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‘We Are a Casita Family.’ In the Bronx, an Education Center Provides a 2nd Home

Posted on January 22, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Read the Powerful Story about This Catholic Charities Affiliate Here and in the New York Times

Noah, 6, knelt on a chair, hunching over a sheet of pale blue construction paper. Brown crayon in hand, he frowned in concentration as he drew stick figures and wobbly shapes, writes New York Times reporter Sheli Paige Frank in this Neediest Cases Campaign story published in the Sunday, January 27, 2017 New York Times.

His sister, Skyler, 3, bumped into elbows and chattered as she ran around the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education in the South Bronx. When she climbed up beside Noah, he scooted over to make room, never looking up from his picture.

“Noah’s lovable. Always smiling, always dancing, always hugging,” their mother, Rosemary Cruz, 36, said on a recent afternoon at the center. “He loves to give big hugs. Right, Noah?”

Noah dropped his crayon, scrambled off his chair, and in two leaps landed in his mother’s lap. They wrapped their arms around each other tightly, and Noah beamed, revealing a prominent underbite, a physical sign of his disabilities.

For Ms. Cruz and her children (she has four), the Casita Maria Center, an 85-year-old charitable organization for the local Latino community, is like a second home. In fact, it has been a part of Ms. Cruz’s life since she was a teenager.

Most afterschool programs focus on homework help, games and babysitting. Founded 85 years ago as the first charitable organization to serve the Hispanic Community in New York City, Casita Maria, an affiliate of Catholic Charities NY, instead focuses on providing children with high-end arts experiences in nearly all forms, from dance to music to poetry and food. 

This arts education enables children and families like the Cruz family to not just survive the streets but thrive.  As with most people exposed intimately to the arts, the experience allows students to feel confident and converse fluently with those from more privileged backgrounds.  More important, it inspires them to creatively expand their horizons

As Noah grew, Ms. Cruz noticed some unusual symptoms when he tried to speak…

She took him to see several doctors; by his third birthday, he had regular speech and occupational therapy appointments, while she continued to try to find specialists who could help…

From Noah’s teachers, she learns what exercises, sounds and words he is struggling with, then works with him on those lessons at home.

Money is tight but thanks to Casita Maria’s affiliation with Catholic Charities NY, the agency was able to use Neediest Cases funds to buy educational toys for Noah and Skyler, and winter coats, gloves and boots for their older brother and sister.

 “If we work together I know that eventually he’ll go above and beyond,” Ms. Cruz said. “We are a Casita family,” Ms. Cruz said. “I want my children to finish college and get a career. If that’s not what they want to do, then I want them to do something that they love.”

Read the full story of this “Casita Maria family” in The New York Times