Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education’s mission is to empower youth and their families by creating a culture of learning through high quality social, cultural, and educational opportunities.
We are one of the few organizations in the South Bronx that welcomes kids at the age of six and stays with them until college while providing family learning through the arts. We are also different in the plurality of ways in which we can attract community members to utilize our services. Our students introduce their parents to our cultural programs, while our public programs guide parents to our wide ranging education programs. Our work pervades the community, and our positive influence pervades the generations.
There is No Place Like Casita
Over the last 80 years, we’ve moved, we’ve grown, and we’ve deepened our programs, but at heart we’re still the same organization that Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan (cousins of the television pioneer Ed Sullivan) willed into life in 1934. Working from a small East Harlem apartment, Casita Maria’s goal back then was to give the children of recently arrived Hispanic families the educational support needed to thrive in their new homeland—the young could lead their parents and their community to full participation in the American Dream.
Casita Maria moved to the South Bronx from East Harlem in 1961, and like so many of the changes we have made, we moved to better serve our community. At the time of the move we were offering programs similar to those created by our founders, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers gained vital skills and were offered essential services through our work. Even during one of the darkest periods in our community’s history, Casita Maria stayed and served. As the “Bronx Burned” in the 1970’s, Casita Maria was an island of safety and a route out of poverty. Throughout these years we expanded our programs to include homeless services, drug rehabilitation, violence prevention, gang intervention, teen pregnancy prevention,and many other services. When people look back to this time, Casita Maria is credited with protecting many thousands of vulnerable children and adults.
Today the need for our work remains as acute as it was when we were first formed and, as a result of a remarkable public/private partnership with the New York City Department of Education, in October 2009 we opened a wonderful 90,000 sq. ft. facility, shared with a New York City public 6-12 grade school, to better meet these needs. Our current programs are focused on arts and education, and they include a wide range of in-school and after-school programs, as well as summer camps and internships. Since moving into the new building we have increased the number of students in our education programs from about 300 to over 1,400. We have also utilized the theatre, gallery, studios, rehearsal rooms, and other spaces of our new home to launch a range of arts and other public programs that even a few years ago could not have been imagined, including exhibitions, concerts, an Artist in Residence program in partnership with Residency Unlimited and a Company in Residence program in partnership with Dancing in the Streets.
At Casita Maria, we are proud of the organization’s long history of achievement and the positive impact we have had on the lives of many thousands of people. We frequently hear reports from former “Casita Kids”—who include Tito Puente, Dave Valentin, Rita Moreno, and Tina Ramirez, the founder of Ballet Hispanico—stating that it was our programs that supported them during their early years and gave them the tools to succeed. Local cops say we kept them on the “straight and narrow” when they were young and living in the neighborhood. Civic and business leaders acknowledge the difference their time with Casita made. Like our founders, we are still committed to helping the members of our community achieve the American Dream.