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Monday, June 17, 2019

Affordable Housing Makes All the Difference

“You can’t.”

For someone with a disability, that can be a powerful phrase. Emilio was born in Brooklyn and grew up in the Gowanus Houses. Although he experienced vision impairments since birth, he did not learn he was legally blind until he was eight years old. He can see the outlines of objects, colors and shapes, but is not able to gauge distance. Objects are closer than they appear to him, and distance appears to be further, longer than it is. Though his family didn’t have the resources to access the supports and extra help he needed to pursue higher education in his youth, he feels fortunate to have had many advantages, including summer day camps funded through Helen Keller Services for the Blind and a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the White House when he was 12.

Growing up, Emilio loved listening to the radio and watching television and cartoons and dreamed of a career in media. He was always told, “You can’t because of your sight.” He listened, heard the message loud and clear, and steered away. Upon graduating high school, he went to work as a vendor, stocking vending machines, cafes and snack bars across the city. He continued to live with family for more than a decade, as he could never quite afford an apartment on his own. When Breaking Ground’s first new construction residence, The Schermerhorn, was marketed through the affordable housing lottery, Emilio applied and was among the first residents to move in when the building opened in 2009. This was the first time living on his own and signing a lease, and Emilio remembers it as an important moment of gaining independence, at thirty years old. He was not initially involved with social services at The Schermerhorn, as he was employed and stable. But when he lost his job in 2011, he connected with our onsite service partner, The Actors Fund, and worked closely with case management to ensure he could remain stable in housing and plan for the future.

Emilio Body

In 2013, Emilio began to explore higher education with assistance from staff at The Schermerhorn. Utilizing a combination of financial aid and sponsorship from the New York State Commission for the Blind, he enrolled part-time at Kingsborough Community College. In the years ahead, he would host his first sports talk radio show on WKRB, Kingsborough’s educational radio station, broadcasting on 90.3 FM in Brooklyn and streaming live at www.wkrb.org. The members of the gardening club at The Schermerhorn gathered around the radio to listen to his debut broadcast.

Upon finishing his Associate of Science in Media Arts degree, he transferred to Brooklyn College, where he continues his studies toward a double-major in Television and Radio, and Puerto Rican and Latino Studies. Emilio is active in Brooklyn College Radio and BRIC public access programs, where he has taken classes in podcasting. He currently hosts a radio show at www.mybcr.org on Wednesdays from 11am to 12pm titled “Sports & Life in 60 with Emilio.” He is grateful for the community at The Schermerhorn, which has helped him discover that indeed, he can. Keeping his focus on finishing school, he is seeking internships with sports broadcasters such as ESPN. And when he graduates from Brooklyn College (anticipated in the Fall of 2020), Emilio will be the first in his family to complete a college degree.

Today as an active member of The Schermerhorn community, Emilio participates in the gardening club, podcasting club, and productions in the black box theater. He says the social services, gatherings, holiday parties, and tenant activities have helped him to become more comfortable in public settings. After feeling like he was a “loner” in his youth, Emilio appreciates the community feeling that is unique to The Schermerhorn.

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