By Paula Katinas
Bath Beach — Sonia Valentin loves her block and she wants you to love it, too.
Valentin and her husband have lived in their three-story private house on Benson Avenue between Bay 11th Street and 16th Avenue for 27 years.
Looking around her street one day, marveling at her neighbors’ beautiful flower gardens, Valentin decided to do something remarkable to promote the closely-knit block.
First, she formed a block association, the Benson Avenue Block Association. Next, Valentin applied for a “Love Your Block” grant from the Citizens Committee for New York City to beautify the street even more.
“We want to make our block shine!” Valentin said. Both sides of the street are lined with lovely one- and two-family brick homes, most with small gardens in the front yard.
Valentin’s application dazzled the grant panel at Citizens Committee and the block association was awarded $1,000 in funds to replant gardens, paint gates, prune bushes and tidy up the block.
Peter H. Kostmayer, the chief executive officer of Citizens Committee, came to Valentin’s house on Jan. 31 to personally deliver the check. He was greeted by more than a dozen of the block’s residents, who gathered for an impromptu party to celebrate the recognition they were receiving.
Marnee Elias-Pavia, district manager of Community Board 11, was on hand to congratulate the block association.
“This is wonderful. Blocks like this are why we have such a strong community,” she said.
“We feel honored that we actually got the grant,” Valentin said as her neighbors sat on couches and on chairs in her sun-filled basement room enjoying bagels and cream cheese, chips, and homemade pastillos prepared by Valentin’s mother.
As he pulled the check out of his jacket pocket, Kostmayer said groups like the block association are an important part of why New York City thrives, despite tough economic times when things can fall into disrepair.
“The key to solving those problems is to get people to take an interest in their property,” he said.
“Love Your Block” is a grant program co-sponsored by the Citizens Committee and the city that provides an opportunity for city residents to transform and beautify their neighborhoods, according to the Citizens Committee website.
“Love Your Block” offers volunteer groups a cash grant of $500 to $1,000 to transform a single city block.
Citizens Committee also provides each group with project-planning and community-building assistance. The city matches the grant by providing services from the departments of parks and recreation, transportation, and sanitation to help improve the block. Examples of these city services include trash collection, vacant lot cleanup, graffiti removal, dead tree removal, tree planting, the provision of woodchip mulch for gardening projects, repair of and installation of street signs and street lights, and traffic safety surveys.
The big project will get under way in April.
Benson Avenue homeowners have been taking an interest in the look of their block for many years, according to Valentin.
“The people on this block are really talented gardeners,” she said.
Her neighbor Mei Ngor Tang plants squash in her garden every year. Another neighbor, Frances Pulomena, who has lived on the block for 80 years, takes pride in the look of her home.
“It’s always been a good block,” she told Kostmayer.
The street is also a mini-United Nations.
“Our block is a melting pot. We have people from all over,” Valentin said as she proceeded to list the countries the residents are from. The list includes Italy, China, Montenegro, Ukraine, Turkey, and Spain.
Valentin, a member of Community Board 11 and an up-and-coming civic leader in Bath Beach, said the Citizens Committee grant wasn’t the sole reason she formed the block association.
“The block association is going to bring us together,” she said.