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Our People, Our Neighborhood

 


 

 

 

 

 

Through our core 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 experience.

 

UNEMPLOYMENT AND THE CYCLE OF POVERTY

Mercy Center serves the residents of Mott Haven in the South Bronx, home to one of the poorest Congressional Districts (16th) in the United States.

     —  Sixty-percent of participant families live on annual household incomes

          of less than $15,000 and close to 80% live on incomes below the

          poverty line.

     —  Seventy-percent receive some form of government assistance (Food

          Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Housing, Medicaid, etc.).

     —  They represent more than 30 countries and speak 25 languages and

          dialects.

     —  Most are Hispanic (82%) and African-American (6%) families, with

          almost three-quarters having emigrated from Mexico, the Dominican

          Republic or Puerto Rico. Smaller percentages come from Ecuador,

          Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Columbia.

     —  A quarter of participants have never attended high school and more

          than half have not graduated, often because of the responsibility of

          caring for young children.

     —  Literacy levels vary, and work histories, when present, are largely in

          low-paying service industries.


VIOLENT AND OPPRESSIVE BEHAVIORS IN FAMILIES AND THE COMMUNITY

 

Domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, education or other factors. Last year in New York City, one in six homicide victims was a women, and 68% of those murders were incidents of domestic violence. (Source: Safe Horizon)

 

The Victims

     —  One in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.

     —  Women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men.

     —  Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by

          her current or former partner.

 

The Families

     —  Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence

          in their homes.

     —  Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence also

          suffer abuse or neglect at high rates (30% to 60%).

     —  A 2005 study found that children exposed to domestic violence are

          more likely to have health problems, becoming sick more often, having

          frequent headaches or stomachaches, and acting more tired or lethargic.

     —  A 2003 study found that children are likely to intervene when they

          witness severe violence against a parent – which can place a child

          at great risk for injury or even death.

 

The Circumstances

More than 60% of domestic violence incidents happen at home, often keeping the problem hidden.

 

The Consequences

In New York City, 25% of homeless heads of household became homeless as a result of domestic violence.

 

OVERBURDENED PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Mercy Center falls within the boundaries of New York City School District 7, home to some of the lowest performing schools in the nation. The 2012/13 New York City performance on the State assessments in English and Math revealed that only 9% of 3rd through 8th graders in District 7 met or exceeded the proficiency standard in English language arts; 58% tested below basic standards. On the Math exam, only 9% of 3rd through 8th graders passed; and 59% tested below basic standards. Test results also reveal that gaps in achievement between black and Hispanic students and their counterparts persist. In Math, only 15% of black students and 19% of Hispanic students passed the exam, compared with 50% of white students and 61% of Asian students. On the English exam, only 3% of non-native speakers were deemed proficient and only 6% of students with disabilities passed.

 

THE POWERLESSNESS AND ESTRANGEMENT OF THE IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE

Immigrants come to New York with little or no English and few prospects for employment. Roughly 70% of Mott Haven residents speak a language other than English and many face the challenges intrinsic to the immigrant experience, including poverty, poor literacy skills, inadequate documentation, unfamiliar surroundings and traditions, and the trials of raising children in a foreign country. In 2008, 59% of participants served were born outside the United States; in 2014 that number increased to 74%.

A recent report by Advocates for Children of New York, "Our Children, Our Schools", noted that 80% of immigrant parents surveyed indicated they wish to be more involved in their children’s schools, but are often under-utilized as resources. The authors interviewed parents who identified barriers such as being stopped at the door for not having identification, intimidated by staff that were insensitive or unresponsive to their needs, and treated badly because of their background or limited English. Small gains for Spanish-speaking parents were reported, but those who spoke other languages said they could not get answers to the most basic questions about their children’s academic work. They indicated that language, lack of information, and cultural differences prevented them from participating in PTA and other leadership opportunities. Many said that staff reached out or responded to them only when there were problems with their children.

Mercy Center is truly a place of hope in the midst of a challenging environment.


And Some of Our Participants' Stories of Empowerment:
 

Alma

Alma first came to Mercy Center in January 2011. She initially attended the evening ESOL class, but transferred to the daytime class so she could be home when her two daughters arrive from school. Alma is very inquisitive when it comes to learning English. Her mind is like a sponge; always soaking up information and grasping for more and she is a joy to have in the classroom. She participates fully and is always encouraging other students to do the same.

Alma is a very active participant of Mercy Center. Aside from her involvement in ESOL, she has participated in Parenting classes, the Family Development program, Keyboarding and Microsoft Word classes in English, and more. After brushing up on her own skills, she agreed to help teach an introductory computer skills course to Spanish speakers.

Alma embodies what Mercy Center’s mission is all about, which is to empower women and their families. In January 2012, Alma was in Level 2; in September 2012 she advanced to level 3, which she completed in June 2014. She continues to stay involved and to look for ways to keep growing and to help other participants achieve some of their goals.

 

The Vazquez Family
 

A family worker remembers the Vazquez family, a family of four, as "shy and reserved" when they first came to Mercy Center. Their most prominent obstacle at the time was fear. Fear of getting involved in the community because of gang violence and racism; the family lived in a neighborhood that wasn’t welcoming to the Mexican population.

Two years ago, while Mrs. Vazquez was taking ESOL classes at Mercy Center, the opportunity to join Family Development was announced and she persuaded her husband to sign up. After being in the program a few months and attending a variety of classes and family functions, the father came to realize that quality time was much more than simply staying at home together or attending church. He began to witness his family blossom, both individually and as a unit. As a result of their participation, they became increasingly integrated into the local community, grew their circle of friends, and took advantage of several opportunities:

•     The mother attended a series of workshops organized by Mercy Center and facilitated by Qualitas for Life Foundation that resulted in her obtaining a New York City vending license and green cart. She now operates her own business selling fruits and vegetables in the neighborhood.

•     The son used to teach himself how to play piano on a toy keyboard by watching how-to videos on YouTube. One of the goals established by the family was to help their son obtain more structured, professional music instruction. With the help of their Family Worker and a Mercy Center volunteer, their son obtained a full scholarship to receive piano lessons at the Diller-Quaile School of Music in Manhattan.

•     The Family Worker also worked with the mother to research charter schools, helping her understand the mission of charters as well as the application process. As a result, both children were accepted to charter schools: the daughter in Kipp Academy Middle School, and the son in Mott Hall High School.  

Today, the Vazquez family is still involved with Mercy Center through ESOL classes, Summer Camps and Fiver Sleepaway Camp for the children. What began as one women’s personal desire to improve her English turned out to be a two-year transformative journey for herself and her family as they came together to set and achieve goals, expand their horizons and improve their lives.

Mercy Center   377 East 145 Street, Bronx NY 10454    Tel: 718-993-2789   Fax: 718-402-1594   info@MercyCenterBronx.org

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