This past Thursday, May 26th, we were delighted to gather and celebrate the 2016 LES Community Heroes! This year, our awardees are Wendy Brawer (Greenmaps), Mike Hoyos (Works in Progress), Ed Litvak and Traven Rice (The Lo-Down), Thea Martinez (GOLES), and Harriet Putterman (Cooper Square Committee), and a special acknowledgement to Michael Zisser. Here are some photo highlights of the evening:

Also, if you heard wind of David Garza’s rhymes that night, you heard right! We’re working on uploading that but you can also find a short clip of it on our twitter!

About the Awardees

Creator of the Green Map System and its director since 1995, Wendy Brawer is a designer, social innovator, consultant, and public educator. Based on the Lower East Side and focused on sustainable design since 1989, Wendy created the Green Apple Map, an original map of New York’s environment that sparked a global movement.

A pioneer in collaborative internet-based development, Wendy has led the development of the nonprofit Green Map System, its acclaimed universal iconography, inclusive methodology and locally-led global network. Engaging change in 940 diverse cities in 65 countries, the award-winning organization has archived hundreds of maps in the New York Public Library map collection. Now, with the goal of making a wider impact and to address the Paris Climate Agreement, Green Map System is in the process of going open source, providing free access to its award-winning icons and toolkits. Explore Green Map’s adaptable tools and myriad outcomes at

Wendy has continually created NYC Green Maps that help both residents and visitors make a positive contribution to the future we all share. As seen at her own website,, her integrated and creative approach to risk reduction includes collaborating and advising on local projects that address energy (NYC’s first Net Zero Passive House building and the SolSpherica solar charging station for East River Park), bicycling (Bikes Ready and Local Spokes), green culture center concepts (the Stanton Building as a resiliency lab and Ranch on Rails) and community green infrastructure (Gardens Rising and Siempre Verde Garden). Wendy has also taught, written and presented at scores of conferences and universities.

Born an artist in Detroit, the Lower East Side was always in her roots. Now a 25-year member of the community, Wendy serves on the board of ABC No Rio, and is part of Sara D Roosevelt Park Community Coalition, LES Ready and Siempre Verde Community Garden.

Mike Hoyos is a commercial printer who has worked at Works in Progress for over 20
years. He first engaged with Works in Progress as part of the internship program the print studio has with various high school programs in the New York City area.

Works in Progress became a positive, creative outlet for Mike during his internship. After graduating high school, the Directors of Works in Progress gave Mike a full time job. Through the years Mike perfected his craft and became a master printer. He is now the head printer at Works in Progress.

The importance of Mike’s story is the silent work he has done through the years which for the most part goes unnoticed. For over 20 years he has mentored and inspired hundreds of youth that like him come to Works in Progress through an internship program. Many of the students that come to the print shop have issues and personal problems they want to overcome. Mike’s own story, personal experience with training at Works in Progress, and guidance has helped students overcome many obstacles.

Thea Martinez is honored to be part of the Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) Land Use and Public Housing Committee. Thea first became involved with GOLES as a tenant leader when facing displacement, she worked with GOLES organizers to stop landlords from turning a Section 8 Project into Market Rate Housing.

Thea was born and raised on the Lower East Side. She began her professional dance career at 16 performing with the Phyllis Lamhut Dance Company, The Rod Rodgers Dance Company Ballet, Folkorico de Puerto Rico New Dance Group Repertory Ensemble and touring with the world acclaimed Alwin Nikolais Dance Theater.

Thea choreographed for the original cast production of ‘For Colored Girls’ at the New Federal Theater. She also choreographed and performed at the Public Theater, P.S. 122, Wooster Group, Shakespeare Festivel, Spoleto International, with spoken word poets, Pedro Pietri, Miquel Algarin Tato Laviera, Sandra Esteves and Luis Reyes Rivera.

Thea is a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for her Choreopoem “Love Shout’ (Llanto de Amor).

Thea has been a teaching artist, working with The Bronx Council on the Arts and the New York Department of Education (NYC DOE). She directed a youth theater ensemble and public health peer education program called The Loisaida Players,. She worked as Assistant Director for The Family Life Theater and assisted with creating original theater as part of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Program of NYC DOE.

Thea newest project is called The Lower East Side Local Heroes Project. Through walking tours and arts projects that teach the Lower East Side’s activist history, Thea’s company seeks to develop civic leadership and community strength. The company’s slogan is See History, Vision the Future.

Harriet Putterman has had a long association with Cooper Square Committee (CSC), and
has been a housing and social justice activist for decades. After serving on their board
for several years in the 1980s, she has returned to serve since the Spring of 2012. In the words of her nominator, Cooper Square Committee’s ED, Steve Herrick, “She has been instrumental in helping Cooper Square Committee do strategic planning about how to grow our community organizing capacity, and she has pushed our board in the direction of reaffirming organizing to promote social justice rather than simply taking a case management approach to tenant problems in our community.”

Since joining the board, she has worked with Brandon Kielbasa, CSC’s Director of Policy and Organizing, participating in regular organizing strategy meetings to develop a response to the systemic issue of speculators who buy multiple buildings and displace tenants through harassment and disruptive renovation. She attends city-wide coalition meetings, rallies and press conferences and helps CSC’s organizing team prepare press releases. She has helped CSC design a survey about disruptive renovation and DOB’s ineffective response, and helped CSC write a “white paper” about the issue.

Harriet is also active in CSC’s senior committee, known as Senior Health, Advocacy and Recreation Program (SHARP). With her help, part of CSC’s catchment area was recently designated one of 7 Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs). She also serves on the Cooper Square Community Land Trust, which owns the land that the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association buildings occupy.

In 2013, Harriet retired from being the Membership Coordinator at the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) after 17 years. She brought the same energy and passion for organizing to NASW that she currently uses in her work with CSC. While at NASW, Harriet oversaw pivotal increase in membership from social work students, and in conjunction with these efforts, helped NYPIRG develop their existing voter registration efforts.

Ed Litvak and Traven Rice are the founders of the local website, The Lo-Down ( Ed and Traven are Lower East Side residents who launched The Lo-Down to help provide the community with a constant source of information about current events, culture, real estate, food and entertainment. It is a resource for all cultures and groups on the L.E.S. to share information and ideas and to engage in a meaningful dialogue about local issues.

Ed Litvak (Co-founder/Editor-in-Chief) has more than 20 years of experience as a television news producer in local stations, cable properties and broadcast networks. He was a supervising producer at NBC’s Today Show and the executive producer of CNN’s morning program. As Editor-in-Chief of The Lo-Down, Litvak has been featured on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, NY1’s Inside City Hall and has moderated numerous political forums.

Traven Rice (Co-founder and Publisher) oversees business, marketing and operations for The Lo-Down. Rice, a filmmaker, is also the Arts and Culture Editor. She is a board member of the Local Online News Publishers Association (LION) and is on the Board of Directors for the Lower East Side Film Festival.

Special Acknowledgement: DR. MICHAEL H. ZISSER

An urban planner by profession, Michael Zisser first came to know University Settlement (US) and the people of the Lower East Side community by working as a summer camp counselor at the University Settlement sleep-away camp in 1966. He returned in the ‘80s as a board member of US while he was a professor and the Director of the Planning Program at Pratt, and then became Executive Director in 1986, and CEO (also of The Door) in 2012. Over the last three-plus decades he has stewarded the historic settlement house – America’s first – out of challenging fiscal circumstances, steadily developing the scope and depth of programming, and ultimately growing the organization tenfold. Over the years Michael has nurtured a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary team of people who work as partners with their neighbors to increase equity and wellbeing– person by person and across the community.

All photos by Whitney Browne Photography.