Concourse House Provides Artistic Sanctuary for Bronx Mothers

Concourse House is a transitional housing organization in the Bronx dedicated to helping women and their children who are facing homelessness FLICKR/COURTESY

By Grace Cardinal, Asst. News Editor

Concourse House is a transitional housing organization in the Bronx dedicated to helping women and their children who are facing homelessness. Concourse House goes above and beyond in their efforts to help mothers and their children by implementing art programs, including paid apprenticeships, allowing mothers to get back on their feet and find their creativity. 

Jess Rolls, arts program curator at Concourse, takes a hands-on approach in helping mothers feel at home in the house.

“I always say that it’s Concourse House, home for women and their children,” Rolls said. “The word home is often where I start in my program, and it’s sort of connecting arts with well being and self expression. I often ask that question, “what feels like a home to you?” 

Manhattan College student and art intern Jamie Robbins explained that Concourse is an important resource to have in NYC due to the high rent prices and unpredictability of the job market. 

“I feel like there’s a really big stigma around homelessness, where it’s like, ‘Oh, you don’t do anything’, but it’s not that,” said Robbins. “A lot of the moms there do have jobs. It’s just that housing is so expensive in New York and you literally miss one paycheck or you get laid off or something unfortunate happens, and then it’s ‘oh, now me and my kids have nowhere to go.’” 

Robbins explained why art is important to include in the transitional housing process. 

“If you’re dealing with a money crisis and thinking about where you’re going to sleep tonight, art gets put on the backburner,” said Robbins. “You’re not really thinking about art, if you’re thinking about ‘where’s my dinner coming from?’ I feel like that’s so nice to be able to, for at least an hour or two hours out of your day, just get to sit down and not think about that.”

Everyday at the Concourse House is different. The shelter runs a variety of programs for the mothers and children to make everyone feel at home in the space. 

“Honestly, I can’t describe a day because it changes every day,” Alanna Miacordero, MC student art intern, said. “We’re always doing different programs. As of recently, we’re doing a recipe book. So on Tuesdays, we’ve been bringing food for the kids, it’s usually a recipe from a mother or from Jess or from Adrianne. We explain what goes into it, we taste it and we draw it. We get everyone involved.” 

One of the biggest programs Concourse House has started is the Mother Apprenticeship Program. Started by Concourse House art curator Jess Rolls in 2020, the apprenticeship allows mothers to learn how programs at the house are put together and gives them teaching opportunities. The program is paid, an added bonus for the mothers involved.  

“We now have two apprentices currently working with me, one of which is Miss Justine Warren,” Rolls said. “She’s just recently transitioned out of the shelter, she’s managed to find a home. She’s 19 years old, and we work together on lots of funding grants. She’s won a couple, and it’s really cool for the mothers to see her having successfully found a new home, but she still has her foot in here to support and mentor and guide.”

Miacordero explained that art is a powerful tool in helping the mothers open up. 

“I’ve seen a lot of mothers open up about their situations,” Miacordero said. “My outlet with the mothers is always through music because that’s another form of art I feel that is a really big thing that Bronx Community shares. I remember specifically this one time, I had a mother who looked just like Solange and I was playing Solange, we’re talking about it and she had gone deep into her life and her own struggles…I feel like art opens up this gateway into a welcoming and accepting space to be able to talk, to be vulnerable, to be yourself and to be able to open up with things you struggle with and most of all, accept help.” 

Robbins explained that this experience has altered what she originally hoped to do with her future. 

“I first came to college as like a biology major, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that, but then I took this religion class, and I was like, okay, I don’t really want to be on the biology side of things, I’d rather be on like the helping side,” Robbins said. “There are just so many environmental disparities that affect only people of color and that’s something that we don’t really talk about at all. So that’s something I really want to go into, kind of exposing all these subliminal things that are happening to immigrants and people of color.”

Robbins said that while the job takes a lot of work, she feels it is rewarding. 

“It’s definitely like a lot of work,” said Robbins. “But whenever I leave, I always have a smile on my face. I always feel good. I always feel like moms can come to me and talk to me about whatever they want to talk about. And it just puts life in perspective. I really get to see how fortunate I am to be able to go to college and not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from.”

Miacordero explained that she notices the impact of the house’s work every single day. 

“I think what we often neglect to understand about women in these situations is that they’re always missing a part of themselves and a part of a home that they no longer have,” Miacordero said. “Being able to see that there’s people trying to help the community is one of the best things about this job and knowing that you’re making a difference every single time you step into the art room, every single time you’re in a meeting with a museum trying to partner and get them to come to the to the Concourse House to teach these women how to make pottery or how to like crochet or whatever it is. The most rewarding part of this job is just knowing that you’re making a difference…seeing someone bloom within the program is the best thing about the job and I really don’t know anywhere else where I could have gotten this experience.”