to South Bronx

Youth tour a roof garden at Melrose Commons in Bronx, New York in February 2022. Photo from WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc.

In the early ‘90s, as an urban renewal plan threatened to displace New York residents in the South Bronx neighborhood of Melrose, community members pushed back to insist that they stay in their community and be its voice of direction.

That voice grew in unity and strength, and became WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc., a community organization that championed the passing of a more equitable revitalization plan in 1994. This new plan brought in the 30-block Melrose Commons development to the South Bronx neighborhood and positioned WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. as an agent of change in its community.

With almost 30 years under its belt, WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. continues to strive for community ownership, equity and justice in South Bronx.

Today the organization leads initiatives that focus on advocacy and policy, development and housing, culture and civic engagement and environmental resilience. Now the organization has expanded its network to groups that share the same passion for its mission.

A partnership for resilience

The Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Partnership for Resilient Communities works to elevate climate leaders of color and is one example of the coalitions that WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. participates in.

With support from the Institute for Sustainable Communities, WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. works to install solar energy canopies at three Melrose Commons community gardens. These canopies will create resilience hubs that better position the community to grow food and medicinal plants. The hubs will also provide a space for educational workshops to teach the South Bronx community how to withstand social, economic and environmental crises.

“The Institute for Sustainable Communities supports WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc.’s aim to inform and organize Bronx residents to continue the organization’s climate resilience work and grow its network and influence,” said Sonia Joshi, associate director of U.S. programs at the Institute for Sustainable Communities.

Through WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc.’s involvement with the Institute’s Partnership for Resilient Communities, the Bronx organization has learned the importance of changing policy to build a stronger, resilient and unified people to obtain community ownership, said Ely Díaz, director of community development and social services at WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc.

“We work smarter, not harder, by joining forces to strengthen our community, provide education and bridge resources,” Díaz, said.

A track record of community service

WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. has prioritized initiatives that support and benefit the South Bronx community.

The organization adapted to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by diverting resources to areas of critical need. This included distributing food to seniors unable to purchase food on their own  and providing case management services to tenants of the organization’s residential development.

The pandemic highlighted the disparities between who had and did not have access to internet services. To address these disparities, the WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. joined a digital equity coalition that included individuals from South Bronx organizations, such as WhedCo, an economic development organization, and DreamYard, an organization dedicated to exposing youth to the arts, to increase local residents’ access to digital distance learning, healthcare, cultural programming and other resources.

WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. also engaged in policy advocacy and civic engagement initiatives for its community. The organization has met with local council members to advocate for funding and created a voter registration series in 2021 to educate and galvanize residents about local elections.

In addition, after a convening with the Partnership for Resilient Communities in April 2021, WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. created a youth cohort to plan, promote and present outreach and educational events, including walking tours of the 12 community gardens in Melrose Commons.

An intergenerational work

Because of its collaborative nature, WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. stands out as an organization that addresses the intergenerational needs of its community.

The organization creates space for all South Bronx residents — children, teenagers, adults and seniors. Whether it’s creating events to support children as they go back to school or programs related to health, civic engagement or housing, the organization provides resources that support its community’s diversity, Díaz said.

In particular, WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc. grows youth engagement in South Bronx by providing volunteer and employment opportunities like the organization’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

Building out youth engagement is significant in two ways: Firstly, it ensures that the work WE STAY/Nos Quedamos does with and for the Melrose community continues. Secondly, as generations and times change, it ensures that those who receive the greatest community impact are a part of the work, said Carmen De Jesús, community organizer at WE STAY/Nos Quedamos, Inc.

“At Nos Quedamos we always say, everyone’s an expert and has something to contribute,” De Jesús said. “The same is true for our youth. Their voices matter and they have the expertise and knowledge to combat issues that fall on their communities.”