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Our People, Our Neighborhood


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


     —  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.

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 City (32%).
     —  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 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.

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

And Some of Our Participants' Stories of Empowerment:


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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