Places that Matter

United Bronx Parents

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Elena Martinez
Elena Martinez
Elena Martinez
TATS Cru, a Hunts Point-based aerosol artist collective, working on a mural of Dr.Antonetty on UBP's La Escuelita building, 2011
Completed TATS Cru mural of Dr. Antonetty 2011
Social service provider and advocate since 1965
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By Elena Martinez

United Bronx Parents is an on-going and important example of the community-based groups that formed in the 1960s and 1970s to stem a wave of social problems then engulfing their families and communities.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many voluntary and non-profit community-based groups formed in the South Bronx in response to problems then characterized by the term "urban crisis." The crisis was caused and worsened by a complex of interrelated factors, including a region-wide loss of manufacturing jobs, private abandonment of property, public abdication of social and municipal services, widespread racial prejudice that diminished opportunities for new residents of color, and a welter of poverty-related social problems. SEBCO (Southeast Bronx Community Organization), formed by Father Gigante, and Banana Kelly were two examples of well-known groups founded in that era that still continue to serve local residents and businesses.

United Bronx Parents (UBP) is another such group. It was founded in 1965 (under the name United Friends and Neighbors of the Bronx) and incorporated the following year. The founders were Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty, who migrated from Puerto Rico in 1933, and her daughter Lorraine Montenegro, a Bronx native. The new organization's first address was 645 Union Ave. An activist, Lopez Antonetty founded the group to fight for better education for Latino and African-American students. The city's public schools were failing miserably to educate students of color. UBP and a number of other groups around the city mounted an extensive campaign to secure educational reform and train parents to take leadership roles in local education. People called Lopez Antonetty the “Hell Lady of the Bronx” because she was so outspoken, particularly when it came to letting politicians know what issues were important to her fellow community members. She did not restrict her efforts to the Bronx, and like-minded groups throughout the city respected her work.

UBP sought a comprehensive approach to reform in the Bronx. In addition to its educational work, it started a bilingual day care center, adult education program, youth leadership program, summer lunch program, and an AIDS outreach and education program. In 1990, UBP opened La Casita--a residential treatment program for homeless substance-abusing women. What made La Casita unique was that the patients could bring their children with them, helping families to stay intact while the mothers sought treatment. Other centers in New York and elsewhere have looked to La Casita as a model.

Evelina passed away in 1984 and Lorraine became the executive director. Under Montenegro's leadership, UBP has gone from a small organization to one of the South Bronx's largest non-profits with over 200 employees. As of 2012, UBP maintains eight facilities across five sites in the South Bronx, including La Casita and La Casita II, which was established in 1991 as a twelve-unit permanent supportive residence open to those who complete the La Casita program. UBP continues to provide a variety of social service and treatment programs to low-income people in its area. Casita Esperanze offers services to HIV positive active substance abusers, and La Casa de Salud offers primary care and dental services. While conditions in its section of the Bronx have improved in recent years, the challenges are still formidable, with drug-related death and HIV rates, for example, soaring over those in other parts of the city. However, almost fifty years after it was founded, UBP is still helping its clients to face these obstacles with dignity. 

Sources:

Interview with Lorraine Montenegro by Elena Martinez for Place Matters, Mar. 2008.

Finding Aid, Lopez Antonetty Collection, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College.

[Posted, Apr.2008]

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