Inside HCZ: Orielle Munante

When a young woman realized she was pregnant with her first baby, she knew she had to come back to HCZ to tell Ms. Orielle. She was nervous, excited, and just a little scared – but she remembered her high school days at HCZ’s Countee Cullen Community Center when Ms. Orielle patiently translated school updates to her mother and kept her informed about her daughter’s academics.  However, the young woman didn’t have to say much when she found Ms. Orielle. Orielle Munante could just tell her old student was pregnant the moment she saw her face.

“Oh my god, she was pregnant!” said Munante. “I told her, ‘I got you. I’m here for you. I know your mami, but I’m your second mami.’” After reconnecting with Orielle, the new mother joined the parenting workshops at HCZ’s Baby College.

Munante is a childcare worker at HCZ’s Baby College. For the hundreds of families she meets there, she considers herself a back-up mother or grandmother. She helps facilitate data for parenting workshops, keeps a watchful eye on the children and translates materials for Hispanic and Latino families.

“I always want the parents to know their baby is safe and happy,” said Munante. “These are our children.”

Munante has been taking care of children from before HCZ was even called HCZ. In 1993, when the organization was called Rheedlen, Munante’s parents attended programming at the organization’s Jackie Robinson Senior Center. One day when she went to pick up her father from the program, Munante found out about a job at the center. It was perfect timing – she had just had her first daughter and was looking for an opportunity to work.

“I started working with the children and I knew this was for me,” said Munante. She has helped facilitate childcare and data management at several HCZ sites, including TRUCE and Countee Cullen Community Center.

For Munante, the highlight of her work is helping her community. Growing up in Peru, Munante was the second oldest of seven children. Her hardworking mother was strict and kept her children sheltered. She sometimes found it easier to confide in her “Auntie” as a back-up mother. Auntie’s mentorship would comfort and guide her when Orielle moved to America as a young woman.

Today, Munante loves being that extra support young people and parents need to strengthen their families. Even both of her daughters are HCZ kids. Her oldest went to TRUCE and worked at the Baby College with her, and her youngest became more confident after studying karate at HCZ.

“I don’t have enough words to thank Harlem Children’s Zone,” said Munante tearfully. “We work little by little and make the biggest difference. I’ve seen the kids at Countee Cullen who don’t think they will go to college because they don’t have the money. We change that.”

On October 28, Munante celebrated her 26th year at HCZ. She’s grateful to be a part of so many families’ lives as a second mother and grandmother, especially as she just became a grandmother herself. Staff, former students and Baby College graduates continue to visit her to share good news – including her former student from Countee Cullen. The week before Orielle’s HCZ anniversary, the student came back again – this time to show Orielle her healthy baby girl.