From sports and the arts to help with homework, recreation centers have become bustling hot spots for city kids trying to stay off the streets.
Tonight, in Stories from the Heart, we’re introducing you to a woman who is going above and beyond to lend a helping hand in her community.
“I get a feeling of exhilaration and pride," Karen Pedrosa smiled.
There's no place Karen Pedrosa feels more fulfilled than right here.
“I’m a firm believer in you have to give to get," she said. "The community gave me a lot, now I want to give back to the community.”
Born and bred in the Bronx, this is her home.
“I grew up in Cedar Park, a beautiful basketball court during the 70s in the Bronx,” she remembered. "But it was also a very volatile time so having those opportunities to engage in sports and recreation was very important to me, it took me off the streets.”
She has spend her career as a teacher, mentor and friend to some of the city's most at-risk kids.
“The kids in my community would call me mom because I was that mother figure to a lot of them,” Pedrosa explained.
Karen, who is now the Deputy Chief of Recreation in the Bronx for NYC Parks, shows up every single day, hoping to make a positive impact.
“Consistency is very important because most of them don’t get consistency at home, or school," she said. "So when they come to the rec center we’re able to provide that structure for them.”
But, early on she learned, sometimes, there's only so much one person can do.
"My years at Roberto Clemente State Park were emotional," she choked up. "I worked there for 10 years and I saw a lot of kids that were close to me pass away."
It was on that same court though where she met one of basketball's best talents, New York Liberty center and Olympic Gold medalist, Tina Charles.
“I knew she was meant for something bigger as soon as she played with us,” Karen said.
“Because of Karen I was able to get to the arena early and work on my game,” Tina Charles said. "She was always there regardless of what you needed.”
“What do you have to do to become a professional basketball player?" Karen asked the kids. "Listen to your coach, and practice."
Back here at the West Bronx Recreation Center, she's inspiring a new generation to not only be better athletes but better people.
"It’s not about winning, it’s about sharing and teamwork,” she said to the kids.
In this building, under this roof, the entire staff has provided a place for play and protection.
“Outside if you go around the basketball courts they try to bully you and stuff,” Yussef Chan, an 11-year-old, said.
“It’s safe and exciting, safe because I have people here that if something does happen they’re going to help us,” Sirima Ouattara, an 11-year-old, described.
Karen's helped so many over the years, but knows her work is never truly done.
“I know what I do and my entire team does is very important because we have the potential to save a child’s life," Karen said.
Karen will be cheering on Tina and the New York Liberty Saturday night in the WNBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden.
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi