Greenhope Services for Women is opening their Kandake House today at 435 E. 119th St. in East Harlem. The $15 million, state-of-the-art residence will be an oasis for Black and Latina women who need substance abuse treatment and have been formerly incarcerated. Seventy-two women will live at the site, 28 of them with their children. Anne R. Elliot, Ph.D., the executive director of Greenhope Services for Women, spoke with the AmNews and was excited to talk about this new facility.
AmNews: How would you describe Kandake House?
AE: It’s more than a substance abuse treatment program. It’s the alternative for poor African-American and Latina women to prison. This population is a program within a community; Harlem. They are referred through the court. Women returning from prison who served their time and now are getting reentry services. If a woman from the community has a substance abuse problem, they can come in also, if they have a Medicaid card and take services from our outpatient program. We also deal with prevention.
AmNews: What kind of services are offered for the youngsters, and what age range of children will be there?
AE: Children are aged 0-5, because an intervention at that age is very successful and helpful. It’s a critical time. We teach parenting skills, and now we can watch the parenting going on in the program. Family Services also has programming for women who don’t have their children.
To serve the children, kids come and get to talk with other kids who have parents in prison, who need to talk about the shame they feel. There’s family therapy offered for residents and for outpatient therapy.
Our program is women-centered. For our outpatient clients-which will go as high as 400 women-we will make home visits to make sure the house she’s living in is drug-free and there’s no domestic violence. Anything we offer residential clients, the outpatients get as well. For our residential clients, this facility is a viable alternative to the trauma of incarceration and their illness.
AmNews: What kind of accommodations will these 72 women live in?
AE: There are rooms inside suites, where there are a bathroom, baby tub, two showers and two sinks. The families are in suites. There are six to eight women in each suite for single women, two in each room, and there’s a lounge.
Kandake House is designed like a Kente cloth. It’s an energy-efficient building, it has an organic garden on the rooftop, there’s a lot of natural light-the whole building is holistically done. We have the traditional services-classrooms with Board of Education-certified teachers, mental health services, doctors on call and a medical unit on call.
Once someone recovers, what then? What makes life more meaningful? To help our clients get their lives together we offer yoga, tai chi; there’s downtime and Mommy and Me massage classes, where moms are taught to massage their children. There’s also a garden on the roof. The produce we grow we will sell in the Harlem Market. We have a 5 star-caliber commercial kitchen. We have a chef and kitchen manager teaching class. Our chef was an executive chef at B. Smith’s Restaurant.
We have a nutritionist on site as well. Some of our clients suffer from HIV, hepatitis C or diabetes; we teach women how to eat for the various diseases they have. We also offer acupuncture and pilates. We are just broadening their horizons so they know what’s out there. The women go to plays and they journal about it. There’s a sacred space on the rooftop where the women can have alone time. Kandake House is specially designed to inspire its residents.
Kandake is a “green” building, designed by Anthony K. Shitemi of Urban Architectural Initiatives of New York City and built by Galaxy Construction. The eight-story structure includes program and administrative offices, a medical center and pharmacy, rooms for group counseling sessions, a learning center, nursery and child development center, a classroom kitchen, a professional kitchen and cafeteria, a greenhouse, a playground and two roof decks for planting.
The facade of Kandake House is a rich weave of metal, brick and stucco based on the colors and patterns of the African textile Kente cloth. In contrast to most such facilities, its bright colors boldly announce the presence and pride of the residents to the neighborhood. Elements of form, texture, color, light, artwork and inspirational spaces, from skylights and terraces to a children’s playground, all work together to foster a fresh space in which to consider, and claim, a new life.
AmNews: How can people from the community find out about and apply for help from Greenhope Services for Women?
AE: They can go to Greenhope.org, where there is an online application. Or a woman from the community can just come to the admission office.
AmNews: You will offer an amazingly diverse selection of classes-yoga, gardening, cooking, art, African dance, technology, pre-GED, GED, Degree for Me, tutoring, book clubs. Who will teach these?
AE: Dr. Peggy Robinson, doctor of Chinese medicine-she does massage therapy and acupuncture. She has licensed people come in for pilates and tai chi, licensed family therapists for substance abuse and family therapy.
AmNews: When people graduate from your facilities, are they mainstreamed back into the workforce?
AE: We get jobs and housing for them. We have a phenomenal alumni association. They come back two times a month to give back to the women who are in the program. When our current clients hear graduates talk, there’s nothing to describe what it does for the other. They are getting their lives together.
The alumni association just got their first grant, for $20,000, from the Presbyterian Church. They pay a stipend to each alumnus who escorts a woman to a critical appointment, like going to criminal and family court. At court we try to make sure that they don’t lose custody of their children.
Tonight at 6 p.m., join Greenhope Services for Women at Kandake House for a special fundraising benefit concert entitled “Women Who Fly,” with a performance by Nona Hendryx. It promises to be an evening of music and festivities with some celebrities expected.
Greenhope Services for Women was established in 1975 in East Harlem as a comprehensive treatment program serving formerly incarcerated women and women from the community seeking substance abuse treatment. The mission of Greenhope is to empower women involved in substance abuse and the criminal justice system to reclaim their lives, reunite with their families and rebuild their communities.
Traditional services include residential and day treatment, outpatient services, drug and alcohol counseling, family and criminal court advocacy, case management/benefits assistance, permanent and transitional housing, vocational and educational programs, domestic violence education and prevention, family therapy and reunification, aftercare programs, on-site medical assistance, HIV prevention and education services, nutritional health and 12-step programs.
Greenhope sees outstanding results. It maintains a 75 percent completion rate among parolees and a recidivism rate of less than 10 percent, significantly lower than the 50 percent rate typical of this population without reentry services. This year, Greenhope achieved a 65 percent job placement rate for its clients.