Our People, Our Neighborhood
population served by Mercy Center is primarily women of Mott Haven and their
families, many of whom are young single mothers coping with total responsibility
for the family. They come in the
midst of an environment that is very challenging, both socially and
economically. To this environment they bring a rich history of survival and a
great determination to live a full life, for themselves and their families.
Mercy Center participants are primarily Latina (75%) and African-American(25%)
parents of Mott Haven and their families. About 90% of the parents
are women, and many are young single mothers coping with total
responsibility for their families. They are typical of this South Bronx
neighborhood, where the median household income is $14,271, compared the
the citywide median of $31,717 and the U.S. median of $41,994. Other
dramatic indicators of poverty and poor health abound such as:
the unemployment rate is double that of New
York City as a whole
(18% vs. 9%)
percentage of death due to AIDS is double that of New York City
(21% vs. 10%)
the percentage of families living below the poverty level (46.1%) far
exceeds New York City's
rate (18.9%) and that of the U.S. (9.2%)
only 41% of the population has a high school education or higher,
compared to more than 80%
for the country as a whole
Perhaps the effects of poverty in Mott Haven have the most serious
consequences for its children:
While children under 18 comprise only 35% of
the population, they are
58% of those who
receive public assistance. This is nearly double the
rate for New York
The number of abuse and neglect reports per
1,000 children is 42,
compared to a
citywide total of 31.
Additionally, 43% of children live below the
poverty level, compared
to 36% citywide.
Per 1,000 children, 64 are placed in foster
care, compared to 25 for
New York City as a hole.
Through our core programs
(Employment-Yes!), Family Alternatives to Violence, ESL/Immigration
Services and CHAMPIONS/Youth Programs) and a full complement of support
services, Mercy Center actively addresses 3 critical problems facing
people who live in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx:
unemployment and economic poverty,
violent and oppressive behaviors in families
and the community, and
the powerlessness and estrangement that
accompanies the isolation
of the immigrant
Mercy Center is truly a place of hope in the
midst of a challenging environment.
And Some of Our
Participants' Stories of Empowerment:
After the 9/11 attacks on America, two weeks
without work left me and my family almost homeless. I'm a single parent
with a son in college. I'm the sole provider of my household. The place
where I was employed had no medical benefits, no sick days, no holiday
pay, no vacation pay and no personal days. If you were called to work and
the job ended before the five hours you were expected to work you were
told to punch out and leave without pay. Jobs ended once interviewers
reached estimated quotas. If you didn't get called to work for the day and
had been employed there less than 20 weeks you were not paid at all. The
hours of work were 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. I was an Interviewer for market
research surveys. The salary was so low that I had to apply for the city's
food stamp program. Then I was let go. It was a setback and I was unable
to pay my bills. I was devastated.
I was in church and saw an
advertisement for Mercy Center. Mercy Center offers computer training.
Just what I needed to get skills to help me get a job. I called and was
accepted into the program. I met the staff of Mercy Center. They helped me
save my apartment and access a 9/11 fund to pay my back bills so I could
stay in the program and get the skills I needed to be employable today.
Because of this I have great hope for the future. I know that I will get a
good job and be able to support myself and my family.
Perseverance - Don't Quit:
By Maria M.
A few years ago, I was involved in a support
group on goals at Mercy Center led by Sister Mary Ann Dirr. During our
session two of us decided to return to school and finish where we once
left off. One of the women was Daisy, the other myself. My friend Daisy
and I made a commitment to support each other on our journey. And so we
did just that, though it was a bumpy road for both of us. Daisy ended up
with a Bachelor's Degree and became a Social Worker. As for myself, I
continued struggling. At times I felt like quitting. Whenever I took a GED test and failed, I would cry. I was anxious and at times angry at
myself because I felt dumb.
But I kept thinking of my family, supporters at Mercy
Center and mostly, my husband telling me not to quit. "Don't give up hon,
you can do it." Though I felt depressed at times, God was carrying me
Then came my biggest struggle, my husband passed
away, just when I was about to go and give my GED test another try. This
would have been my fourth time. Because of my absence due to my husband
passing, I was let go from the program; and was told I had to retake a
placement test in order to continue. Things couldn't get any worse than
this, I said to myself. But I prayed to God a lot throughout it all.
Embarrassed, frustrated, but with patience, I started from the bottom of
the barrel. As I worked myself up I kept thinking of all my supporters
at Mercy Center, but most of all my husband telling me not to quit.
On December 12, 2001, feeling more relaxed but
still not sure I'd pass, I took the GED test. Once again anxious of the
outcome and the final decision I had to make, made me forget about the
rest. And so it was, two months and some weeks later it came. The white
envelope in my hands shaking, I opened it and there it was. I was
jumping like a rabbit all over the house with my daughters. I cried
tears of joy and realized I finally passed the test. I called my mom and
Sister Mary Ann Dirr first. Before long, everyone was calling and
congratulating me. It was not until all the women from Mercy Center
surprised me with a big surprise party, cap and gown, flowers, cake and
lot of tears of joy that I realized my perseverance made it happen.
Thank you staff of Mercy Center and all those
wonderful women supporters who never gave up on me. Thank you Rosemarie
and Sister Peggy Costa for those recent encouragement support groups,
they helped me a lot. For Sister Mary Galeone for your soft spoken words
of wisdom and thank you, Honey, thank you God!