Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education is the oldest charity organization serving the Hispanic community in New York City. Its new building in the South Bronx is a testament to the organization’s tenacity and its commitment to serve underprivileged children in this oft-neglected New York community. Initially working from a small apartment in East Harlem, Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan’s goal was to help Hispanic youths adapt to their new homes in the United States. They founded Casita María Center for Arts and Education in 1934, and although the objectives remain the same, the organization has matured, developed and changed location thanks to the efforts of the community, the city of New York and a committed group of supporters. In 1961 it moved from East Harlem to the Bronx, and now, with a new building and state-of-the-art facilities, hundreds of children continue to enjoy Casita María’s generosity.
Jackie Weld, Chairman of the Board of Casita Maria, addresses a crowd of supporters at their annual Fiesta.
This organization believes that entire families can benefit from educational and extra-curricular programs that allow children to thrive in different environments. Under Jacqueline Weld Drake’s tenure as Chairman of the Board, Casita Maria has organized numerous fundraising events that involve the children and the community at large, like the collaboration with Roberto Cavalli to create the organization’s special edition tote, or their famous annual black-tie Fiesta dinner. Mrs. Weld Drake joined Casita Maria at the behest of her dear friend Alfredo Ortíz Murias, who was president of the organization until his untimely death in 1989. “I do it for him and for the children, who deserve a better future”, said Mrs. Weld Drake.
1. Street dance performance at Paseo, South Bronx
2. Piano lessons at Casita Maria.
3. Casita Maria workshop.
The programs and services provided by Casita Maria are built specifically to empower the young and their families through social, cultural and educational opportunities, in an environment packed with passion, inspiration and excitement for learning. Art Works Summer Internships provide paid employment for middle and high school students, where they develop leadership and team-building skills. After-school activities such as Casita’s College Bound Program offer support to students who are planning to pursue a higher education. The students partake in workshops that help them navigate the intricate college selection and application process, such as exam preparations or help with financial aid. Also for college bound kids, Casita’s High School Portfolio Development Workshop prepares student-artists to show their work and receive feedback from teachers and peers. A long list of other programs, workshops and initiatives complement the social and cultural support the kids get from this institution. Thanks to Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, economically disadvantaged families are able to provide their children with much-needed opportunities all through high school.
Students in Casita Maria’s after school program learning about healthy living.
Casita María has had a remarkable leadership role in reviving the sense of community in the South Bronx. The charity moved there in order to increase its presence in the lives of Hispanics and other underserved communities. The new building’s facilities, with space for performances and exhibitions, make it a community center like no other in the area. They have expanded their programs to include homeless services, drug rehabilitation, violence prevention, gang intervention, teen pregnancy prevention, and many others. But today, it is a place where the youths can showcase their creative talents and grow up to be successful individuals. “Casita’s Kids” such as Tito Puente, Rita Moreno and Tina Ramirez have credited a lot of their success to the organization that helped them overcome obstacles in their youth. Through its programs, Casita María has been able to hold many children´s hands and lead them down path of success. As the organization says, “from first grade to college, kids grow up with us.” The charity has managed to foster kids’ interest in the arts and education, enabling them to pursue their passions thereafter. ■