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WSZIO to focus only on youth programs

It may be the end of a era, but also a new day, for the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization.

Founded in 1990 amid a crisis among families who did not have a local school for children in the Zerega community, the group now says that it will focus its efforts solely on parks and library events for children, and leave community activism to new leaders.

Last year, WSZIO sponsored 17 successful events for children including Little Fashion Day at Owen Dolen, Family Fun Day in Pelham Bay Park, which grew out of National Night Out as a small event and expanded into borough wide, and events at the Westchester Square branch of the New York Public Library.

“The organization has been evolving, but when we burst onto the scene in 1990, we were a very vocal activist group,” said founder Sandi Lusk. “Our first protests were in front of P.S. 12 to get a neighborhood school for our children, as well as to keep our library open when it was then threatened with budget cuts, and to have our playground, the Pearly Gates, revitalized.”

“We wanted to effect change, and we have,” Lusk said. “The Pearly Gates playground has been renovated, after 14 years in the making P.S. 194 opened in 2004, and the Owen Dolen Park and recreation center is about to also receive a major renovation. The merchants are getting their B.I.D.”

At the same time, the arts and crafts fairs and activities for children, which have always been a source of pride in the organization, have grown beyond anything that could have been anticipated when it was founded.

“Face painting turned out to be a success beyond our wildest dreams, and Family Fun Day is now really a borough wide event in Pelham Bay Park,” Lusk said. “Our arts and crafts events at the Westchester Square library attracted 65 to 70 kids during the holiday season last year.”

The organization’s affect has been far reaching and long lasting.

Work will be underway to identify people who may provide community advocacy in Zerega, said Councilman Jimmy Vacca, noting that Community Board 10 members Robert Bieder and Hannah Acampora are both Zerega activists. He said he is sure that others will become involved in civic affairs pertaining to the community.

“They raised many a fight for that community, and I remember working with them when I was district manager of Community Board 10 on many occasions,” Vacca said. “I think Sandi’s focus has always been in working with youth.”

WSZIO’s last public meeting will be held at McDermott’s Pub at 2634 E. Tremont Avenue on Saturday, April 2 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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