Places that Matter

United Bronx Parents

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Elena Martinez
Elena Martinez
Elena Martínez
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. López Antonetty 2011
Social service provider and advocate since 1965
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By Elena Martínez

Founded in 1965, United Bronx Parents, now part of the Acacia Network, is an on-going and important example of the myriad community-based organizations that formed to stem a wave of social problems then engulfing Bronx families and communities.
 
In the 1960s and 1970s, many voluntary and non-profit community-based groups coalesced in the South Bronx in response to problems then characterized by the term "urban crisis." The crisis was caused and worsened by a complex web 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 are two examples of well-known organizations founded in that era that continue to serve local residents and businesses.
 
Dr. Evelina López Antonetty and her daughter Lorraine Montenegro founded United Bronx Parents (UBP) in 1965. López Antonetty, who migrated from Puerto Rico in 1933, and Montenegro, a Bronx native, formed the organization as United Friends and Neighbors of the Bronx at 645 Union Avenue; a year later they were incorporated as United Bronx Parents (UBP). López Antonetty, who was raised in a family of activist women, founded the organization 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 López 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. López Antonetty did not limit her efforts to the Bronx, and her work was respected by kindred leaders and organizations throughout the city.
 
UBP sought a comprehensive approach to reform in the Bronx. In addition to its educational work, the organization started a bilingual day care center, adult education program, youth leadership program, summer lunch program, and an AIDS outreach and education program. In 1979, López Antonetty took over an abandoned, city-owned one-story former Head Start building on Prospect Avenue. “La Escuelita,” which the organization later purchased, would serve as UBP’s headquarters for the next thirty-six years. In 1990, UBP opened La Casita--a residential treatment program for homeless women suffering from substance abuse. What made La Casita unique was that 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.
 
López Antonetty passed away in 1984 and Montenegro, her daughter, became the executive director. Under Montenegro's thirty-year leadership, UBP grew from a small organization to one of the South Bronx's largest non-profits, with over two hundred employees and eight facilities located across five sites in 2012. In addition to La Casita, a sister site, La Casita II, was established in 1991 as a twelve-unit permanent supportive residence open to those who complete the La Casita program. In 2011, UBP joined the Acacia Network—an integrated health and housing programs network serving Latino communities. Montenegro remained at UBP’s helm until 2014, continuing to provide a variety of social service and treatment programs to low-income people in its area. UBP’s Casita Esperanza 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. 
 
In 2015, La Escuelita was demolished to make way for the Lorraine Montenegro Women & Children’s Residence, a five-story residential facility serving forty homeless women and fifty-six children that was dedicated in the summer of 2017. Sadly, in October 2017, Lorraine Montenegro passed away in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. More than fifty years after it was founded, UBP is still helping its clients to face obstacles with dignity, now through Acacia. Montenegro's legacy of devotion to neighbors and community-building lives on in the myriad culturally-sensitive programs and services that she and Lopez Antonetty estabalisted, and the many Bronx residents whose lives they touched. 

Sources:

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

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

[Posted, Apr.2008]

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