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A Brooklyn Family Tale

A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE presents an effective model for family centered, neighborhood based services. The documentary profiles The Center for Family Life based in Sunset Park, an ethnically diverse, low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn. Twenty years ago, producer/ director Roger Weisberg came to Brooklyn to make a film about juvenile crime.  At about the same time, two nuns—Sister Mary Paul and Sister Geraldine—moved into the neighborhood and founded the Center for Family Life.  They believed they could strengthen this troubled community by supporting its children and families. The gang violence did not stop overnight, but slowly many gang leaders like “Stingray” and “Cisco” Santiago turned to the Center for Family Life as an alternative to the streets. 

Twenty years later, Murray Nossel, a researcher at Columbia University who was conducting an evaluation of the Center, discovered that it was still working with the same Santiago family that had earlier terrorized the neighborhood. Weisberg and Nossel then collaborated on making A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE. The film follows the next generation of the Santiago family for three years, chronicling their aspirations, daily struggles, and continuing relationship with Sister Geraldine and the Center for Family Life. A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE is produced by Public Policy Productions, Inc.

Through support from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the national outreach campaign managed by Outreach Extensions concentrates on the Foundation’s 22 Making Connections cities. The campaign focuses on the services of the Center for Family Life, capitalizing on the extensive research conducted by Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Educational materials on http://www.pbs.org/familytale help faculty and students of social work to view and discuss the practice of the Center for Family Life. 40 questions support classroom discussions concerning family assessment; the helping relationship; self-determination; youth/teen services; family-focused, community-based services; the relationship between agency mission and service delivery; and belonging to the community. In addition to the work of Outreach Extensions, producing station WNET will conduct a local outreach campaign for A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE in the Greater New York area. Outreach Extensions also provided technical support to WVIZ/PBS, which presented A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE at a free public screening on March 16, 2002 in Tower City (Cleveland, OH). Three very special guests added to the excitement of the event, providing insight and expertise for the audience:  Murray Nossel, one of the film’s directors; Emily Delgado, Executive Director, Cleveland Spanish American Committee; and Rosa Cruz, the mother featured in the film. Many in the audience were social work professionals. The presentation was part of the Cleveland International Film Festival as well as linked to the national outreach campaign for PBS’ high profile AMERICAN FAMILY series.

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Project Activities

Educational Materials/Information Packet – Extensive educational materials drawn from Nurturing the One, Supporting the Many are provided on the project”s Web site: http://www.pbs.org/familytale. This was a collaborative process in which Outreach Extensions reviewed the pre-publication manuscript and made recommendations to Peg and Brenda related to appropriate content. In addition, discussion questions relevant to the book and documentary focus on what constitutes help for families, and the elements of effective interventions. Roger Weisberg created a special version of the film with an introductory interview with Murray Nossel on how social workers can approach A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE. Brian Brunius, WNET, developed the Web site. A special information packet was mailed to schools of social work in the 22 cities in May 2002. Content included a letter from Peg Hess and Brenda MacGowan, to introduce the project, a copy of the videotape, and a one-sheet on the film. Outreach Extensions purchased the list of schools/deans of social work from the Council on Social Work Education; 41 programs are in the 22 Making Connections cities.

Advertisement – A one-page advertisement for A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE was placed in the fall 2002 issue of the Social Work Education Reporter to highlight the educational materials available on the pbs.org Web site. The broadcast date of the film was also announced; the lack of common carriage on PBS meant that the ad could only say "October 2002." Outreach grants could not be advertised because they are only available to the 22 cities. Photographs from the film drew attention to the ad. The Reporter, published by the Council on Social Work Education, is mailed to over 3,000 individual members, programs, and academic libraries. A Web site banner also publicized the documentary and its Web site.

Social Work School Grants – Outreach Extensions offered grants to schools of social work. A second mailing was sent to schools of social work in the 22 Making Connections cities in fall 2002 to invite them to apply for grants to conduct screenings and discussions in relation to A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE. The package included a press kit produced for the documentary in addition to the grant application. Hand-written notes were enclosed in the mailings to eight key contacts of Peg Hess and Brenda McGowan. Activities could be conducted during the winter and spring semesters; all projects must be completed by March 31, 2003.

Nine screening grants were awarded:

  1. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
    A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE provides a platform from which to unite curriculum and community. Penn MSW students, standing and part-time faculty, who are also area practitioners, field supervisors, staff from area social service agencies, and staff of Penn ’ s research centers will come together as a community to view and discuss the film in the context of social service delivery in inner-city Philadelphia. In addition to its substantive contribution, the rich and varied roles of social workers in the film and in its production will expand student knowledge about the range of opportunities open to them as professionals. The event, called a “ Community Evening, ” will occur around March 3, 2003. It will advance community building among the varied participants – a rare opportunity because of budget constraints.
  2. Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
    The National Catholic School of Social Service will use A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE and its ancillary materials as an educational tool for students, faculty, and field instructors. The goal is to help students see how generalist social work practice focusing on families can be integrated into all aspects of social work practice. Two three hour showings/discussions will occur; the day-time session will be part of an extended class on Generalist Social Work Practice with Groups, Organizations, and Communities; the evening session will include clinicians.
  3. University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
    The College of Social Work will develop a university-community dialogue on the role of family-centered, community-based intervention programs that promote the well-being of children and families. Outcomes include: raising awareness of geographic disparities in the distribution of resources resulting in an increased prevalence of social and economic problems; preparing students as effective community advocates in developing collaborative partnerships to address social and economic problems; and establishing an ongoing forum for university-community dialogue on other pressing issues. Two campus locations, urban Lexington and rural Eastern Kentucky, will be linked for a cross-regional dialogue through conferencing technology. Both campuses will watch the videotape. Materials will also be provided to faculty for use in classroom activities and discussion. Participants will include graduate and undergraduate students, interdisciplinary faculty, and community practitioners. Kentucky Educational Television will be invited to join the university in promoting the event. Other partners will include community-based organizations.
  4. San Jose State University. San Jose, CA
    The School of Social Work will show A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE on the university campus to approximately 80 people on December 11, 2002. After the showing, a panel made up of students, faculty, and agency social workers will discuss family-focused, community-based services. The goal of the project is to promote outreach services to communities and families. The outcome will result in an open dialogue between students, faculty, and agency social workers as they relate to families.
  5. University of Missouri, Kansas City, MO
    The UMKC School of Social Work faculty will arrange multiple viewings of A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE to social work students, practitioners, and families in order to promote discussion about community-based, family support practice. Screenings between January 10 and February 28, 2003 will include eight social work practice classes; one public viewing for social sciences students and faculty; and four social work field instruction sites, including Heart of American Family Services, Missouri Department of Family Services, El Centro, and Maternal/Child Health Coalition. Outreach materials on the Web site will guide the discussion. Viewers will be invited to think about how to use the film with families. NOTE: The film has already been used in a graduate seminar and reported to be “ a major hit. ”
  6. University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
    A grant was awarded to the school with which Peg Hess is affiliated to generate community discussion around the issues and practice in A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE – helping to raise awareness about local needs. The Institute for Families in Society at USC will host a screening of ABFT at the South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) studios. After the screening, Peg Hess will lead a discussion. A panel comprised of experts on family support and youth at-risk will provide information and clarification. The discussion, which will be taped by SCETV to support dissemination, will provide foundational research for the advancement of knowledge on family support. SCETV, which aired ABFT in November 2002, will rebroadcast the film to its statewide audience in 2003. Primary partners are SCETV and The Nurturing Center, an abuse service in Columbia, SC with a family support model similar to that of the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
  7. Boston University, Boston, MA
    Boston University will screen A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE in three locations to honor Social Work Month in March 2003. Two screenings will take place at the School of Social Work ’ s off-campus locations; the third screening will take place at a family service agency in Somerville, MA, which is seeking to expand its services through a community center model. Students, field instructors, alumni, community practitioners, and agency staff will be invited to view the film, and then discuss and critique the family service model and the interventions with the families in the film. The primary community partner is The Family Center. Participants will earn 2 Continuing Education Credits.
  8. University of Connecticut, West Hartford, CT
    The School of Social Work will plan and organize an event to screen A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE in March 2003. The screening will be followed by a discussion of the film and a panel presentation on the family resource center approach to serving families, particularly as it has been operationalized in Hartford neighborhoods. The discussion will be organized around the questions developed by Peg Hess and Brenda McGowan. Web content on Nurturing the One, Supporting the Many will be made available to panelists and will form the basis for the discussion of models and principles for family resource centers. The Village for Families and Children, the oldest child welfare organization in Hartford, will partner in the project, helping to plan the event, participating on the panel, and assisting in recruiting participants. The latter will include social work students and practicing social workers from family resource programs and other community-based services for families.
  9. Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN
    Screenings/discussions of A BROOKLYN FAMILY TALE will be held on two campuses (Indianapolis, 3 screenings; and Bloomington, one screening) for the full cohort of BSW students during the weeks of February 27 and March 2, 2003. Seventy-five BSW students will be required to attend but the video and discussion will be advertised and open to the public. Approximately 50 field instructors, 35 faculty and staff, and 400 MSW students will also be invited to attend. Each screening will be followed by a discussion, in groups of 15, led by a faculty member. While the emphasis will be on community response to personal problems, faculty will be expected to deviate from the scripted discussion to meet the needs of their groups. The video will be used to educate, challenge perceptions, and tie the content to current placement experiences.

Columbia University – Columbia University’s School of Social Work created customized materials on social work practice in family service settings based on the book, Nurturing the One, Supporting the Many:  The Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, written by Peg McCartt Hess, Brenda G. McGowan, and Michael Botsko. Discussion questions were developed for both the selected book materials and the television documentary.