From the New York Times
Around the corner came a little golden ball of sunshine named Madison, dressed head to toe in pink, hair arranged in Afro puffs, one wrist covered in turquoise beaded bracelets, arms opened wide. She wrapped those arms around a teacher’s legs, hugged them close and looked up with the kind of smile that sets the world right.
Madison is 4 years old. She is happy and thriving. This is her second year of Head Start in the basement of a building that houses the poor and homeless in one of Manhattan’s poorest neighborhoods.
I met Madison and 50 other little rays of hope at the Dorothy Day Apartments on Riverside Drive in West Harlem. The building is the sixth in the neighborhood run by Broadway Housing Communities, and the first to include a day care center serving both the building and the community. This former drug den is not only beautiful, but it also pulses with pride and hope and happiness.
It’s just what I needed to see. Writing about children and the poor and the vulnerable these days, there aren’t very many bright spots — but this is one.
The children are bathed by natural light that floods into the basement through skylights. The floors are covered by beautiful green ceramic tile made to look like slate. The walls are painted a sunrise yellow, lined with thick wooden moldings and covered with well-framed pieces of art — some by the children, some donated. The courtyard, which had been filled with six feet of garbage, is covered with mats and used as an area where wee little legs that barely have kneecaps can be folded into funky shapes for daily yoga.
Above the day care center are six floors of housing for 190 people, more than half of whom are children and all of whom were either homeless or in extreme poverty. Many of the adults are the hardest cases: those recovering from drug addiction, those with chronic diseases like H.I.V. and those with mental disabilities. In fact, most of the adults suffer from some form of disability.
And on the top floor is an art gallery that opens onto a sweeping veranda, lined with flowering plants and with some of the most magnificent Hudson River views in the city.
It is easy to forget that you’re in a low-income housing building. The administrators joked often when I was there about the chic woman who had jumped out of a cab and inquired about rents because she wanted a river view, only to be told to her befuddlement that the building was for the poor. “She was shocked,” they chuckled.
There are no security guards. There is no commotion. There are no signs of institutional living like names above doors. There isn’t even so much as a crayon mark on any of the walls. This is an oasis of civility and tranquility and culture inhabited — and to some degree, self-policed — by people whom the world would rob of those dignities.