At Belmont, a Place to Keep the Workers’ Children Safe

Maria Flores and her husband, Marco Muñoz, finished work one recent afternoon and embarked on a short drive to pick up their son, Sebastian, at a nearby day care center in the Elmont section of Nassau County.

Along the way, the couple passed an exercise track and rows of barns where their co-workers, mostly Hispanic men and women working in a steady rain, were feeding, bathing and walking thoroughbred horses through thick clumps of mud.

Within minutes, the couple arrived to find Sebastian, 14 months old, sound asleep at Anna House, a day care center with a rather unusual address. It is located on the grounds of Belmont Park, the only racetrack in the country with a full-time, on-site day care service for the children of its backstretch employees, most of whom tend to the needs of horses in cramped and dimly lighted, muck-filled stalls.

The workers toil from 5 a.m.. to 1 p.m., earning an average full-time salary of $13,000 to $20,000 a year.

“Thank God for this place, because we could not afford any other day care for Sebastian,” Ms. Flores, who is from Mexico, said through an interpreter. She and her husband, who is from Peru, are known in racing parlance as hot walkers — people who walk horses to cool them down after workouts.

“Even if we could afford a different place,” Ms. Flores said, “there is no day care open so early in the morning where we could drop off our son.”

Anna House, which opened its doors in 2003 and remains open every day of the year, has become a second home to 70 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 years. Tuition is a small percentage of each family’s income and averages about $50 per week, far less than at many other day care centers.

“My son loves it here,” said Enrique Garcia, an assistant trainer and exercise rider, as he walked a pony named Sunny J to a large tin bucket for a drink of water at Belmont, which sits on the Queens-Nassau border.

Mr. Garcia and his wife, a barn foreman name Shannon Pike, met along the backstretch at Saratoga in August 2006. Their son, Antonio Garcia Pike, was born two years later, and began going to Anna House when he was 15 months old.

“If other tracks around the country invested in this kind of day care center for their employees, it would improve the lives and work performances of the families they employ,” Ms. Pike said. “Without this kind of service, one parent would have to stay home and watch the children, which would cut a family’s income in half.”

The concept of Anna House was first discussed in 1990 at the home of Jerry Bailey, a jockey, and his wife, Suzee. Mr. Bailey was watching a football game with a friend, Michael Dubb, when their conversation turned to a troubling sight at Belmont Park: young children sleeping in cars while their parents worked on the backstretch.

“We knew that something had to be done,” said Mr. Dubb, a Long Island-based real estate developer, horse owner and philanthropist.

Mr. Dubb eventually built the 10,000-square-foot facility on one acre of land provided by the New York Racing Association at what he said was “little to no cost.” He then donated it to establish Anna House.

“Being in the construction business, I was familiar with the Hispanic population and how hard they worked while trying to assimilate into this country,” said Mr. Dubb, who built two extensions to Anna House last June. “We just had an obvious need at Belmont and we wanted to do something about it. I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could effect change with my own hammer and nails.”

When the project began, two fellow horse owners, Eugene and Laura Melnyk, pledged $1 million, and the center was named after their daughter, Anna.

Donna Chenkin, the executive director of the Belmont Child Care Association, the nonprofit organization established for Anna House, said the day care center now operated on a $900,000 yearly budget.

“Before we came along, these workers had no place to leave their children,” Ms. Chenkin said. “The only alternatives was to leave them in illegal or unlicensed day care, or at home watching television with older siblings, or to have them sit or sleep in cars while their parents worked. But now these children are safe and secure, and they are getting a bilingual education so when they reach kindergarten, they are fluent in English.”

One of those children is Karla Laureano, a 3-year-old whose father, Juan Carlos Laureano, is a hot walker at the track. Her mother, Maria Guevara, works at Anna House as a teacher.

“This place is very important to all three of us, so we feel very fortunate,” Ms. Guevara said as she helped her daughter and other young children onto a bus that would take them on a field trip. “If not for Anna House, my daughter and I would probably be home every day. But now I’m earning money and she’s learning so much, and that makes all of our lives much, much better.”

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Arrests at Occupy Wall Street Rally

The police arrested several people on Saturday during an Occupy Wall Street march that organizers said was meant to protest police tactics and brutality. In part, protesters said, the march was meant to object to the police decision last Saturday to close Zuccotti Park and arrest more than 70 people gathered there.

The first arrests took place shortly after about 300 people left Zuccotti Park and began marching north, accompanied by police on foot and riding scooters. On White Street, many of the marchers abruptly turned onto Lafayette Street, breaking away from the attending officers, and running north. Some of them unfurled yellow flags and others a long orange net resembling nets the police have used in the past to corral protesters.

At Canal Street a police commander grabbed a young woman holding the net.

“You’re under arrest,” he said to the woman and then pointed to another woman nearby, saying that she too was under arrest. Officers and protesters surrounded the women as they lay on the pavement with the netting draped over them. They were then taken into custody.

Over the next hour or so, the march continued, passing through the financial district and SoHo, with some protesters shouting invective at the officers and occasionally doubling back on sidewalks in an apparent effort to shake the large police detail following them.

At times the marchers flooded into streets. For a while they stood in an intersection at Spring Street and Mulberry Street, and one person in the crowd fired a confetti gun into the air with a muffled boom, sending multicolored particles of papers floating slowly onto the street.

Police commanders made announcements directing people to the sidewalk, and officers grabbed two men out of the crowd and ordered them to stand next to a police van.

“I was walking across the street,” one of the two, Armin Radoncic, said.

As the marchers moved north on Mott Street, officers entered the crowd on the sidewalk at three different times and made arrests.

One of those arrests involved a young woman who briefly blocked a police scooter from passing down the street. After an exchange with the officer on the scooter, she moved out of the way but was arrested as she stepped on the sidewalk. As in the other arrests, a throng quickly formed, with protesters, onlookers and photographers crowding around and police officers pushing some of them back.

A few feet away a man lay on the sidewalk, shouting that his leg had been injured.

Finally, the marchers made it to Union Square, where protesters have assembled nightly for the past week and police officers have begun using metal barricades to cordon off the park’s southern plaza at midnight.

Inside the park, the protesters beat drums, held meetings and displayed a banner reading “Union Square Park Occupied.” Some of them also pointed to a sign that they said had been affixed to a pole at the park on Thursday by parks department workers and which listed several forms of prohibited behavior.

Gambling and disorderly conduct were forbidden along with “rallying,” the sign said, “except by permit.”


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 25, 2012

An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly referred to the location at which protesters stopped for a time as the intersection of Spring Street and Mott Street. The post also incorrectly referred to the location at which officers entered the crowd to make arrests as Mulberry Street.

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