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Women’s center gets praise from CB 4

Ordinarily one might expect a community board to react with suspicion and disdain to news that a residence for recently released prisoners was about to open in its neighborhood.

But not every residence home is operated by Long Island City’s Hour Children nonprofit, which earned a resounding welcome from CB 4 as it prepares to open its new facility in Corona for female inmates who are new mothers.

Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, who helped found the group more than two decades ago to help women prisoners learn how to support themselves and their families, got applause from board members after she outlined the plans to open a residence for up to 16 families at a former group home for juvenile boys at 51-02 103rd St.. She hopes to begin moving families in by June.

“Congratulations, you’re doing a wonderful job out there,” said CB 4 member Alirio Orduna. “What can we do to help?”

Fitzgerald said donations of clothing and furniture go a long way toward furnishing the rooms and filling the shelves at the Hour Children thrift store.

“One of my claims to fame is I’ve never bought a couch in 24 years,” she said.

The residence will house 12 families currently living in Long Island City plus a few more women as they come to Hour Children from city and state penal facilities.

A van service will bus the women to the nonprofit’s headquarters in Long Island City.

She noted many families will probably want to move to Corona when they finish the program.

“Our women come out of prison with the clothes on their backs,” she said. “Their life is up to a commitment by the general public to believe in them, that they can turn their life around.”

CB 4 member James Lisa worried that the residents’ boyfriends would congregate at the residence and bring their cars to the neighborhood.

“There was a facility in that area where this was a problem at one time,” he said.

Fitzgerald said while the program encourages men to be a part of their children’s lives, most do not have cars and visiting hours are limited.

Hour Children has served 7,000 women and children with only 4 percent returning to jail, the group said, compared with a 30 percent overall recidivism rate reported by the state Department of Corrections.

The old group home was known as St. Germaine’s and had been operated by the citywide nonprofit Good Shepherd Services from 1978 to at least 2006.

It had been a residence for 12 juvenile boys since 1993, according to the group’s Web site.

Hour Children has put in for $350,000 of work replacing its boiler, fire sprinklers and plumbing as well as adding more internal partitions.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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