HARLEM—When Jocelyn Lambert was looking for a place to send her son to daycare in East Harlem, one name kept coming up — Union Settlement.
"Everyone talks about Union Settlement in this neighborhood," said Lambert, 31, as her seven-year-old son Zaire played in the background. "A lot of people who live in the area have worked here and they have so many programs like GED and summer camp."
It's hard to avoid Union Settlement's influence on East Harlem. The massive social service provider, which serves 13,000 low-income people at 17 sites, has been located on East 104th Street, between Second and Third avenues, since 1895.
Now, the block has officially been renamed Union Settlement Way to honor the agency's contributions to the neighborhood.
"Union Settlement has been a part of New York City history for over 100 yeas in a neighborhood that has undergone constant transition," said Comptroller John Liu. "Today's unveiling further cements that legacy."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also declared Tuesday Union Settlement Association Day.
The agency provides a multitude of services, including childcare, college preparation, home care and adult literacy classes. Union Settlement was founded by alumni, faculty and students of Union Theological Seminary to help new immigrants struggling to make it in America.
A year later, the group was serving 2,000 clients per month. In 1942, it started one of the first programs for the elderly in the city. In 1965, it started one of the first Head Start programs in the country.
Union Settlement Association Executive Director David Nocenti said the street was named Union Settlement Way as a homage to the holistic services the agency provides.
"You can't help the individual unless you know the family and you can't help the family unless you know the community," Nocenti said.
And the program gets results. Councilman Robert Jackson said he was an alumni of Union Settlement's college Upward Bound program in the 1970s.
Associate Executive Director Laura Johnson came to Union Settlement 40 years ago to help her niece transition to child care.
"I felt like I had gone to heaven because everyone was so wonderful there," said Johnson.
When Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito asked how many people gathered in the crowd had participated in a Union Settlement program, the majority of hands went up.
Matthew Washington, chair of Community Board 11 and a fourth generation East Harlem resident, said that the neighborhood wouldn't be the place that it is today without Union Settlement.
As the crowd walked to a reception at the El Sitio Feliz community garden, Washington recalled how it used to be a vacant lot before Union Settlement got a hold of it.
"I remember as a kid that this was a decrepit lot that people told you to stay away from," he said. "That's why Union Settlement is one of the places that defines East Harlem."