News | Upper West Side

Dominican Sunday helps locals any day of the week

The job market may be competitive in Manhattan Valley, but one organization is helping Hispanic immigrants get a leg up.

Dominican Sunday, a group that operates out of the Church of the Ascension at 175 107th St., aids locals in gaining access to basic services such as affordable housing and dental care.

The Manhattan Valley area has become home to an increasing number of immigrants, some of whom struggle to find jobs in a competitive neighborhood. And with unemployment on the rise, the number of people the organization serves has also gone up.

Founder Altagracia Hiraldo said the disparity between the perception of Manhattan Valley as a wealthy area and the reality of struggling residents’ experiences prompted her to start the program. “The main thing was my anxiety and concern at seeing so much necessity among the citizens here, while some politicians believed that this was a rich area. There is still extreme poverty that exists here,” she said in Spanish.

The organization has been working in the neighborhood for 15 years, where Hiraldo saw that services provided were basic, but sorely lacking.

“I saw that the people needed things as simple as making a question, as simple as knowing how to file a paper, as simple as knowing how to file the papers to become an American citizen,” Hiraldo said.

Dominican Sunday provides several services to low-income neighborhood residents, such as teaching computer skills, helping residents complete Census forms, and offering workshops about how to fill out job applications.

Hiraldo said that unemployment among her clients has increased 20 percent in the last few years, in part because some of them do not speak fluent English or have sought-after skills.

“I have been using Dominican Sunday’s services in order to learn computer skills,” Iris Lara, one of the organization’s clients, said in Spanish. “I used to work in cleaning, but it exhausted me greatly, and I want a job where I would be using the computer.”

Most of Dominican Sunday’s clients are unemployed, said Executive Director Jacqueline De Leon, and the organization helps refer them to government agencies to get Medicaid and other social services. “We’re trying to get a program here installed for a person to get in to help them get assistance,” she said.

Javier Nuñez, a cashier at the meat market Carniceria Hispana on 107th and Amsterdam, agreed that rising unemployment has been an issue in the neighborhood. “There are few jobs.
There are many good businesses, but the ones who get the jobs are the people that are coming in from other places,” he said in Spanish.

Ariana Nuñez, chair of the Manhattan Valley Women in Action branch of Dominican Sunday, said that her main concern was the lack of affordable housing in the area, for both new immigrants and longtime tenants. She added that rising rents and unemployment seem to be forcing more and more people out of the neighborhood.

“I know a lot of people who can move out, but I, for example, wouldn’t want to have to move to the Brooklyn or the Bronx, or the Queens, so far away,” she said.

Ariana Nuñez said that the lack of affordable housing in the neighborhood hit particularly close to home.

“I was born and raised around here. I would love to get an apartment and live near my mom on 104th Street. But not when these people are charging $1500 for a studio. I mean, where’s the fairness? I honestly believe they’re trying to drive the poor people out and that’s heartbreaking because I’m not trying to say we were here first, but it’s not fair, we can live together well,” she said.

news@columbiaspectator.com

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