“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, educational,  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:

    Moody Church mission worker Susan Poxon, staff member Carrie Wilson, and Board member Ellen Holt were early leaders and advocates of Association House. Susan Poxon helped young Scandinavian and German women and girls working in the nearby factories find a place to spend their evenings away from neighborhood saloons. She encouraged community women and girls to petition the International Committee of the Young Women’s Christian Association, which led to the opening of Association House.Carrie Wilson, the business secretary of the American Committee of the YWCA, became Association House Head Resident in 1900 and served in various capacities, including as Director of Druce Lake Camp, until 1925.

    Ellen Holt helped to establish the Association House through wise governance and creative fund raising. She was the daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman, who settled the prestigious town of Lake Forest. Uninterested in perpetuating the turn-of-the-century social life of her parents, she chose the work of Association House and became President of the Board of Managers in 1900. Ellen served on the Board until her death in 1961. Her generous financial contributions continue to support Association House today through a fund she established at the Chicago Community Trust.

    By 1902 the settlement house needed more space. The Board selected the Gray House, a wood frame house on a large lot with 200 feet of frontage just west of the rented building that housed the organization. An additional seventy-five feet was purchased to build a new “House.”
    The Cornerstone for the new Association House building at 2150 West North Avenue was laid on September 9, 1905. Jane Addams was invited to give the keynote address at the ground-breaking ceremony. The building cost $40,000 and was ready for occupancy in March 1906.
    Fund-Raising activities included rummage sales, strawberry socials, and garden parties. A large portion of the funds were donated by friends of Ellen Holt.
    The Men’s Bible class of Hyde Park Presbyterian Church made a large contribution to the new building fund. A benefit recital by Madame Louise Homer helped the Board meet their fund raising goal and compete the building.
    In 1914, a gift of $6,000 from Susan Poxon’s estate was used to purchase land with Lake frontage and a boathouse near Grays Lake. In 1915 Association House proudly opened Druce Lake Camp.
    From the beginning, helping children was an important part of Association House. On the playground, children could take free showers and buy “pure milk” from a pasteurized milk station for a penny a cup.
    Girls and Boys enjoyed summer excursions in the early 1900s. They took two-week camping trips to St. Charles, and cottages in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin were available to campers. In 1915, the girls attended recently opened Druce Lake Camp.
    The Chicago Fire brought an influx of new residents to the vicinity of Association House, Scandinavians and Germans moved into frame homes North of North Avenue, followed by Polish workers establishing homes at Division and Ashland Avenue. Many Russian Jews built brick homes South of North Avenue and East of Humboldt Park. By 1915 Association House participants were predominately Jewish, By 1920, forty-four percent of West Town’s 218,000 residents were immigrants. By 1924, Poles and Jews were the largest immigrant groups living in West Town and Humboldt Park neighborhoods.
    Hundreds of clubs were established over the years at Association House. There, participants learned to cook, read, play sports and sew. Most importantly, they learned to share with their new neighbors and friends. The Shasta Club, organized in the spring of 1900, had a membership of about 35 women. Their motto was “Higher, Ever Higher.”
    Boys were included at Association House in 1900. The Men’s Bible Class of the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church supervised the boys, and created special programming to meet their needs. With the formal inclusion of boys into programs, and men serving on the Board of Directors, formal connection with the YWCA came to an end in 1901.
    Staff resided at the new Association House building, in small rooms established on the third floor. A favorite gathering place was the roof on the West Side of the building. Many staff lived at the Gray House, next door to the newly completed Association House. At one time, the Day Nursery was housed there. The pigeon-gray colored building was built during the Civil War, and was also referred to as “The House on the Hill.” It had once belonged to William Johnson, a state senator and later treasurer of Cook County.
    The Association House playground enjoyed the reputation of being the best in Chicago! With equipment donated by the city, the playground had a variety of swing, see-saws, giant slide, a sandbox, and four showers. Children came to play during the day; it was open in the evenings for young women. By 1905 daily attendance often topped 1,000, and that summer more than 4,500 showers were taken at the Association House.
    New Fund-Raising methods brought much-needed donations to Association House. Tag Day was a strong revenue source in 1918. A major fundraiser in 1923 was a benefit at the Auditorium Theater for a performance of Boris Goudonov by the Russian Opera. Individuals, businesses and churches continued to contribute. Special events organized by the Board and Staff kept the doors open. Although the House frequently faced financial constraints, programs and celebrations continued with spirit and enthusiasm.

Association House sponsored a wide variety of activities during its First Quarter Century. The reading room and library opened in 1908, and within two weeks 500 children had borrowed books. Both girls and boys attended cooking classed, learning to prepare foods such as turnips and codfish. After work the girls came from the factories to dance or play basketball in the gym, while the boys played their games. During warm weather Association House visitors attended outdoor events, including parades down neighborhood streets. Program outreach was particularly active at Christmas when volunteers gathered to make gift baskets of food, toys, and books.

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:

    Association House organized its own Dental and Nutrition Clinic. Other ongoing programs such as manual training and handicraft were expanded. During the 1930s, boys worked on their projects at long benches in a basement room while mothers sewed clothing on machines upstairs. During the Depression and World War II, the paucity of funds limited art and music programs. Yet musical and theatrical entertainment remained popular. One hundred children took piano lessons on one of the House’s eight pianos. In the 1940s, there was Soap Carving for boys, a Doll Club for girls, and classes in Radio Broadcasting and Psychology, Sunday school and evening Vesper services continued to be well attended.
    The property of Druce Lake Camp more than doubled when Ellen Holt donated lands adjacent to the summer camp. The control of Association House by the Church Extension Board of the Presbytery did not encompass the land, buildings, and equipment of Druce Lake Camp. The camp was established as a separate Illinois corporation in the early 1900s.
    The neighborhood ethnic mix changed throughout the 1920s. By 1926 Jewish families moved further north in the city and more Polish immigrants arrived. With forty-nine percent of the population Polish, in 1930 West Town was called Old Polonia, and Division Street was the Polish Broadway. The merchant class of Wicker Park moved away, and their townhouses were converted into apartments. In 1947, the community was forty-eight percent Polish, twenty percent was Jewish, and Association House counted twenty-nine different nationalities among its participants.
    The Women’s Auxiliary held its first meeting in November 1927, many of them representing local churches, they organized fund-raising activities and organized a successful Thrift Shop. The Auxiliary sponsored annual events such as The Salad Bar Benefit, Tag Day and Holiday Lunches, The Women’s Auxiliary also advocated for support from Presbyterian Churches and Businesses.
    Alfred Rath served as the Head Resident (Executive Director) of Association House from 1946 to 1963. He was one of the pioneers who initiated programs for the developmentally disabled and hard-to-reach youth. He and his family lived at the residence at 2134 West Pierce Avenue. His leadership and dedication for nearly twenty years firmly positioned the Association House as a respected social service agency.
    In October 1948, an experimental educational program for developmentally disabled children was inaugurated in response to the request of neighborhood parents. Their children were not allowed to attend school and were either kept at home or institutionalized. Association House presented a new opportunity for these families.

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 remained very active, and opened a second thrift shop in 1955 at 2211 Potomac Avenue to benefit Association House. The shop sold new and used clothing, kitchen equipment, and household goods. A Christmas shop sold toys, mittens, and scarves in time for the holidays. The shop’s proceeds supported mainly children’s programs. They also were instrumental in the continued success of Tag Day.
    Other volunteers played a key role at Association House. They could be counted on to drive the members of “The Oldsters” group, helped with the sewing and cooking classes, and prepare hundreds of baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Volunteers also helped to keep the House freshly painted.
    Founded by suburban women in 1952 as Junior Board, the North Shore Board actively supported the work of Association House, By 1965 their annual benefit, Continental Capers, raised nearly $2,000. They also helped fund raise through solicitations to prominent Chicago families and business. They created a great deal of media coverage from local newspapers to help spread the word about the work of Association House.
    More and more children came to Association House after school to participate in the many educational and social activities not offered elsewhere: photography, sock hops, and potluck suppers, to name a few. Field trips offer younger kinds a tour the local fire station, while older children attended the Young People’s concert at Grant Park or special movies at the Historical Society.
    Begun in 1948, the pilot program for developmentally disabled children grew rapidly during this year. The program helped organize seventeen other parents’ groups in Illinois and 350 groups across the country. After ten years at Association House, the original program for the “Mentally Handicapped” needed more space and moved to another location under new jurisdiction.
    Teen programming received increased attention during this quarter century. With the growth of gangs and the change in the neighborhood’s ethnic composition, Association House sought to bring diverse groups of youth together. teenagers flocked to teen nights and participated in groups activities like volleyball and baseball. The Teen Mobile Summer Program started in the 1960s. The Mobile was driven throughout Chicago neighborhoods playing music and bringing games for teens to play. Other activities for teens included the Teenage Council, the Drama Club, and the Teen Newspaper.
    Caravans were another summer outreach program that began in the mid-1960s. Made from boxes and mounted onto wagon wheels, these caravans carried equipment and toys. Volunteers took them throughout the community, spreading the word about Association House. Children gathered around the wagons to play games and hear stories.

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.

    The Summer Cart Project, now called Caravan a de Verano continued through the 1970s, offering sports and recreation to children in their own neighborhoods. The project truly expanded the Association House family. The outreach also saw an increase in children and teen enrollment at Association House.By 1980, programs included Youth Employment Services, Life Development Strategies for Teens, an alternative High School, a Computer Operations Training Program, the Young Mothers Project and a Health Careers Center. The Senior Outreach Program offered senior and staff companionship to primarily a polish population. Association House homes included La Casita, The Place, The Sanchez Home and a Supportive Living Arrangement (SLA). The after school program and summer day camp flourished. A new playground was built at 2150 West North Avenue with the support of the Polk Bros. Foundation and the I Have a Dream Program. Nearly fifty teenagers participated in its construction and installation.
    An extensive outreach began for new Board Members, who would bring commitment and dedication to the agency. After Open Houses and other recruitment events, nearly a dozen new Board Members joined Association House by 1979. Responsibilities included expanding resources, as well as assessing programs and governing the agency. The agency Board functioned independently from the Presbyterian Board by the 1980s.
    Association House expanded from less than 30 staff in the 1960s to more than 200 by the 1990s. Staff continued to bring the spirit and sense of family, which had dominated the early years. Evan a small gathering on the roof of 2150 W. North Avenue symbolized a tradition began by the early staff of both working together, and celebrating life together. By 1990 the community was 61% Latino, and the more than 85% of the staff was more bilingual in English and Spanish. By 1999 more than 20,000 families and individuals were enrolled at Association House.
    A highly successful Community Arts Program was initiated in the 1990s. Events such as the Puppet Parade, the Anxious Voices (Voces Ansiosas) Summer Teen Production and special theatrical performances by participants enrolled in the Developmentally Disabled Training program are now annual traditions.
    By 1990 the Board and staff began thinking about the upcoming 100th anniversary of Association House. Plans to expand fund raising efforts and heighten the organization’s visibility were underway. By the end of the decade, support from foundations, corporations, churches and individuals had doubled. In addition, Association House had received extensive program coverage from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and local neighborhood newspapers. We have been featured on all local affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC as well as WGN and Channel 66 and 44, and numerous radio talk shows. The Annual Board Benefit, Salsa in the City, celebrated its fifth anniversary in 1995. In addition to raising more than $100, 0000, it brings nearly 400 friends of Association House to the east lawn of 2150 West North Avenue each summer.The official Centennial Celebration began in January 1999. Highlights of the year-long festivities included a winter kick-off event held in historic Carrie Wilson Hall, continued with an Old Fashion Ice Cream Social, and an elegant Centennial Gala at the Chicago Historical Society! The Chicago Community Trust and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation were two of the leading major sponsors of the year-long celebration.
    As the first century of life at Association House drew to a close, perhaps one of the most significant events of the era took place with the acquisition of additional property at 1116 North Kedzie. The building was purchased through a bond financing package brought about by leadership of Executive Director, Harriet Sadauskas, Board President Chair Hugo Rodriguez and a dedicated Board of Directors. The new building provided for much needed space to consolidate growing programs that had occupied more costly rental space. We extend our deep appreciation to everyone who has helped us reach this milestone. Now, with your help, WE ARE OPENING DOORS FOR THE NEW CENTURY….

Beginning A New Century: 2001-2015

The birth of a new century brought forth great new opportunities for Association House and its continued growth. A new mission statement was created and services were organized into five distinct program areas: Community Services, Behavioral Health, Child Welfare, Out of School Time (now Prevention & Educational Development) and El Cuarto Año High School.

    The Agency organized its services into five distinct program areas: 1) Community Services 2) Behavioral Health 3) Child Welfare 4) Prevention & Educational Development and 5) The Association House High School (formerly El Cuarto Año High School) and consolidated all community center programs to the 1116 N. Kedzie location.
  • Filling the Community Need for Health Education
    Since its inception in 1899, Association House has been involved in alleviating poverty and hunger and has provided food baskets to hungry families experiencing extreme poverty.  In the spring of 1998, a contribution from Kraft Foods enabled us to start a Food Pantry Program at a larger capacity, the impetus of which was a survey conducted by the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois-Chicago, which indicated a great need for food assistance in the Humboldt Park area.  While each bag of food we provided a wholesome combination of healthy food products, including fresh produce, we became aware that more needed to be done.  Challenges like joblessness, lack of health care, under-education, and disproportionately high occurrences of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, and infant mortality have not been adequately addressed, giving the Association House a bigger challenge and increased opportunities to assist our constituents.  Poor health and nutrition are particularly important issues in this community, exacerbated by endemic poverty, which force many families to choose between food and medicine.
    In 2004, Nutritional education became an important part of the Association House’s social services when Kraft stepped up again, recognizing our proven track record combating hunger in our surrounding communities, and chose us to be a partner in their Salsa, Sabor y Salud health and nutrition curriculum.  With their seed money the Association House was able to leverage additional support from the Oberweiler Foundation and other donors, which permited us to hire staff to further design and implement the Healthy Lifestyles program and to expand the scope of our services with additional preventive health services.
    On June 30, 2005, Association House exceeded its goal to raise $5 million  in new funds during it first-ever major gifts Campaign, Opening Doors for  a New Century.  The work of a dedicated Board of Directors and Campaign Cabinet, along with the generosity of hundreds of donors, helped Association House reach this historic milestone. The Campaign doubled the size of the Association House family of individual donors, and brought new and increased gifts from foundations, corporations, and churches.  Highlights included a coveted $400,000 Brick and Mortar Challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation, and major gifts from the Chicago Community Trust, the Elizabeth Morese Genius Charitable Trust, Comcast Cable, the Northern Trust Company, the Kemper Education & Charitable Fund, the Bristol Fund, Inc., and the Oberweiler Foundation.  A special challenge grant from the McCormick Tribune Foundation as the close of the Campaign helped Association House suprass its goal.
    June of 2005, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife Maggie Daley, Chief of After School Matters, joined members of the City’s Department of Children and Youth Services at Association House.  The occasion was to accept an $8 million, three-year grant form the The Wallace Foundation to strengthen out-of-school-time learining for teenagers.  The City of Chicago was selected to receive the grant to create a system of support to ensure the continued existence and growth of Chicago’s nationally reconized programs for teenagers.  Association House was selected as the venue for the announcement because of its reputation as having one of the most outstanding  after school programs in the city for both children and teens.
    As an Agency serving a Latino and African American community, with high rates of poverty, unemployment, low literacy, and re-entry of persons with criminal records, Association House has responded to the interconnected issues associated with poverty and in 2006 developed a Career Center that integrates adult basic education, sector-based bridge programs in growth industries, employment services, financial education and coaching, and income support services. By bundling educational, employment, and financial services into an integrated Career Center with clear pathways that match individual participants’ needs, Association House has developed flexible, holistic services to help low-income participants become financially stable and continue to advance. The goal for the Career Center is to ensure that all of the over 5,000 people that utilize Career Center programs each year have full access to the range of  its services regardless of their point of entry. This way, participants coming for assistance with employment have access to appropriate adult education options and vice-versa. Career planning activities in all employment and adult education programs also help participants learn about career path options and the relationship between training and higher wages so that they can develop individualized career plans that integrate targeted employment and training opportunities over the long-term.
    The Association House successfully coordinated a group of current Board Members and Board Alumni to form the 2007 Agency Mission Revision Task Force.  This diverse group was strategically chosen due to influence and commitment to Association House. Together, with key leadership staff the Task Force was able to draft a revised Agency Mission Statement. Pre-work included planning with the Task Force facilitator to review and integrate current mission statement and key messages.  The new Mission Statement was adopted and approved in November of 2007.