The Power of US


Our CEO Melissa Aase writes: 

At University Settlement, we do a lot of different things, and I’m acutely aware that this can make us hard to understand.

We have programs for expecting mothers, and newborns, and children under five. We work with young people in after-school, and summer camp, and college prep. Every year more than 400 adults build English and civic literacy with us. We run the programming at community centers in the heart of three bustling neighborhoods, not to mention the spaces we operate for distinct communities of adults over 60. We engage our neighbors with dedicated mental health and art-making programs, while also weaving those resources into everything we do. And even as we provide direct services to address immediate needs, we connect our neighbors through civic engagement and to the fight for greater equality – pushing the needle of the possible while doing what needs to be done now.

We know we’re a lot. That’s why, when I write to you, I usually bring you close to the action, sharing perspectives and stories from our more than 30 programs.

Today, instead, I’d like to zoom out and give you a sense of our bigger picture – the strategy that justifies our sprawl.

In living systems, what happens when you bring people together can be hard to predict. But when you acknowledge the truth of complication, when you let things get a little messy, it can be like a chemical reaction, generating unexpected light and energy.

That’s why, in a world where human beings who contain multitudes are often crammed into one-size-fits-all solutions, University Settlement begins by honoring difference and insisting on the value of complexity.

This insight is at the heart of our approach, which we’ve honed on the Lower East Side for the last 135 years. It’s the spark that has made settlement houses effective engines for social reform for generations.  It’s the power of US.

And it sets us apart from many other non-profits. Organizations who depend on investment from governments and foundations are strongly incentivized to simplify, specialize, and define success on quick timeframes.

We take an alternate view. We know that human variety is infinite, human connection can create exponential value, and that engaging the full human complexity of our neighbors helps build stronger communities than transactional, short-term or single-discipline social services ever could.

That’s why we do what we do, in the way we do it. It’s why individual and communal self-determination are among our deepest core values, why listening is one of our most valued tools, and why we are hyper-focused on the neighborhoods where we operate. And it’s why we do so many different things as one organization – because doing so with teams who approach their work from a shared perspective, who are empowered and encouraged to connect the dots, makes everything we do more successful.

As we enter a season of gratitude, please know that we’re always grateful for you, our supporters who understand what complexity makes possible.

In the coming months, we’re looking forward to sharing more about how the powerful connections we create help us build community strength.

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