Inside HCZ: Grace Flowers
For Grace Flowers, the face of HCZ Safety includes a watchful eye, an open ear and a welcoming smile.
Flowers has lived at St. Nicholas Houses since 1964, when she moved there as a young girl. She kept her own sons safe as violence escalated there, and now watches over hundreds of children at HCZ’s building in the midst of the development.
She remembers the St. Nicholas of her youth as a place where folks sat outside on wooden benches and kept an eye on each other’s children. “Your neighbors were like your family,” she recalled. As drugs and violence took hold of the neighborhood, Flowers quit her job to keep an eye on her boys as a single mom.
“My kids meant more to me than the job. It was rough at the time in the projects. It meant more to me to keep my sons off the street,” she said, noting she enrolled them in outside sports programs to keep them safe. “It was about me being that strong parent and knowing what’s out there and how the streets can swallow up a child real quick.”
In 2013, Flowers had to again stop working to take care of a family member: her mom. “My mom was my best friend and I still miss her, but I have to go on with my life for my kids and my grandkids.” After her mother’s passing, Flowers learned HCZ was hiring and got the job the same day she interviewed. “It was a blessing,” she said.
“There are life lessons to be learned here especially if you take the time and listen,” she said.
Working at Promise gave Flowers – a mom to three boys – a chance to get to know and learn about young women.
“I tell them: ‘Just be mindful once you walk out these doors to what you really want in life and to strive for that. Set your goals, and set them high.’”
Asked what she has learned, Flowers said, “To listen more. And respect. If you don’t respect [students], you can’t expect them to respect you.”
After decades in St. Nicholas, Flowers said Harlem Children’s Zone has changed the neighborhood, providing new parks for the children and adding a feeling of safety so neighbors can come out again to sit on benches. She said it feels “amazing” to be part of that transformation. “I feel great because we really needed it.”
One of her favorite jobs is working at the Harlem Harvest farmers market, greeting her St. Nicholas neighbors as HCZ staff give out free fruits and vegetables. “It feels good to know that I’m helping my neighbors, the same ones I see every day and some of them I’ve grown up with.”
Whatever her duties, Flowers always gives everyone a friendly greeting. “You never know – a ‘good morning’ or a ‘hello’ can brighten somebody’s day, she said, adding “We never know what kind of day they had when they left their house that morning.”