Winter 2019 Newsletter – Laura Johnson


Laura Johnson retires after more than 40 years of service to Union Settlement

Shortly before she retired, Laura Johnson sat down with us to discuss her career at Union Settlement and her plans for the future. We all miss her, but wish her the best of luck in the future!

Where did you grow up/go to school?

I was born and raised in East Harlem and lived in the James Weldon Johnson Houses (a New York City Housing Authority development) until 1963. My family then moved to the South Bronx, and I stayed in the Bronx until I moved to New Jersey in 1990.

I got married right after high school and attended Bronx Community College at night and then Lehman College.

When did you begin to work for Union Settlement?

I started at Union Settlement in March of 1972. My niece was starting at Leggett, one of Union Settlement’s early childhood education centers. The center and staff were wonderful, and I inquired about a job opening. I was actually interested in working in the classroom, but when the educational director reviewed my application and saw that my background was in finance, she offered me a part-time assistant bookkeeper position there.

As an assistant bookkeeper, I prepared payroll, ordered supplies, maintained time and leave records, arranged for substitute workers to replace sick or vacationing staff, and prepared reports for the Administration for Children’s Services and food reports for USDA.

What other positions did you hold at Union Settlement?

After working at Leggett as an assistant bookkeeper, I moved into an accounting position in the finance department. I remained in Finance for several years. Then I left Union Settlement for two years and went to work for State Community Aids, an advocacy organization. I returned to Union Settlement as the Assistant Controller and then served as Director of Finance from 1996-97. Later, I became Deputy Director of Finance and Operations and in 2001, I become Associate Executive Director of Union Settlement.

How have you witnessed East Harlem change?

There has been a change in affordable housing within the community. More upscale housing has been developed, along with eateries. However, for the community that Union Settlement serves, the basic needs still exist: residents need child care, mental health services, afterschool services, and senior care. These services cut through social and economic lines and still need to be addressed.

What are some of your fondest memories working with Union Settlement?

There are so many wonderful memories, from graduation ceremonies at the early childhood education centers to the college scholarship presentations and the recognition of staff. I also think of the wonderful authors who have come through our Adult Education Writing Program: Terry McMillan, Maryse Conde, and Esmeralda Santiago.

What are some of your contributions you are most proud of at Union Settlement?

I’m proud that I was part of the team that provided a rich benefits package for our staff. I also was part of the team that worked to renovate and upgrade our physical facilities. I helped to develop a staff recognition program and renovate part of our 104th Street garden area. I also took the Ethnic Festival from a department event to an agency-wide event.

What are your plans for life after Union Settlement?

I will start dog training and grooming classes at the end of February. I look forward to working with all kinds of dogs for years to come!