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NYers of the Week: East Harlemites Keep Neighborhood Outreach Efforts Going

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The latest New Yorkers of the Week are helping East Harlem rebuild, nearly a month after an explosion rocked the neighborhood. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report, which was shot, written and edited by Rachel Smith.

When Candy Vives-Vasquez heard the explosion, her first thought was to run away as fast as she could.

"But when I got downstairs to Lexington Avenue I said 'No, I gotta turn back.' I went back to the office, opened up the gate and you know just did what we had to do," recalls Candy Vives-Vasquez, a member of the 116th Block Association.

And they did it until 1:30 in the morning, providing neighbors with coffee, face masks and, for one family, a place to sleep.

Nearly a month later, the 116th Street Block Association is still working to find permanent housing for those who were displaced. The group is just one of many in East Harlem that continue to help those affected.

"It was really nice to see how New Yorkers came together to be able to help out because it was a community organized effort," says Raphael Benavides of the East Harlem Merchants Association.

Raphael Benavides was among those who helped his neighbors. In the days after the explosion, he used his gallery to gather donations for those who'd lost everything. Now, Raphael and the Merchants Association focus on getting businesses back up and running.

"We feel that we're going to be able to bring everyone back to normalcy or at least some sort of normalcy," says Benavides.

Domingo Fernandez is trying to get back some sense of normalcy. His meat shop was damaged by the blast. He's getting help from Clark Pena, a community activist and founder of East Harlem We Stand. The group is working out of a local church to distribute clothing and food. Pena says their work started because of a tragedy, but will continue because of how much need they're seeing in the community.

"It's really a good feeling to bring everyone together under such difficult circumstances and to continue to service our community because just like our name, East Harlem we will stand," says Pena.

So, for helping their neighbors long after the dust settled, Candy, Raphael, Clark -- and all those lending a hand in East Harlem -- are the latest New Yorkers of the Week.

For more information on how to help in East Harlem, visit the East Harlem Merchant Association's donation page at www.ehmanyc.org/east-harlem-we-stand.html.

Nominate a New Yorker

If you'd like to nominate someone to be NY1's New Yorker of the Week, send an email describing their qualifications to nyer@ny1.com or mail a letter to:

NY1 News
New Yorker of the Week
75 Ninth Avenue, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10011

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