BronxWorks is a human service organization and settlement house based in New York City’s Bronx borough that was founded as Citizens Advice Bureau in the Morris Heights section in 1972. The founders, social worker Mildred Zucker of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and a group of local clergy, elected officials, and community advocates, initially modeled the organization on a similar agency in the United Kingdom, in which walk-in offices were established in every county to assist residents on queries about housing–related matters, consumer issues, entitlements, and other topics.
BronxWorks’ initial focus was on working with seniors to resolve housing and entitlements issues. The two-person office mediated rent disputes between tenants and landlords, helped seniors obtain needed apartment repairs, and negotiated the complex Social Security bureaucracy to enable seniors to secure payments. Throughout the 1970s, BronxWorks expanded its scope of services, creating the first minor home repair program for seniors in 1975. This program became a model for minor home repair services for all adults, with other organizations setting up similar programs in each of New York City’s five boroughs.
BronxWorks continued to expand in the 1980s, opening an office in the Bedford Park section of the north central Bronx in 1984, adding services for immigrants and securing city government funding for HIV / AIDS education and prevention services in 1988, and beginning work with the homeless in 1989. In the 1980s, we also added three more walk-in offices in the Hunts Point neighborhood at Avenue St. John and one in the southwest Bronx at Townsend Avenue.
BronxWorks’ steady growth continued throughout the 1990s. An office was created to coordinate programs for seniors. Walk-in offices were opened in four South Bronx neighborhoods. HIV / AIDS services were expanded to include COBRA case management and SRO outreach. BronxWorks completed a merger with the Girls Club of New York in 1995, enabling the organization to secure a four-story, 38,000-square-foot (3,500 m2) building that now includes classrooms, a computer lab, gymnasium, pool, dining room, and childcare center.
BronxWorks joined United Neighborhood Houses (UNH), the umbrella organization for the city’s settlement house system, in 1992. This move enabled BronxWorks to expand its scope of children’s services and to play an active role in shaping service delivery at the policy level.
BronxWorks had assumed responsibility for three seniors’ centers by the end of the 1990s, in part spurred by the city’s effort to offer neighborhood services for older adults. The organization also greatly expanded its homeless services, creating a Homeless Outreach Team to engage the street homeless, the Living Room drop-in center to provide them with temporary help and permanent housing placements, and establishing two family shelters for homeless families.
BronxWorks’ involvement with the street homeless has received national attention. In 2000, Homeless Outreach Team staffers advised the Census Bureau on outreach techniques for engaging the street homeless in order to insure an accurate census count. In February 2007, the PBS public affairs program, NOW, featured a gentleman who had been homeless for years prior to obtaining help from BronxWorks’ Living Room and Homeless Outreach Team. In March 2008, Mr. Robert Hess, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Homelessness Services, told BronxWorks’ board of directors that the organization’s homeless street outreach efforts could be considered “the best in the country.”
To prevent homelessness, BronxWorks established the Homeless Prevention Program in 1992. Since that time, it has helped more than 20,000 low-income Bronx families avoid homelessness.
With the coming of the 21st century, BronxWorks has maintained steady growth. The walk-in offices have signed up thousands for health insurance, and a Food Stamp enrollment program has enabled Bronx residents to secure millions of dollars worth of benefits. The Workforce Development center, established in 1998, placed more than 5,000 low-income Bronx adults in jobs since the start of the decade.
A continuing concern of BronxWorks is the education of children and teenagers. After-school programs help children hone reading, writing, math, and technology skills, while our teen programs help older youth to learn job skills or prepare for college. These efforts are critical in Bronx communities characterized by high drop-out rates for middle and high school-aged youth.
BronxWorks’ Community School for Social Justice was opened in 2002 to help teens complete their education with smaller classes and more concentrated curricula, offering participants internships and college preparatory and advisory services. It has graduated more than 150 youth in its first three years, including 66 in June 2008. BronxWorks also in 2007 opened the Jill Chaifetz Transfer School, an alternative school with specialized programs and curricula for students who are over-aged and under-credited. BronxWorks’ Excel program for out of school youth provides them with job training and placements, GED classes, and computer skills training.
For younger children, an array of after-school programs is designed to whet their appetite for learning and to express their creativity through recently added music education and arts programs. BronxWorks’ Early Childhood Learning Center was so successful that the organization opened a second childcare center in 2007 to help pre-school children make the transfer to elementary school. In 2008, 1,195 students were participating in BronxWorks’ after school or summer camp programs at four Bronx public schools. Other programs interact with families to enhance parenting skills, find jobs, and resolve housing or entitlements matters.
Since 1998, BronxWorks’ Workforce Development program has placed over 5,000 low-income adults, the majority of whom have limited English proficiency or were on public assistance for five years or longer. BronxWorks is also one of six agencies participating in Opportunity NYC, set up by the Mayor Bloomberg's Commission on Economic Opportunity to offer cash rewards to low-income families who attain specific employment, education, and health milestones. BronxWorks enrolled 800 families in the program, who secured several thousands of dollars for achieving these milestones.
Reflecting the organization’s maturity and the need to anticipate future trends and demands on its services, BronxWorks developed a strategic plan in March 2008 to manage its growth, streamline operations, expand and diversify community service programs, and attract new funding. Implementation of the strategic plan is also expected to guide BronxWorks’ efforts to recruit staff and provide more opportunities for employees to advance their careers.
Eileen Torres was appointed the executive director on May 1, 2014. Torres served as interim executive director for almost one year prior to the new appointment. She succeeded Carolyn McLaughlin who headed BronxWorks from 1979 to 2013.
- "An Introduction to BronxWorks". HuntJobs. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- "Volunteers to scour Bronx next week to count homeless living in borough". NYDailyNews.com. 2010-06-15. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2012-06-29.
- "New leader for BronxWorks." Bronx Times Reporter, May 16th, 2014, p. 6.