Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Newsworthy notes from the week

CHHOP’s new program to stave off homelessness; Peekskill schools get $3.5 million

CHHOP to provide rental, utility arrears assistance

Mailene Ramos will oversee CHHOP’s new rental and utility assistance program, Tierra Sólida/Solid Ground.

“Tierra Sólida/Solid Ground,” the newest community support program from CHHOP, will assist immigrant and low-wage workers from falling into homelessness due to short-term, emergency financial issues.

The program is supported by a generous award from NewYork-Presbyterian’s Community Fund to Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP).

This proactive program will provide temporary rental arrears and utility assistance to qualified individuals and boost housing security, as well as the health and wellbeing of Fred’s Pantry clients and other lower income residents by avoiding eviction or having their utilities shut off. 

CHHOP has hired Bronx native Mailene Ramos as program manager to oversee Tierra Solida/Solid Ground. As a Fordham Law graduate and lawyer, she has worked for the Feerick Center for Social Justice on several projects focused on immigrant justice, civil legal advice, housing rights, and pandemic relief funds. Her work in the public interest sector won her the 2023 Archibald R. Murray Public Service Award. 

“CHHOP is dedicated to taking proactive measures that aid in the prevention of housing and food insecurity in our community with programs such as Tierra Sólida/Solid Ground,” said Cynthia Knox, CEO, CHHOP.

“With the incredible support of organizations like NewYork-Presbyterian, who recognize the importance of our mission, we are able to adapt to changing needs in a proactive and substantive way. In Mailene Ramos, we have found someone with the integrity, knowledge, and empathy needed for the program to be successful, and we very much welcome her to the team.” 

Peekskill schools to get $3.5 million boost in state aid

Peekskill schools will receive an increase in basic state aid above the rate of inflation for the upcoming 2024-25 school year in the new New York state budget.

Foundation Aid is the primary source of state funding to local school districts’ general funds. Economically challenged districts receive more aid than well-to-do districts in order to increase funding in less affluent communities. The state budget includes $36 billion in total aid for schools, $24.9 billion of which is Foundation Aid funding, a $934.5 million increase from 2023-24.

Peekskill will see a seven percent increase in its Foundation Aid, rising to $55.12 million compared to $51.63 million in the past school budget. The Hendrick Hudson district, whose finances have been decimated by the closure of Indian Point, will get a 26 percent boost to $11.49 million, up from $9.1 million in the 2023-24 school year.

Governor Hochul proposed two changes to state aid to schools that were rejected by legislators, but she plans to revisit them in next year’s budget negotiations.

One proposal is to get rid of the so-called “hold harmless” provision of the foundation aid formula. This provision makes it so a district cannot receive less aid than it did the year before.

Governor Hochul pointed out that some schools continue to receive the same aid amount or more, despite having, “seen an average of 25 percent to 30 percent decline in population.” She posed, “They’re basing the formulas on the population of what it was in 2008, does anybody think that makes sense?”

The governor is proposing replacing the “hold harmless” provision with a “transition adjustment” that will help districts keep some foundation aid to lessen the effect of decreased school enrollment.

Governor Hochul is also proposing changes to the foundation aid’s inflation formula. Right now the formula accounts for the previous year’s inflation data. Hochul proposes the formula use a 10-year average. 

Virtual reality learning coming to Peekskill schools

Starting this spring, the Peekskill City School District will be implementing ClassVR, a virtual reality program, for Peekskill students. 

This innovative technology will provide students with immersive and engaging learning experiences, allowing them to explore and interact with virtual environments that align with their curriculum and foster a deeper understanding of the subjects they are studying by enhancing STEAM opportunities and enrichment experiences for students of all ages and abilities. 

ClassVR is a virtual reality platform that allows students to explore virtual environments and interact with 3D objects. It provides a unique and interactive way for students to learn and understand complex concepts. With ClassVR, students can visit historic landmarks, explore the depths of the ocean, travel to outer space, and much more, all from the comfort and safety of their classroom.

Additionally, the district will be implementing an integrated MergeCube, which is an age-appropriate Augmented Reality (AR) technology. MergeCube combines AR technology with a handheld cube, offering a versatile and interactive learning tool. 

ClassVR will be available to all Peekskill students from elementary to high school. ClassVR adheres to strict privacy guidelines and safeguards. Elementary school STEAM teachers and librarians have received comprehensive training in collaboration with classroom teachers on the integration for effective implementation into the core curriculum.

Wetlands property preserved by Westchester Land Trust

Westchester Land Trust (WLT), a nationally accredited land conservation nonprofit headquartered in Bedford Hills, permanently protected 40 acres of land in Cortlandt through a donation from the landowner with support from The Nature Conservancy. The property is adjacent to WLT’s McGregor Pond Preserve and increases the size of the preserve to nearly 112 acres. During its earlier history, the land was owned by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

“Knowing that this special piece of land will remain undeveloped as beautiful forest and wetlands forever is a great feeling,” said Steve Warren, president of Albert D. Phelps, Inc. and Yorkcon Properties, Inc., which donated the property to WLT. “We can all make a difference to protect the nature around us.”

The newly preserved land is entirely State-protected wetlands and will not have public access. There are two streams on the property that are tributaries to the Peekskill Hollow Brook, which provides drinking water to the City of Peekskill.

“Permanently protecting this land is a significant conservation accomplishment for our community and ensures this critically important habitat will be there to sustain people and wildlife for generations to come,” said Kara Whelan, president of Westchester Land Trust. “We’re grateful to the previous landowner for his vision for the land and to The Nature Conservancy for their financial support getting this deal done.”

According to New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the enlarged McGregor Pond Preserve is in the top one percent for wetlands protected and top five percent for riparian habitat protected in the Hudson River estuary. It is also part of a core forest, providing high quality habitat and significant biodiversity of plants and wildlife. More than 50 species of birds are believed to use the property, including the American woodcock and the wood duck. This new acquisition was also listed as one of the highest priority parcels for conservation in the most recent Cortlandt Open Space Plan.

The Nature Conservancy provided partial financial support for the transaction costs associated with the land donation, as well as the stewardship endowment that will fund WLT’s management efforts at the preserve.

Searight named high school ‘Coach of the Year’ by Lohud

Coach Tyrone Searight led the high school boys’ varsity basketball team to a Gold championship winning season.
Lead scorer Jaden Chavis was named Second Team All-State.
Dynamic forward Zeke Jones was named to the state Honorable Mention team.

After leading the Peekskill High School Boys’ Varsity basketball team back into the winner’s circle this year, and reviving the legendary program to its glory days, Coach Tyrone Searight has been named Coach of the Year by Lohud. The Red Devils ended their 19-1 regular season with a 15-game winning streak.

“I am truly honored and humbled to receive the Coach of the Year award for varsity boys’ basketball,” Searight said. “This achievement is not just a reflection of my efforts and my staff, but a testament to the dedication and hard work of our incredible team.”

The Red Devils capped off an outstanding regular season with a 56-54 win at the County Center in White Plains to bring home the Section 1 Gold championship ball under Searight, a 1988 graduate of Peekskill High School who played basketball under Coach Lou Panzanarro,

“We try to give the kids a different experience and network with a lot of people. It’s a chance for them to bond and play with others,” said Searight who has been coaching the boys’ team for the past two years. He was coach for the girls’ team for a year before.

In naming Searight Coach of the Year, Lohud wrote on Twitter, “Two years after taking over a struggling program, he choreographed a 24-2 season that culminated with a Section 1 Class AA title. The community got behind the playoff run and the Red Devils rewarded that faith with a 56-54 win over Suffern in the County Center. It was the program’s first gold ball since 2009.”

Two of Coach Searight’s players were also recognized with post-season awards. Team leading scorer Jaden Chavis was named Second Team All-State by the New York State Sportswriters Association and dynamic forward Zeke Jones was named to the state Honorable Mention team.

Free afterschool program offered at Youth Bureau

The City of Peekskill Youth Bureau is holding an Afterschool Pop-Up Fun & Learning program for ages 10-13 on Mondays – Thursdays, 3:00-6:00 p.m. at the Youth Bureau, 828 Main St.

Programs include art, dance, cooking, homework help, projects, snacks, music and fun. The program is currently open and runs until June 14; there is no charge.

Register for the program here. For more information contact Tuesday Paige McDonald at [email protected] or call 914.734.4149.

Black Diamonds to host Inaugural Golf Fundraiser on May 1

Black Diamonds Academic Success (BDAS) will host its inaugural Golf Outing Fundraiser on May 1 at the Mohansic Golf Course in Yorktown Heights from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.. The ticketed event includes breakfast, lunch, and contests, with the ultimate aim of supporting the education and personal development of young men in Peekskill and the surrounding community.

“We are thrilled to raise funding and awareness for our work to improve outcomes for young men of color.,” said Martin McDonald, executive director of the Black Diamonds. “Our alumni have gone on to pursue higher education at colleges including Howard University, SUNY Purchase, University of Maryland, and Morgan State University. We hope to expand in the coming years.” 

The program has served over 100 students since its inception four years ago, and is an extension of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative within the Peekskill City School District. Event sponsors include Turner Construction Company, Steiger Designs, and supporters of The Rotary Club of Peekskill.

Tickets and sponsorships can be purchased here.  

The mission of Black Diamonds Academic Success is to mentor young men of color to become high achieving students who are well prepared for life after high school. For more information contact Martin McDonald, executive director: (845) 490-4931, [email protected].

Peekskill High School site of Career Expo on May 1

Civil service positions, trade union jobs, and other career pathways will be the focus of a Career Expo on May 1 from 6:30-8:30 p.m at the Peekskill High School gym.

All current students and recent alumni and their parents and guardians are invited to attend and meet with employers face-to-face. Learn about job opportunities in your area of interest and explore career paths you might not have considered.

The event is being hosted by the Peekskill City School District, the office of state senator Pete Harckham, and Peekskill Community Partners. For more information, please email [email protected].

Peekskill Walks’ ‘Life in Peekskill’ survey ends May 6

Community organization Peekskill Walks is inviting anyone who lives, works, or spends time in Peekskill to take its first-ever ‘Life in Peekskill’ public survey. The input from residents and visitors will help guide efforts toward safe streets, strong neighborhoods, and a vibrant downtown. 

The survey takes 5 to 7 minutes to complete and is available in English and Spanish. One respondent will be randomly chosen to win a $100 gift card to 140 Kitchen on South Street and the overall results and findings will be shared with City Hall and the public. 

Conor Greene, executive director of Peekskill Walks, noted that hundreds of have already taken the survey. “We have already gotten so many interesting and thoughtful responses from hundreds of Peekskill residents and visitors, and we invite anyone who hasn’t to add their ideas and opinions,” Greene said. “We’re working hard to reach all corners of our diverse city so please continue to help spread the word. We’re also excited to share the results with the public next month.”

Peekskill resident Benjamin Freiman is a professional transportation planner and organization’s planning consultant. “We put a lot of thought into creating a survey that reflects some of the biggest issues facing Peekskill and gives everyone a chance to give their ideas. I hope the feedback people take their time to provide will help spur some great ideas and projects,” said Freiman.

Peekskill Walks is an all-volunteer, resident-led community group working towards safer, more accessible streets, strong neighborhoods and a more vibrant downtown. Contact them at [email protected] or connect via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Kelly named culinary director of Apropos Restaurant

Celebrity Chef Peter X. Kelly is the new culinary director of Apropos Restaurant and catering operations. 

“For more than 40 years Peter has delivered extraordinary culinary experiences to diners in the Hudson Valley. We are thrilled to bring Peter’s spirit of dining adventure and excitement to the Abbey Inn & Spa,” said Ginsburg Development Companies president Martin Ginsburg. “Peter’s menu offers the vibrancy of the season while respecting the classics we love.”

Kelly, whose restaurants in the Hudson Valley include X2O in Yonkers and Restaurant X in Congers, is best known for his interpretation of contemporary American cuisine that has earned accolades on national television and in the hospitality sector. 

Kelly will assume full control of the Abbey’s catering operations, including banquets. Wedding events in the 2,183-square-foot Highlands Ballroom, set in the former church of the Convent of St. Mary, can accommodate up to 120 people. Apropos will undergo a dining room revitalization, an expanded wine selection, and an elevated menu presenting local ingredients that are prepared with European techniques and Asian embellishments.

“I am excited to work with the Abbey Inn and Apropos to create a premiere dining destination. Apropos’ setting high above the Hudson offers the perfect setting for extraordinary dining,” said Kelly.

Apropos’ new dinner menu offers small plates, large plates, and sides. Small plates include warm shrimp salad with avocado, champagne and truffles; fresh pappardelle ai quattro formaggi with rappini and San Marzano tomatoes; and tuna carpaccio with Hudson Valley foie gras and pickled shallots. Large plates include filet of black bass “poché,” zucchini galette and brown butter spinach; Hudson Valley duckling with green peppercorns and hakurei turnips; and Murray’s chicken with savory bread pudding, agrodolce and haricots verts.

Kelly is the founder of Xaviars Restaurant Group, which has included Xaviars at Garrison, Xaviar’s at Piermont, The Freelance Cafe and Wine Bar, Restaurant X & The Bully Boy Bar, and X2O Xaviars on the Hudson. The restaurants have received accolades that include The New York Times highest rating (Extraordinary), The Mobil Travel Guide Four Star Award, The Dirona Award, Restaurant News Dining Hall of Fame, Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence”, Zagat’s Survey (29 out of 30), New York State Restaurateur of The Year 1998.

Peekskill man gets 16 years for sexual conduct with a child

Peekskill resident Luis Urgiles, 46, was sentenced to 16 years in state prison for engaging in sexual conduct with a child for nearly a year according to Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah.

“The survivor in this case, just a young child, demonstrated remarkable resilience and courage in coming forward,” Rocah said. “Sexual abusers often prey upon their victims by exploiting their role as a person in a position of trust. As we commemorate Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month during April, I remind Westchester residents that my office is fully committed to bringing sexual predators to justice, as we have done today, and ask everyone to speak up and report any suspected abuse.” 

After a three-week trial, a jury, on March 19, found Urgiles guilty of course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. The defendant, who has a prior felony conviction, was also sentenced to 20 years of post-release supervision and is required to register as a sex offender.

Urgiles, a cab driver in Peekskill, met the victim’s family while they were passengers in his cab. The defendant befriended the family and began grooming the then 10-year-old victim in order to sexually abuse and assault her. He repeatedly subjected the victim to multiple sexual acts between October 2021 and July 2022. The Peekskill Police Department arrested the defendant on Oct. 30, 2022, following a police investigation that ensued when the child reported the abuse.

The District Attorney thanked the Westchester Institute for Human Development’s Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), and members of the DA’s Office Special Prosecutions Division, including translator Martha Arango, Senior Domestic Violence Aide Christine Aquino, and Domestic Violence Aides Christina Viera and Sherly Vera.

The case was before Judge Robert Prisco in Westchester County Court and prosecuted by Child Abuse Bureau Chief Christine Hatfield and Senior Assistant District Attorney Mollie O’Rourke, both of the Special Prosecutions Division.

Anyone who may have been victimized or may have information about other possible victims of the defendant can contact the DA’s Office Special Prosecutions Division directly at (914) 995-3000. Language assistance is available.

Peekskill man arrested for drunken driving in Yorktown

Geovanni K. Wajaral Unkuch, 30, of Peekskill, was arrested on April 19 and charged with driving while intoxicated, first offense, and driving while intoxicated blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more, first offense, misdemeanors, and failure to keep to the right, failure to use designated lane and registration plate not displayed, traffic infractions according to the Yorktown Police Department.

Shortly before 12:30 a.m. Friday, police said an officer working routine patrol in the area of Route 6 and Lee Blvd. saw a vehicle stopped on the side on Route 6 facing oncoming traffic. As the officer approached the vehicle, it began traveling in the wrong lane of traffic and a stop was initiated.

After completing an investigation at the scene, the officer said Unkuch was driving while intoxicated. He was arrested and taken to the Yorktown Police Department for processing. He was issued uniform traffic tickets for the charges and released on his own recognizance to a responsible third party. Unkuch is due to appear in Yorktown Justice Court May 2. 

Hollywood films in Verplanck again on Apple TV show

The Apple TV Series “The Savant” was scheduled to film in the quarry in Verplanck and at several locations on the west end of the village of Verplanck last week. Production was expected to continue throughout the day into the overnight and to the wee hours of the morning after. Filming was planned to take place around Highland Avenue between 6th Street and 11th Street.

The show stars Nnamdi Asomugha and Jessica Chastain, who is also the executive producer. Chastain plays a top-secret investigator known as the Savant, who infiltrates online hate groups to take down the most violent men in the country. Asomugha plays her husband.

The film company is paying the Town of Cortlandt for the use of the Quarry. Last year the Town of Cortlandt received revenue from renting the quarry to several film production companies including for the Amazon production “Fall Out.”

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About the Contributor
Jim Roberts
Jim Roberts has been in this business for more than 35 years (hard to believe) and still learning every day. A third-generation Peekskill resident, he started as a lowly researcher at the Westchester Business Journal in 1986 and learned how to be a reporter from many veterans in the field. He’s worked in private companies, Connecticut state government and wrote for the Co-op City Times for 10 years before retiring from full-time work in 2019. Roberts wants to contribute to building the Herald into a news website for residents who care about what’s happening in Peekskill.