"A busy life it is in this house, with hundreds crossing its threshold every week--indeed every day. Through it all our increasing purpose runs, to so touch by deed or words this life of everyone who enters its doorway. Each shall feel the power of a higher life."
Ellen Holt, Founder
Association House (1911)
For more than a century, the Association House of Chicago has played a significant and historic role as a community resource in what are now the greater West Town and Humboldt Park neighborhoods of Chicago. Initially serving as a "port of entry" for new immigrants, the Association House now serves thousands of families each year through counseling and educational, athletic and vocational programs.
The First Quarter Century: 1899 - 1925
Association House was established in June 1899 out of a profound sense of "Neighbor Helping Neighbor." The organization began to enroll participants in the early fall, when the new organization published an advertisement to recruit women to train for the work of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Quickly, though, the new group emerged into a more encompassing community center, eager to meet the challenges of a diverse and growing immigrant neighborhood. During this period:
- Boys were included in Association House programs in 1900.
- The Association House playground had the reputation of being the best in Chicago and by 1905, daily attendance topped 1,000.
- The reading room and library opened in 1908.
- Girls and boys enjoyed summer excursion in the early 1900s at campgrounds in St. Charles and cottages in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
- In 1915, Association House proudly opened the Druce Lake Camp near Grays Lake.
The Second Quarter Century: 1925 - 1950
In 1926, Association House secured long-term financial security by officially transferring its property to the Church Extension Board of the Presbytery of Chicago. The existing Board merged with the new Board, and a long and productive partnership began that would continue for more than sixty years. Period highlights include:
- The Women’s Auxiliary held its first meeting in 1927 and began to organize fund-raising activities and a successful Thrift Shop.
- Association House organized its own Dental and Nutrition Clinic.
- In 1948, a pilot education program for developmentally disabled children was inaugurated.
- Association House counted 29 different nationalities among its participants.
The Third Quarter Century: 1950 - 1975
By the 1950s enrollment at Association House included a growing Latino population. Board minutes reflect conversations about a shifting community population, and the need to create new types of programs. Long-standing Polish residents became uncertain about their neighborhood and began to relocate. By the 1970s, Association House classes also represented an increase in African American participants. During this quarter century:
- The Women’s Auxiliary opened a second Thrift Shop in 1955.
- The North Shore Women’s Board became active sponsors of Association House.
- Expanded children’s education and social programs included photography, concerts and special movies.
- The program for developmentally disabled children grew rapidly. After 10 years, the program moved to a new location under different jurisdiction.
- Teen programming received increased attention with the Teen Mobile Summer Program, volleyball, basketball, Drama Club and Teen Newspaper.
The Fourth Quarter Century: 1975 - 2000
The final quarter of the century brought growth and strength to Association House. As always, the focus was on families and the changing needs of the neighborhood. Harriet Sadauskas joined the Association House staff in the early 1970s under the leadership of Executive Director Hank Murray. Nearly two decades later, Harriet became the organization's fifteenth Executive Director.
- By 1980, programs included Youth Employment Services, Life Development Strategies for Teens, an alternative high school, Computer Operation Training, Young Mothers Project, and Health Careers Center.
- Association House staff expanded to 200 by the 1990s and by 1999, more than 20,000 individuals and families were enrolled.
- A highly successful Community Arts Program was initiated
- The Centennial Celebration began in January 1999 with year-long festivities, including a Centennial Gala held at the Chicago Historical Society.
- A new facility at 1116 North Kedzie was acquired and provided much need space to consolidate growing programs.
Beginning a New Century: 2001-2011
The birth of a new century brought forth great new opportunities for Association House and its continued growth. A new mission statement [Link to Our Mission page] was created and services were organized into five distinct program areas: Community Services, Behavioral Health, Child Welfare, Out of School Time and El Cuarto Año High School.
- The first major gifts campaign, Opening Doors for a New Century, raised over $5 million.
- Support by Kraft Foods, Association House offered an enlarged Food Pantry, health and nutrition education and preventative health services.
- In 2006, a Career Center was founded, offering adult education, employment services, financial education and coaching, and income support services.