Mathylde Frontus, Urban Neighborhood Services, Woman Entrepreneur
I was on a panel up at Barnard a few months ago and met a slew of women post-panel. All working hard at their businesses. Quite impressive. Mathylde Frontus was one of the few that followed up with me and asked if we could meet. I am still thinking about our meeting. She is warm, engaging, smart, civic-minded and cares about her community and others. She founded Urban Neighborhood Services, that services the people of Coney Island, where she grew up. She had this idea since she was 14 it just took her a few years to get there.
She started out in Southern Crown Heights and moved to Coney Island when she was 7. The oldest of three girls who were raised by parents who immigrated from Haiti. In Crown Heights they lived in a nice doorman building across the street from the Childrens Museum. It was the 80s and even at that age she recalls strange gang activity with the boom boxes on the corners and kids breaking into cars in broad daylight. One particular memory is seeing kids just sitting on other peoples cars refusing to get off. It happened to her father and he asked them to politely get off this car. Instead he spent the day in the emergency room after getting hit on the side of the head with a glass bottle.
Her father was studying to be a doctor in Haiti when his Mom died. His dreams flew out the window as she was a single mother. He came to the states and like many immigrants ended up in jobs that paid the rent not necessarily challenged his intellect. He drove a bus for a private Jewish school. They realized very quickly that he was a smart man and ended up promoting him to run the operations of the school.
Education always played a big factor in Mathydle's life growing up including community service. Every week she would either be in a soup kitchen or something in the community to help give back with her family. Mathylde went to Edward Murrow High School and it was there, one day sitting in the library she had the idea of Urban Neighborhood Services, a multi-service place for the community. She knew education came first and graduated HS and then began college at NYU at 16. No surprises, she majored in social work.
At NYU, she lived at home. She worked for the Information Center during her college years including working with a small group that worked with the President of NYU. She started a chapter of the Council for Unity on campus to promote racial diversity which has grown since she was there. After graduating NYU, Mathylde was accepted into the Masters of Social Work program at Columbia University. She literally started the day after graduating NYU. No doubt driven by education too, after Columbia she applied to the interdisciplinary program at the Harvard Divinity school. She was accepted and it was the first time she had left the nest of home.
At Harvard, Mathylde spent 50% of her time taking classes in the human psychology department and the other 50% at the divinity school. After graduating from Harvard with a third masters she was missing her love for giving back to communities as it was part of her daily life growing up. She was going to apply for a phD program but instead was intrigued by a Haitian minister she was speak in her parents native Creole tongue. She went to volunteer in his organization and they hired her to be the head of program and development reporting to the Executive Director. That job kept her in the Boston area for a few more years. A professor she has met pushed her to go get a phD at Boston University while working for Caribbean Uturn and so she did but found she really did not like the program. So after 3 more years post Harvard, it was time to return to NYC.
It was 2004 and she applied to get a phD at Columbia University. She lived on the campus but kept feeling those ties back to her community in Coney Island. When she went home she recognized many of the persistent problems that she saw as a kid. Unemployment, the endless cycle of teenage pregnancies, bad accidents, poor academics, etc. She felt like it was watching a community on a gerbil wheel. Mathylde had always envisioned an organization that had an economic urban agenda that would help people move from point A to point B. There are some things that the Government or social services just can't do. So she might have been getting her phD she but she also began Urban Neighborhood Services.
Coney Island is certainly in the spotlight these days as an area that is being revitalized yet there are many things pushed under the carpet. Mathylde is hoping to help the things under the carpet become part of the revitalization efforts from new jobs to hiring more of the people in the local community.
Urban Neighborhood Services has built a platform that focuses on financial literacy, LBGT, summer youth, college bound seniors, etc. It is all about community. She touches about 100/200 people a week who come through their office which is about 10,000 a year. She is even amazed how much she has accomplished on a small amount of capital and a skeletal staff. She has put a lot of her own money in to this program while at the same time writing her dissertation. Mathyldes big dream is to get funded by the right group that would be interested in taking this concept to other neighborhoods around the country that need a service like this.
I am so impressed with Mathylde. She is confident, humble and probably over-educated but her passion is so obvious from the moment you meet her. A very professional woman. At Passover this year, we all spoke of organizations that we would like to support. Someone brought up the desire to give to more community based organizations that are filling in voids of areas of need. I spoke about Urban Neighborhood Services and what Mathylde had accomplished and after we all voted, Urban Neighborhood Services won a donation from the group.
I am hoping for Mathylde that her dissertation which is on the mental health needs of the African-American community is soon finished and the desire to get more degrees is finished too. I'd like to see her focus her energies on her entrepreneurial spirit and the organization she created, Urban Neighborhood Services. She is definitely someone I will be watching.