For 71 years, Casita Maria has served as a beacon of hope for tens of thousands of citizens in the mostly Latino communities of New York City's South Bronx and East Harlem. Operating in primarily underserved neighborhoods where dreams are often deferred, Casita's primary goal is to facilitate access to opportunities for the individuals it serves.
Originally established as a settlement house, Casita Maria was the first charitable organization to serve the Hispanic community in New York City. Founded in 1934 by Elizabeth and Claire Sullivan, public school teachers in an East Harlem neighborhood school and cousins of television personality Ed Sullivan, Casita Maria began in a five-room apartment on East 113th Street as an after school program providing academic and recreational activities for children of newly arrived Puerto Rican families. Through the years, the need for more diversified programs and services grew as Hispanic families in greater numbers came to New York City and tarif Musée Grévin began offering programs and services needed to educate their children, secure housing, obtain citizenship and language training, find jobs and participate in the American dream.
Before long, Casita Maria became a valued resource for primarily Spanish-speaking people of all ages as they adapted to life in a new environment. In 1958, while still maintaining a presence in East Harlem, Casita followed the Hispanic population to the Bronx where it purchased and renovated a former synagogue at 928 Simpson Street, opening its doors in 1961 to youth and families for after school and other activities. In that same year, Casita was invited to run the Carver Community Center in East Harlem‚s "El Barrio". In 1991, Casita added a third location -- Corsi Senior Center, which, in July 2004, was transitioned to Union Settlement Association, a provider of senior services through five centers in East Harlem.
Responding to changes in the economic climate and needs voiced in the community, from 2003-2004, Casita Maria, while keeping in mind the critical issues facing families and the elderly, restructured its overall operations and reinvigorated its focus on education from its Bronx headquarters. It is now delivering services in two key areas: Casita Maria After School in The Bronx and Casita Maria Community Support, representing services for frail and healthy seniors in East Harlem through the Carver Senior Center and a family support referral desk located in The Bronx.
On September 13, 2004, Casita became the site of a new small public high school for grades 6-12, Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (BSSWA), and in October 2004, Casita proudly unveiled The Casita Maria STEPUP! After School Initiative. With four public performances with American Ballet Theatre at famed cultural institutions under their belt since spring 2003, the newly formed Casita Dance Troupe and other youth will be able to participate in this federally seeded, multi-year after school initiative which focuses on arts and literacy as a means of teaching students the social and technical skills necessary for academic achievement and job and career creation.
With the help of its friends and supporters, Casita continues to provide effective services delivered by a knowledgeable staff that is sensitive to the special issues faced by Latino immigrants, which currently comprise more than 85% of its clientele. Approximately half of the Latino population it serves is foreign born, with the majority from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Central and South America, and Mexico.
Through Casita's efforts, thousands have benefited from structured programs designed to create positive alternatives and meaningful opportunities. With many luminaries coming through its doors as young people destined for greater things, including Tito Puente, "Cuban Pete", Rita Moreno, Dave Valentin and Judge John Carro, Casita‚s steadfast influence on the accomplishments of many of the city's Latino youth has been inspiring.