The UNH Blog

UNH Visits Berlin

Wednesday, November 09, 2016
1945. London, Warsaw, Nagasaki and other cities across the globe have been reduced to rubble. The haze of intercontinental warfare has begun to rise, and a weary world sets about remaking itself. Soon though, the true toll of the war becomes clear. It is not defined just by the crumbled roads, bombed out buildings, collapsed bridges, and twisted railways, but in the full scope of the horror of the Holocaust. The Nazi campaign in Europe has resulted in the murder of an estimated six million Jew and several million additional victims including prisoners of war, and other ethnic, political, religious, and LGBTQ populations. Millions more around the world have been displaced as result of the conflict, and in the coming years, the inhospitality and violence toward refugees necessitates an international response. From the establishment of the International Refugee Organization in 1946, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, to the Geneva Convention on Refugees in 1951, the international community tries to establish a basic set of guidelines defining the status and rights of refugees.

Looking back on this devastating chapter in world history, it is hard to fathom that in 2016 there are more refugees and internally displaced persons around the world than there were during this bleak period following World War II. And yet this is precisely the case. With 65 million refugees world-wide today, the International Federation of Settlement and Neighborhood Centers hosted their annual conference with the theme of exploring the role settlement houses can play in addressing this refugee crisis. Just over a month ago I had the privilege of representing UNH at this conference in Berlin, titled “On the Move —At Home in the World.”

It is not surprising to me that IFS believes there is a role for settlement houses in addressing an international crisis of such magnitude. Settlement houses, after all, have been on the front lines of providing essential human services in their neighborhoods for well over 100 years. For just as long, they have been advocates for social justice, seeking to change the conditions that lead to the poverty and exclusion of immigrant, ethnic and other communities.

Over the course of four days, conference attendees learned about the causes and impacts of migration in Europe and Africa, as well as models for immigrant inclusion and engagement. As a participant in a three-day settlement house worker exchange immediately preceding the conference, I also had the opportunity to interact directly with dedicated professionals from Israel, Canada, Russia and Germany. From presentations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a diplomat from the German Foreign Office, and a university professor with an expertise on the European Union, to visits to settlement houses throughout Berlin and a refugee center housing more than 1,500 people, this week-long immersion in refugee resettlement left me with three distinct observations:

1) settlement houses are critical players in the service-delivery ecosystem,
2) settlements houses can and should be vehicles for advocacy, and
3) there is a need for all people to speak out against intolerance, oppression and violence.

Settlement houses are critical players in the service-delivery ecosystem

While visiting Templehof — the decommissioned military airport doubling as a popular public park on the outside, and a makeshift refugee center on the inside — we learned that settlement houses, despite not holding the contract to house the refugees, are the key social service providers. Through creative use of a “volunteer bus,” the settlement houses have set up a mechanism for local community members and refugees to share their skills and talents with each other for the collective good. The settlement house staff are also providing case management, clothing, food, and meeting other key needs, including German language instruction and job search assistance.

Outside of the refugee centers, settlement houses are also helping resettle refugees. Over the course of 2015 alone, Germany accepted over 1 million refugees, with a further 250,000+ in 2016. These individuals and families require support to successfully integrate into their new communities, and settlement houses are key sources of that support. In addition to availing themselves of the same services native Berliners do — youth programs, food programs, senior programs, etc.— refugees are also able to study Germany and look for work with the assistance of settlement house staff. The whole-family approach of settlement houses makes them particularly well-suited to meeting the needs of refugees. In a foreign country with limited to no proficiency in German and little resources for travel, a settlement house that can provide multiple services makes life easier for newcomers.

Settlement houses can and should be vehicles for advocacy

During the three-day settlement house worker exchange, each participant had the opportunity to deliver a presentation about youth services to their peers. As a policy advocate, I chose to focus mine on how UNH and our member settlement houses proactively engage youth in advocacy efforts; specifically, the Campaign for Summer Jobs (CSJ).  From the process of recruiting and training youth to participate in our annual Youth Action Day in the state capitol, to helping prepare them to testify at hearings and lead legislative meetings, the exchange participants were impressed by the creative and empowering way settlement houses in New York City are engaging youth. The benefits of giving youth a platform to speak out were immediately obvious to the exchange participants, and many left feeling energized to bring the ideas back to their home cities.

In addition to the  personal development benefits experienced by youth engaged in advocacy (self-efficacy, leadership skills, relationship building, etc.), the importance of advocacy was also reinforced by a lecture delivered by Professor Dr. Nivedita Prasad,  titled “Social Work as a Human Rights Profession.” Dr. Prasad spoke at length about the challenges social workers face when they operate essentially as arms of the state. For example, when the government funds programs for refugees, they get to dictate the terms and conditions of those services, and can also inform the nature of interactions and relationships between social workers and refugees, which can sometimes be disempowering to the newcomer. She challenged social workers to push back against these practices and be advocates for the rights and dignity of their constituents. Her remarks were a timely reminder to both social workers and others within the settlement house movement to be advocates for justice.

The need for all people to speak out against intolerance, oppression and violence

This last take-away from the conference for me was perhaps the most important. And that is that intolerance, oppression, and violence affect us all, and we must be relentless in our struggle against them. Many of the people I met in Germany spoke about a national consciousness that is sensitive to the needs of persecuted and displaced peoples as a result of Germany’s own national history. This is why they work to reduce conflict and have taken in so many refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Still, there are groups of people within the country who push back against the acceptance of refugees, and in some cases spread hateful rhetoric or engage in violence against them. Vigilance against this intolerance is a constant for settlement house workers in Berlin and beyond.

Given the escalating rhetoric and acts of violence we have seen against ethnic, religious and other groups in our own country over the last year, is incumbent upon all of us to use our voices to push back, and articulate alternative visions for our communities that are inclusive of all people. This work must happen at the same time as we continue to proactively help these communities access the services and supports they need to succeed.

Really, I suppose, the unifying lesson of these three observations — that settlement houses are critical players in the service-delivery ecosystem, that settlements houses can and should be vehicles for advocacy, and that there is a need for all people to speak out against intolerance, oppression and violence — is that settlement houses today are as relevant as when they were first founded at the turn of the last century. They are at once bedrock institutions in their communities that help individuals and families of all sizes and types thrive, while also vehicles for powerful advocacy with and on behalf of those same communities. As conflict and persecution around the world continues to drive people from their homes, the United States and New York City in particular will continue to be a destination and place of refuge. We must take that reality and responsibility seriously.


WNET Announces Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses Explores The 130-Year History of a Dynamic Social Service Movement and its Ongoing Role in NYC’s Social Fabric

Premieres Thursday, November 17 at 8pm on WLIW21 Premieres Sunday, November 20 at 7pm on THIRTEEN

NEW YORK [November 7, 2016] – In the late 19th century, settlement houses sprang up in New York City as havens for new immigrants and the existing population of Manhattan's impoverished lower east side. Over 130 years later, more than three dozen organizations, following the settlement house model, offer a wide array of services and activities to New York City's ever-changing population in communities throughout the five boroughs. Nestled in our neighborhoods, these safe zones for children and adults of all ages provide opportunities for teaching, learning and connecting with our neighbors, which play an integral role in New York City’s social fabric. A new film, Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses, explores the unique history of this dynamic social service movement, which boasts distinguished alumni such as Abraham Beame, Jacob Javits, James Cagney, and Burt Lancaster. The one-hour documentary is a part of an exciting and informative fall season line-up of the series, which celebrates our region’s most meaningful locations and relevant cultural institutions.

Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses premieres on Thursday, November 17 at 8pm on WLIW21 and Sunday, November 20 at 7pm on THIRTEEN. Following the broadcast, the film will also be available for online viewing at

Social reformer Stanton Coit established the first settlement house in the latter part of the 19th century in reaction to New York City’s flood of new immigrants into an already overcrowded city. The settlement house movement created havens where residents of the City’s impoverished neighborhoods could seek assistance, education or a simple respite. Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses explores the movement’s evolution and the social ramifications of settlement houses in New York’s five-borough community. Through both archival and modern day interviews and images, viewers will learn how institutions that began as a resource to help immigrants and poverty-stricken city dwellers now provide services and activities designed to identify and reinforce the strengths of individuals, families, and communities.

Today, 37 organizations under the umbrella of United Neighborhood Houses continue to garner avid support, as their presence and leadership impact the region. “Settlement houses are vital parts of their communities and we are proud to amplify the voices of these organizations by providing a shared space to discuss innovative program models and advocate for funding and policy to support the lifetime of services they provide,” said Susan Stamler, Executive Director of UNH.

The film examines how these community centers currently provide services and programs to over half a million New Yorkers. Today’s settlement outreach may include job training and employment programs; early childhood education; afterschool youth programs; arts education and performances, English as a second language and literacy education; citizenship and legal counseling; mental health and home care; and senior centers. Settlement Houses also offer opportunities for community service—holding forums and leading advocacy efforts on local concerns, registering voters, and providing information about citywide issues.

Among the settlements spotlighted is Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side. Viewers will learn more about Henry Street Settlement’s historical and current impact from Executive Director David Garza. In Staten Island, the film examines the scope of Project Hospitality’s work as the largest provider of direct services and advocacy for immigrants and impoverished communities in the borough, highlighting its large web of passionate community volunteers and funders. At the youth service provider, SCAN New York (East Harlem/South Bronx), Treasures of New York introduces viewers to 11-year old after-school program participant and beat composer/performer, “AJ,” and SCAN alum – now SCAN board member – Jamel Oeser-Sweat, whose youth was deeply affected by foster care, homelessness and emergency shelters before the agency’s programs profoundly helped him.

For more information about the series and this program, visit the Treasures of New York website at

UNH SYEPer Relects on her Summer Job part 2

Friday, August 12, 2016

by Florence Yu, UNH SYEP participant

Hello, my name is Florence Yu and I am 17 years old. I will be a rising senior this upcoming school year. I had heard about SYEP from friends, however, this is my first year participating. I chose to work here at United Neighborhood Houses as my first choice worksite, and it is a decision I will never regret. It was also UNH’s first time having SYEP participants in their office so it was an exciting time for every one of us. The past six weeks working at UNH for SYEP has changed how I perceived everyday life in the City. I was unaware of the numerous things that took place right in front of my eyes, but because of UNH, I was able to see what happens behind and throughout the process of policy and advocacy.

Growing up, I have always been unclear on what I want to do in the future. People often pressure me to choose a career path as soon as possible, however, as a teenager it is quite hard to choose what I want to do for the rest of my life in such a short amount of time. There are many instances when I felt overwhelmed in choosing what future occupation I should commit to. But there are times in my life when I feel there are factors that are slowly guiding me to the profession I will soon acquire. For instance, United Neighborhood Houses has played a big role in helping me understand what I want to do with my life when I am older. The meetings I attended reshaped my perception of how the city works. It isn’t just the Mayor, Governor, Congress, or President making changes in the neighborhoods we live in every day. There are so many people working behind the scenes every day to make these changes happen. It was amazing learning about the procedures used to create the city that we live in now. Working at UNH really opened my eyes to the city that I live in.

When I first came to work at UNH, I had only a slight interest in policy and advocacy. This was because I was unaware of what really went on to help make changes in the communities of New York City. During my time working here, I began to understand the meaning of policy and advocacy and the importance of it. From meeting two Chiefs of Staff of two City Council members, attending the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation settlement house, visiting City Hall, to researching and collecting data for youth bureaus, Cornerstones, and summer camps, I became inspired to take part in policy and advocacy as much as I can outside of UNH. I want to learn more and try to incorporate political science into my future job. I never knew how interesting policy and advocacy was until UNH and I did not know what to pursue in college until now.

My experience at United Neighborhood Houses was amazing. I was immensely nervous to begin work on my first day, but I quickly saw that the environment is very warm and welcoming. There is a certain aspect of working at UNH that caught my eye. It was the way everyone put in so much effort in trying to establish a great start for a more effective place to live. The staff at UNH has become my family in the past six weeks. They were very patient with me and answered any questions that I had for them. They were very understanding and I grew comfortable with them in such a short amount of time. The staff members at UNH are such driven workers and it further motivated me to work harder than I did before. Their determination to advocate for a better, well-funded city for everyone is breathtaking.

I wanted to take part in SYEP this year to gain experience in the work force for future reference. As a teenager, it is difficult to find a job without having experience. Being a participant in SYEP has given me an opportunity to learn things about the real world I would not have learned if I was not a part of the program. I was able to learn how to make proper business calls, collect data, and conduct research throughout my time at UNH. I was also able to participate in meetings for advocacy for people of all ages. Because of this, I was able to learn about the problems that institutions in the city face and the steps we can take to resolve them. I am lucky to be able to learn about what happens during this process.

To be able to be a part of such an amazing team is truly a blessing that I will never take for granted. I have learned so much from my time at United Neighborhood Houses. I took away a lot of knowledge and skills just from working here. I am grateful for everyone who has taught me the ropes of policy and advocacy. I took nothing but positive life lessons from United Neighborhood Houses. I have gained a lot of experience over the summer and have overcome many fears that I had before entering this job. If I were to do SYEP again, I would definitely choose to come back to United Neighborhood Houses.




UNH's SYEPer Reflects on her Summer Job

Thursday, August 11, 2016

by Samragyee De

My name is Samragyee De, a rising senior at Hunter College High School. I’ve probably been asked what I want to study in college or what I want to do with my life over a hundred times now, and if you asked me a few months ago, I would have answered you with a sorry-to-disappoint smile and say, “I have no idea.” Now, after six weeks working as part of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) at United Neighborhood Houses, I can say I'm interested in pursuing a career in public policy or political science.

As with all SYEP participants, it was a stroke of luck that I was chosen at all for the program, but it was chance that I even found this program at all.

I found out about SYEP the night before applications were due from my mom. Her colleague’s son entered some sort of a lottery called Summer Youth Employment Program and ended up getting a paid job at Marshall's that gave him work experience in his area of interest -- business.  In a rush of confusion and frenzy I stayed up until 2am that night filling out my forms for SYEP. About a month or so later, I received an email saying I had been chosen in the SYEP lottery, and had been placed into my first choice placement, United Neighborhood Houses. At this point, I had done my homework and found out more about this program. A trademark of SYEP is that regardless of academic or financial ability, race, gender, or sexuality, you can enter the lottery as long as you’re a New York City resident between the ages of 14-24.

As it turns out, one of my closest friends had taken part in SYEP for the past two years and highly recommended it. “Hopefully you’re getting a really cool job AND you’re getting paid so even if you don’t get a really cool job, you’re getting paid!!!” she had exclaimed to me. She, in fact, has aspirations of being a lawyer and SYEP has given her an opportunity to work in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office this summer.   

Seven weeks later, here I am at United Neighborhood Houses writing this blog post. SYEP has given me real life work experience, a sense of fiscal responsibility, and an opportunity to be professional and to network. I learned how to make my own savings account, how to withdraw money and how to allocate and save my salary. And that was only from the initial six-hour orientation.

I found this summer to be stimulating because I was matched to an internship in what now is my career interest. My wonderful supervisor Andy Bowen kept us engaged in work that was relevant and essential to what she was working on, while providing us with background and knowledge on how the  policy and advocacy world functions. I was allowed to sit in on meetings with executive directors and representatives of settlement houses, early child care providers, NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities), and other organizations, and later provide my thoughts and opinions about the issues at hand. I collected data by directly contacting organization leaders and directors and asking them specific questions about budget, enrollment for the year, and demographic breakdown.

Through this, I have found out so much more about my lifelong home of New York City and the countless people and organizations and seemingly endless list of abbreviations that exist to better the lives of everyone. This culminated in a trip to City Hall and 250 Broadway that Andy organized so my SYEP co-worker Florence and I could get more of an idea of what policy and advocacy entails. We were privileged to attend meetings with Dev Awasthi,
Deputy Chief of Staff for Councilmember Barry Grodenchik, the council member that represents the district and neighborhood I’m from, as well as Daniel Coates, Chief of Staff for Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.

Both meetings further affirmed my interest in the field of politics, public service and policy with both representatives not only encouraging me to act on my interests, but giving me concrete ways to get involved, even though I’m not even old enough to vote yet. Both meetings were particularly significant for me because the chief of staff for Councilman Grodenchik gave me insight into the issues and consequent improvements in the district and how I can get involved right at home. Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is truly an inspiration for me, being one of the most powerful people in the Council, despite the hindrances in her path to simply forging a career in politics, for simply being a woman of color, like myself.

I could probably go on and on about every single moment that inspired me during my short time at UNH, but this is a blog post, and I need to keep this to the length of a one-pager (some self explanatory policy lingo I picked up here.) SYEP was pivotal for me to realize my current interests and further them. I am so grateful to the city of New York and specifically, my supervisor Andy whose literal job is to advocate for increased funding for this program, for supporting this to give so many opportunities to youth all over the city in a way that is not only non-discriminatory in design, but also meant to actively engage and inspire them.

Emily Menlo Marks Scholarship

Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Congratulations to our Fall 2016 Emily Menlo Marks scholarship recipients! This scholarship is named after our esteemed former Executive Director, and gives settlement house employees a hand in affording furthering their education. We are so proud of all of them and wish them the best!

Settlement House Name Title Earning School
Chinese American Planning Council Xiu Ying (Susan) Zheng Medicaid Service Coordinator MSW  Columbia
Cypress Hills Local Development Corp. Finola Burton Program Director Associates, Liberal Arts  Queens Community College
Denise Taveras Assistant Teacher Masters, TESOL  Boricua College
Elizabeth Rubio Group Teacher Masters, Special Education Birth to 2  Queens College
Thameshwarie Sandrena Ramrattan Program Director Masters in Early in Education and Special Education  Touro College
Educational Alliance Ilana Karpel Director of Elementary School Programming  MSW, Clinical Social Work  Columbia
Ming Lai Program Coordinator Career Development, Accounting  NYU
Goddard Riverside Amoya Uter Case Manager MSW, Social Work  Hunter
Trokom Moore Housing Outreach Specialist MSW  Hunter
Monica Ortiz Data and Special Projects Manager Coaching for Transformation certification  Leadership that Works
Hamilton Madison House Millicent Murph Group teacher Masters in Education  City College
Henry Street Isidro Fortuna College Access Counselor MSW, Organizational Management and Leadership  Hunter
Rona Bender Senior Administrative Assistant Bachelor, Social Work  Mercy College
Vanessa Rosa Bilingual Case Manager MSW Touro College
LaGene Wright Administrative Assistant Supervisor  Bachelor, Social Welfare City College
Hudson Guild Billy Rivera Assistant Teacher Associates, Early Childhood Education  Manhattan Community College
Jose Manzano Beacon Coordinator MSW Hunter
Kingsbridge Heights Alyssa Lenihan Teen Educational Coordinator MSW, Social Work  Fordham
Lenox Hill Tanea Pugh Intake Manager Bachelor of Science and Nursing, undeclared Hunter
Samantha Chau Assistant Teacher Masters, Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education NYU
Judy Sanchez Science and Math Coordinator Masters, Early Childhood Leadership Bank Street: Graduate School of Education
New Settlement Alendi Vidal Senior Educational Counselor MSW, Organizational Management and Leadership  Hunter
St. Nicks Walkiris Ynoa Accounts Recievable/Bookkeeper Clerk Bachelor, Business Management - Accounting Brooklyn College
Clarice White Accounts Recievable/Payable Clerk Certification in Bookkeeping, Part I/II  NYU
Josephine Huan Yu Liang Resident Service Coordinator Bachelor, Health and Nutrition Sciences Brooklyn College
Rick Martinez Program Director Associates, Business Empire State
Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers Jessica Liriano Administrative Assistant Associates, Human Services  Bronx Community College
Shorefront Y Katherine Kehs Head Counselor, Special Needs Program  Bachelors (with ongoing metriculation for Masters), Health Science Touro College
University Settlement Yuan Yuan Qi Family Child Specialist  Special Need Education Extension, Non-Metriculated Program, Special Need Education Birth-Grade 2 Touro College
Jun Zhao Family Child Specialist  non-degree, Family Therapy Ackerman Institute for the Family
The Door Omandra Zamora Career Advancement Coach MSW, Community Organizing, Planning and Development Hunter

UNH's Settlement House Crawl

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A live palm tree grows inside the building. Its roots push down past the linoleum floor toward a basement level that serves as a work site for teen health services, urban farming projects for youth and older adults, and immigration organizing. The green palm leaves fan out towards ceiling windows, allowing sunlight into two stories of classrooms for 2- through 5-year-olds. We have arrived at United Community Centers (UCC), the first stop in this year’s UNH Settlement House Crawl.


Coordinated and run by UNH Development Associate Erica Basco, the Settlement House Crawl held in May presented an opportunity for UNH Board members and staff to witness firsthand what happens inside two distinct UNH settlement houses: UCC in East New York and St. Nick’s Alliance in North Brooklyn.

They’re both settlement houses in the same way a palm tree and, say, a balsam fir are both trees. Both organizations share the same defining characteristics: they’re both community-based multi-service organizations committed to building community and improving the lives of individuals and families in need. But like any living thing, a settlement house takes root and grows in response to its environment. And the settlement houses we saw on this Crawl were definitely rooted in two very different places, each with its own history and cultural landscape.

Today, she says, the neighborhood continues to face its challenges. She speaks of children whose parents and grandparents are not in a good position to provide for them. “They get their love from the streets,” she says. In response, UCC provides a range of services to care for the neighborhood children. This love was visible in their classrooms. The pre-schoolers I met kindly offered to share their toys with me and excitedly answered my questions about their projects. “We’re baking a cake,” explained a pair of boys working fastidiously with pots and pans in a sandbox, “and we’re putting in lots of sprinkles.” They point to the rows of small plastic sandwich bags, each housing a bright green seedling sprouting from seeds nurtured in moistened wads of cotton. Each boy is eager to show me their work, their voices brimming with pride as they shout, “That one’s mine!”

At UCC, Executive Director Ana Aguirre sat with us and offered an insightful and personal account into the history of UCC and its roots in mid-1950’s East New York. As the first community based organization in New York City funded and run by tenants in NYCHA facilities, UCC has seen a lot of changes. Ana shares stories of her early days with the organization in the early 90’s when the neighborhood trees would often be spotted with its knot-holes filled with cement in an effort by police to curb the exchange of drugs by filling these  covert deposit and pick-up points for dealers and their clientele.  “One month after I first started working here in the 90’s, my car was stolen,” Ana told us in describing her relationship with the neighborhood. “They didn’t know it was my car,” she said. But as the neighbors began to recognize her and the services that her organization was providing for their community, she no longer had any problems driving a car into the neighborhood. “After they know it’s my car, I don’t have a problem.”


As our group is led outside UCC, we see a mural spanning an entire wall of the organization’s two-story building; in the mural, residents of all ages are gathered in a garden beneath a banner that reads: East NY Farms! Ana tells us that East New York is home to the largest concentration of gardens in New York City, as she opens the chain-link gate to welcome us into a vast plot of land about half a city block in size. Small garden beds lie side by side. Nearby, the 2 train pulls into the New Lots station on elevated tracks overlooking the neighboring houses and businesses. The land serves as a site for a non-traditional senior-center, a paid internship site for teens, an environmental sciences classroom for middle school students, the home of three active beehives, and a local food-source. “It’s not just science or gardening,” Ana says, “it’s a social space.”

Unlike our tour of UCC, which was localized to a single site, our tour of St. Nick’s Alliance took us through different regions of North Brooklyn, as Executive Director Michael Rochford provided an overview of how St. Nick’s Alliance has developed. Mr. Rochford accompanied us in our van as we traveled on a route from East New York toward the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area.  We pass by a workforce development center, three different community centers, and supportive/affordable housing facilities before reaching a building that houses both a senior center and an early childhood education center – all part of St. Nick’s Alliance. Michael speaks about each site as if speaking about an old friend, each with their own story and personality.


Central to the history of East Williamsburg is the migration of individuals and families from various regions of the globe. Michael says, “You get a sense of the demographic change just by comparing the first floor (the senior center) and the second and third floors (the early childhood education classrooms).” Sure enough, most of the participants in the organization’s senior center reflect the neighborhood’s role as a site where Jewish and Italian newcomers first settled into the U.S. Upstairs, the many Latino and black students exemplify more recent demographic shifts in the North Brooklyn community. Children upstairs greet us with songs. The community residents in the senior center smile at us and welcome us warmly. On all floors, meals were shared and eaten family-style.

As we ate the lunch they graciously provided, Youth and Education Division Director Debra Sue Lorenzen gave a presentation of the many literacy programs for young children and teens, which were all part of Nabe 3.0, an initiative that integrates St. Nick’s services in housing, employment and education through one-on-one coaching for residents of North Brooklyn. Many of the programs aiming to foster student achievement rely on what are known as “transformational coaches” - social workers who work individual with students who are experiencing any number of barriers that are affecting their school attendance and academic performance. Services can include case management, family supports, advocacy, tutoring, and individual and group counseling As a result, people from parents to teachers to social workers are drawn into St. Nick’s Alliance and lives are, indeed, transformed.

Sometimes the services come directly to the people, as they do through the BK Story Voyager, which we on the Crawl had a chance to check out. On the outside, it looked like a very hip purple bus. Our jaws dropped as we stepped inside. More colorful and interactive than any library I saw growing up, the BK Story Voyager featured a range of books from Dr. Seuss to Suzanne Collins, as well as touchscreens and headphones for interactive learning games. This mobile book-lending program in a purple bus may not resemble the libraries that provided the first settlement house programs in the late 1800’s, but they share the same tradition of collaborating with children and families to strengthen their neighborhood, one story at a time.


As we left each settlement house, the executive directors made sure we received gifts reminding us of the communities we visited. Among the items they gave were a cookbook from UCC which showcased recipes from community residents using ingredients grown in UCC urban gardens and a beautiful BK Story Voyager mug and spoon set from St. Nick’s Alliance. Both belong in my kitchen in their own unique way.

And both UCC and St. Nick’s Alliance belong to a rich history of settlement houses, building community in their own way.

For more photos, click here!


Letter from UNH to Member Organizations

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
June 15, 2016

Dear Settlement House Staff,

We at UNH were and remain horrified by the attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando over the weekend. UNH condemns the violence and hatred that fueled this tragedy and which members of the LGBTQ community, especially LGBTQ people of color, often face. We remember those killed in Orlando and elsewhere and share in the nation’s pain and grief.

As we try to process this event we take some solace in knowing that settlement houses are in our communities. You advocate for vulnerable populations, including our LGBTQ, immigrant, Latin-American, and Muslim neighbors most affected by these events. Settlement houses participate in anti-hate marches, hold sexual health workshops and counseling, and run senior centers for gay older adults. You provide English classes, job training, and legal services for immigrants. You lead youth in advocating against gun violence, hold mediation sessions, and stand up for an inclusive New York City and nation in many ways including a statement against Islamophobia.

As neighbors we are bound to one another by proximity, but through settlement houses we are bound by community. Thank you, settlement house staff, for the work you do every day. We are here for you and continue to support you.

On behalf of the staff at United Neighborhood Houses,

Susan Stamler

Statement from Susan Stamler, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses On Mayor de Blasio’s FY 2017 Executive Budget

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mayor de Blasio’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Executive Budget proposed several important and necessary investments in key services throughout New York City. However, the Budget proposal fails to adequately address critical challenges facing New York City’s low-income communities in the areas of summer programs, adult literacy, youth employment, and early childhood education. 

Important Investments

United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) applauds Mayor de Blasio for making a much needed investment in Beacon Community Centers, which Mayor Dinkins brought to New York City in 1991 as part of his Safe Streets / Safe Cities Initiative. Despite the significant and expanding work performed in Beacon Community Centers, funding has been largely stagnant and is actually lower than it was in the 1990s,  forcing many Beacon Community Centers to scale back their programs and services at a time of growing community need. Today’s proposal corrects this longstanding shortfall and will help Beacon Community Centers offer improved services for multiple generations of New Yorkers.

UNH also commends the increase in funding for case manager salaries in programs funded by the Department for the Aging (DFTA). This investment will help community based providers retain and train hardworking case managers in order to cultivate a skilled workforce that can address the City’s elder care needs. 

Areas in Need of Correction

Summer Programs

UNH is extremely disappointed that the Executive Budget proposes ending summer programming for more than 31,000 middle school students. Without these programs, young people will not have a safe and stimulating place to learn when school is out, and working parents will be hard pressed to find an affordable option for their middle school children. The Mayor must not wait until the Adopted Budget in late June to restore programs that start only days after the Budget is passed, and must act immediately to prevent this cut from impacting 31,000 New York City children.

Adult Literacy

The Executive Budget fails to restore critical adult literacy programming for thousands of New Yorkers who lost services last year, and misses an opportunity to capitalize on the talent and potential of immigrant New Yorkers. English language proficiency and other services provided by adult literacy programs are essential to help New Yorkers integrate in their communities and find better and higher paying jobs. In order to address a growing gap in services, the Adopted Budget must commit $16 million for community-based adult literacy programs to ensure families and hardworking New Yorkers have an opportunity to fully engage in the civic and economic opportunities of the City.

Youth Employment

More than 130,000 young people apply every year for jobs through Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and more than half are turned away. Regrettably, the Mayor’s Executive Budget makes no further investment in youth employment programs such as SYEP and Work Learn & Grow (WLG). UNH urges City leaders to invest in expanded employment opportunities for young people in this year’s budget.  Last year, SYEP provided summer jobs to 54,263 youth ages 14-24 in New York City while Work, Learn & Grow was successfully piloted, providing 6,400 paid jobs during the school year for SYEP participants.   UNH urges City leaders to use this budget to invest in the youth workforce, both through SYEP and Work, Learn & Grow.

Early Childhood Education

While the City has begun to make strides to correct many longstanding inequities in the human services workforce, there remains a crisis in the City’s early childhood education system. Educators, staff and directors in community based early childhood programs are paid far less than their counterparts in public schools, forcing many educators to choose between the work they love and making ends meet. The City must use this year’s budget process to address this longstanding inequity and finally achieve salary parity for the early childhood workforce.   

UNH looks forward to working with both the Administration and the City Council to forge a budget that will truly achieve the important work of reducing inequality and strengthening New York City’s neighborhoods.



Lynn Appelbaum on Settlement House History and Future

Thursday, April 14, 2016

by Lynn Appelbaum

Good things happen when people come together to think, share ideas and questions, solve problems, create, learn and explore new opportunities, play, provide comfort and advice, and celebrate progress and achievement. These good things happen every day at settlement houses and at United Neighborhood Houses. We are places of community, opportunity and learning.

I’m sure there’s no better way to change the world for the good than to be part of a community and a place that provides support, brings neighbors together, helps people learn and encourages them to develop connections, skills, and a sense of confidence. That’s why I am so committed to settlement house work. It’s why I am so honored and humbled to have been part of the UNH family for more than 20 years. And, it’s why I’m so excited and privileged to have the opportunity to join the staff of UNH and work with my colleagues here, our Board, and with staff at all levels across the UNH network, to strengthen New York by strengthening New Yorkers.

I was convinced of the benefits of the settlement house approach long before my first day at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House back in 1994. That conviction grew each day through the work I was so fortunate to do on the staff at Lenox Hill and then Educational Alliance and through Board service at Moshulu-Montefiore Community Center. But my settlement house connection goes back a century.

About 100 years ago my grandmother, my father’s mother, was in elementary school. She was the first of her family to be born in the United States. Her mother didn’t speak English. Her father had died. And every day, after school, she went to her neighborhood settlement house (University Settlement) because she and her mother knew that was where she would be safe, where people cared about her, and where she would learn. Several decades later, my grandfather, my mother’s father, was working at Hudson Guild and on the Board at Educational Alliance. Soon after that my mother’s maternal aunt began work at UNH. Settlement houses are in my heart and in my DNA.

I’m so excited to deepen and expand the work UNH does to provide professional development, peer learning and to promote and share the many innovative, exciting, successful programs our members offer. We’re going to keep doing what works in bringing people together in formal and informal settings to learn and share ideas and we’re going to find new ways, based on the suggestions and requests of settlement house staff across the City, to capitalize on the expertise and dedication of staff in member organizations. It’s going to be fun and it’s going to make a difference. And we’re going to do it together. So please let me know your ideas and requests!



Love Blooms at UNH Emerging Leaders Program

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Alissa Tyghter, 30, is a Residence Director at UNH member agency Bronxworks, and Justin Gerald, 29, manages the adult education department at a different UNH member agency – Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. One year ago, on April 1, 2015, they met during UNH’s Baruch Emerging Leaders professional development program. On April 1, 2016, they’ll be married.

The program, supported by the Pinkerton Foundation and the Barker Welfare Foundation, aims to engage key staff members from UNH member agencies to strengthen their leadership skills and develop management tools. Participants complete 13 sessions and earn a certificate in nonprofit agency leadership.

Justin and Alissa may have been brought together by their work with settlement houses, but they first bonded over a shared love of running. Alissa remembers Justin being very bright, inquisitive, and prepared for the class. Justin remembers thinking Alissa couldn’t possibly be single. She was, and after using the class contact sheet to email her, Justin asked Alissa out for brunch. They’ve been together ever since.

Alissa said she isn’t surprised she ended up falling in love with a fellow settlement house employee. “I always wanted to meet someone through work so they understand the day to day stuff that occurs in social services,” she said.

Justin agreed. “It helps to have a partner who is doing the same or similar things because it gives me the confidence to follow what I believe in,” he said.

Justin proposed, after only four months, in Central Park where they went on one of their first dates.

While Alissa said she enjoyed the Emerging Leaders Program, it’s understandable that meeting Justin was the best part. “The program brings together a lot of likeminded people with similar personalities and aspirations so it was overall a good experience, but certainly to meet him was amazing,” she said.

Maybe the topics covered in the UNH Baruch Program, like budgeting, teambuilding, and communication, will help this fabulous couple in their marriage. We at UNH wish Justin and Alissa all the best for a lifetime of happiness.

Justin Gerald participates in a final project at the UNH Baruch Emerging Leaders Program

Justin and Alissa get their diplomas with former UNH Executive Director Nancy Wackstein