The Other Coney Island

April 19, 2013


Last week, we wrote about the remarkable recovery underway along the Coney Island boardwalk. As the summer season approaches, we’re confident that Brooklyn’s most unique business district will return to full form after Superstorm Sandy. But we remain concerned with the fate of the community’s year-round residents, for whom the storm was another blow in an already difficult life.

Few tourists visit the west side of Coney Island’s peninsula. Situated between Seagate and the Cyclones’ stadium, it’s more notable for domineering high rise towers than famous hot dogs. But for many, it’s the real Coney Island.

During Sandy, the storm surge arrived like a tsunami, pouring in from the ocean and Coney Island Creek. Water rapidly filled homes and flooded basements. The area was an Evacuation Zone, but few left, opting to stay and protect their belongings.

The west side of Coney Island is steeped in poverty. Most residents live in subsidized or public housing. For them, Sandy took what little they had. In the weeks after, without power, heat, or food, thousands waited in lines for hours for donated supplies.

The Coney Island Gospel Assembly church (pictured above) on Neptune Avenue—whose weekly congregation numbers less than 200—began serving over 3,000 people a day. The Brooklyn Recovery Fund supplied a grant to cover the rental costs of a fork-lift to help the church unload truckloads of food and clothing. A second grant provided direct cash assistance to pay for essentials like MetroCards. But it was clear that a larger-scale economic solution was needed.

In mid-November, the Fund awarded $100,000 to help establish the #ConeyRecovers Coalition—a partnership of nonprofits serving both the local business and residential communities. A key component of their proposal was the Coney Corps initiative. 

Coney Corps’ goal is to produce a skilled workforce placing unemployed and underemployed Coney Island residents into local jobs throughout the recovery. It provides training in in-demand industries, creates program to develop work skills, and assists workers with job placement.

Since Sandy, over 250 people have applied to be part of the Coney Corps. Among their accomplishments:

  • 120 residents have received OSHA certification and mold remediation training in partnership with Turner Construction, Neighborworks America, and the National Center for Healthy Housing.

  • This summer, #ConeyRecovers will recruit for 400 seasonal jobs in the amusement area.  Thus far, over 100 Coney Corps applicants have been referred for hire.

  • Coney Corps members are now working on local construction sites including Coney Island Commons, an affordable housing project that features a new YMCA community center. They are also being recruited to work in security, commercial driving, social service counseling, and retail.

  • Through NYC’s Center for Economic Opportunity, #ConeyRecovers will be able to hire up to 40 part-time employees for recovery work this summer. Many will serve as supervisors to youth in the Coney Island Greeters Program tasked with visitor outreach.

Graduates of Coney Corps OSHA Training Class, held at Peggy O’Neills

While the Coney Corps won’t solve all of the community’s challenges, we’re heartened that #ConeyRecovers is expanding their efforts further into Coney Island’s west side. Through the Brooklyn Recovery Fund, we are focused on helping Coney Island—and with it Red Hook, Sheepshead Bay, Canarsie, and Gerritsen Beach—come back stronger and more resilient, to be better places for all to live, work, and play.

Follow the progress of the Coney Corps at 

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Foundations as First Responders?
Brooklyn Community Foundation President Marilyn Gelber writes on PhilanthropyNY’s Smart Assets blog about the foundation’s unique role in the recovery following Superstorm Sandy, and why the power of community has proved to be the most essential force in the borough’s comeback. Read it here.

Harborlore Festival
From May 10th-June 15th, Brooklyn Arts Council’s Folk Arts will present 12 free events exploring the role of water in the artistic traditions of Brooklyn's diverse immigrant and diaspora communities. Dates and locations here.

Bittman in Brooklyn
Join the Brooklyn Food Coalition on April 30th for a talk with noted food author Mark Bittman at LIU Brooklyn’s Schwartz Gymnasium. Tickets start at $20. Details here.