Vision Urbana, Inc. (VU) was founded in 1993 as a faith-based initiative of the Primitive Christian Church, a long standing institution in the Lower East Side (LES) with a 60 year history of service, led by well-respected community leaders such as the current Senior Pastor Dr. Marcos Rivera, who is widely esteemed by local faith and political leaders, who currently sits on the NYCHA Faith based Advisory board and sits as the Chair for Vision Urbana, Inc. VU was Incorporated in 1996 as an independent NYS nonprofit and a federally tax exempt 501c3 organization. Since 1998, Vision Urbana has successfully operated a range of programs that help hundreds of low-income and economically distressed seniors, families and at-risk youth annually in the Lower East Side. These programs address issues of youth violence, poor educational attainment, lack of employment, health disparities and mental health, and the need for social and recreational activities, as well as mentorship, parent/family counseling, and youth leadership development. After spending more than ten years providing after school programming from 2000 to 2010 at Corlears Middle School (formerly JHS 56 located between two NYCHA public housing developments on the Lower East Side- the La Guardia Houses, and serving approximately 150 6th – 8th graders annually, Vision Urbana expanded its services to reach hundreds more teens after the tragic death of 16 year-old Raphael Sadonte Ward. In 2013, Vision Urbana, Inc. founded a unique and culturally sensitive mentorship program in honor of Sadonte Ward and tailored to the immediate minority population of the LES called the Empire Mentorship Initiative.
A significant part of VU programming over the last five years has been services to our seniors including immigrants who require a holistic approach. In 2012, Vision Urbana created its Healthy Living Initiative in collaboration with the Latino Commission on AIDs, to meet the growing demand for prevention and treatment information in our community, to confront the shocking reality of the serious health disparities faced by minority families and older adults. We have provided health education services, and bilingual culturally competent workshops conducted by health and mental health professionals to well over a thousand participants. The VU Golden Age Program has provided seniors and their families with quality case management services and culturally and linguistically relevant programs since 2000. The VU case management program serves families and older adults with assistance to access entitlements and benefits, emergency services, and navigate the increasingly complex health care and other support systems. Intergenerational programming with youth from our youth development and mentoring programs creates an environment that fosters community and builds bridges between seniors and youth.
VU is a grassroots organization that has focused on the needs of the LES / CB#3 community for all of its almost 25 years of existence. We are linguistically and culturally competent with strong ties to this neighborhood and especially its community organizations, local businesses, churches and other religious groups. Over its existence VU has been an epicenter of activity for the many very grassroots efforts to assist families whether it is case management, dealing with abuse cases, providing food through our Pantry program, and/or sanctuary for youth that have arrived to this city with no adult supervision. In the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, VU served as the base of operation for immigrant families, particularly the undocumented that had lost loved ones that worked in the Twin Towers. VU provided in partnership with others, mental health and health services to these families. VU, along with the local and national religious community raised funds to help these families pay their rent and utility bills, buy clothing for their children to go to school, etc. VU also helped mobilize volunteers during the turbulent days of Hurricane Sandy providing food relief, charging ports and an information hub.
Vision Urbana’s mission is realized through our partnerships with local NYCHA tenant associations and in particular the Seward Park Development Tenant Association located on 66 Essex Street New York, NY 10002, a development where over 450 families live within the Chinatown neighborhood of Community Board 3 (CB3) on the Lower East Side that according to NYC Planning Department data is one of the poorest communities within the 1.7 mile long CB3 District (41.% of total households live below $24,999 annual income). VU has been working with the Seward Park tenants, largely Latino with a growing Asian population, for over a decade in addressing their main issues which includes lack of services for their seniors, the need for additional food resources and access to healthy living and nutritional training as a greater number of seniors on fixed incomes are dealing with chronic diseases such as Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease and Asthma. As a local and faithful CBO partner, Vision Urbana has committed weekly and monthly health services free to residents which include a chronic disease self-management series, weekly senior health & wellness programming, and senior monthly healthy living forums to empower and better manage their health. As a result, VU decided to work with the tenants to create the Seward Park development’s first ever food pantry program on site at 66 Essex Street alongside their staunch advocate and TA President Carmen Orta, also a Latino senior citizen who has served as resident for more than 35 years. Collectively engaging the help of local City Council member Margaret Chin, Chair of the Council on Aging Committee, the food pantry received approval from the NYC Food Collaborative and from NYCHA headquarters.