By Jennifer Sadler
The Settlement House movement began in early 19th century England in response to rising unemployment and widespread poverty. The early settlement houses offered food, shelter and education through the help of volunteers, scholars and religious leaders who settled within the neighborhoods they served. These welfare workers developed the concept of social work as it is known today. The concept of Settlement Houses spread to America via pioneers such as Stanton Coit and Jane Addams. Coit founded the first U.S. settlement, Neighborhood Guild, in 1886 to serve new immigrant populations on the lower east side of New York City. Addams followed by founding Hull House, perhaps the most well-known of all Settlement Houses, on the west side of Chicago in 1889. Both houses employed the traditional settlement philosophy—a holistic approach to neighborhood improvement and a belief that social change comes through indigenous leaders and organizations. In this way, settlements differed from other social service agencies of their time and played a key role in addressing the issues facing local neighborhoods.
For more than 100 years, settlement houses across the U.S. have provided a welcoming place where community members have the opportunity to participate in services and activities that improve their lives including education, housing, health care, employment opportunities, recreation and the arts. By 1910, settlement houses had become permanent fixtures on the American urban landscape, with 400 of them stretching across the country, taking a leading role in social reform and child welfare.
One of the revolutionary characteristics of the Settlement House movement was that many of the most important leadership roles were filled by women, in an era when women were mostly excluded from leadership roles in business and government. Approximately half of the major U.S. settlement houses were led and staffed predominantly by women.
The Settlement House movement in the United States was popularized by the historic work of Jane Addams. Addams was a noted leader of the women’s suffrage movement and the first female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams’ work led to reforms with long-lasting effect and many programs that exist today.
Since World War II, the number of settlements has fluctuated. According to the United Neighborhood Centers Association (UNCA), it is estimated that there are more than 900 settlement houses across the U.S. today. Formerly known as the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, the UNCA was founded in 1911 by Addams and other pioneers of the settlement movement.
There is also an International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, which was organized in 1926 and now has a membership of more than 4500 settlement houses and neighborhood centers around the world.
While many of the original services continue today, the structure of the settlement has changed. Social workers are no longer in residence at the houses, which now operate with paid staff and larger budgets.
The Columbus Federation of Settlements (CFS) is a coalition of seven neighborhood-based organizations clustered in and around the central city where need is highest and residents face multiple daily challenges. The CFS helps individuals and groups build upon their strengths and draw upon community resources. It is this historic focus on the neighborhood that differentiates Settlement Houses in Columbus from other social service agencies.
The federation includes Central Community House, Godman Guild Association, Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, Neighborhood House, Gladden Community House, St. Stephen’s Community House and South Side Settlement House.
According to Louise Alluis, executive director for the CFS, the Godman Guild Association, founded in 1898, is the oldest of the seven Columbus Settlement Houses. Four of the seven have been serving their neighborhoods for more than 100 years each. Taken together, the Settlement Houses have a collective 635 years of service to Columbus neighborhoods. Through the CFS, all of the Settlement Houses have worked together to some extent for the past 50 years.
Alluis said that each Settlement House in Columbus has a unique and interesting story to tell about its origins although social reform was certainly a common goal.
“What the Settlement Houses also have in common, and what distinguishes them from other social service organizations, is their focus on a geographically defined area rather than a specific problem or issue,” said Alluis. “The Settlement Houses are embedded in their neighborhoods and offer a wide range of services that typically span the life cycle, from birth to old age. Their work has always been defined by the needs, assets and aspirations of their neighbors.”
Just like their early predecessors, all of the Columbus Settlement Houses serve foreign-born populations. However, because they are neighborhood-based, the demographics among the organizations are diverse.
“So, for example, St. Stephen’s serves a large number of families from Somalia and East Africa while the foreign-born households served by Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center (CRC) include more Asians and Europeans,” said Alluis.
Last year, the Settlement Houses provided services to more than 66,000 individuals.
It can take anywhere from several hundred thousand to well over a million dollars a year to run each Settlement House, making it a struggle for many to stay afloat in the current economy. South Side Settlement House (SSSH) announced in late June of this year that they had to suspend operations after suffering drastic funding cuts. A few days after the SSSH’s announcement, City Council passed emergency legislation that provided financial assistance in the amount of $50,000 as a one-time funding supplement to continue critical needs and services at the facility until the end of the summer. Directors and other community leaders are working to find a future funding solution. The 112-year old SSSH provides social services and programs for more than 15,000 Franklin County residents each year.
GCAC has been involved in helping to build communities by developing and promoting out-of-school arts programming for young children since the founding of its Children of the Future program in 1992. Children of the Future programs took place in several Columbus Recreation & Parks facilities, Boys & Girls Clubs and other community centers. The program eventually evolved into a partnership with the Columbus Federation of Settlements and is now called Art in the House.
Through the Art in the House program, GCAC and partners TRANSIT ARTS and the CFS, connect local artists, arts and cultural organizations and independent arts education programs into a comprehensive network of accessible opportunities for students in grades kindergarten through 12. Special focus is placed on the needs of children during out-of-school hours, such as afternoons, evenings and weekends, and during the summer. GCAC staff work with local teen program TRANSIT ARTS and the CFS to offer varied opportunities for young people to gain access to resources, instruction and inspiration. There are two main components to this initiative:
Art in the House: GCAC-led programming within several of the CFS’s facilities as well as other neighborhood partner sites. Scheduled arts activities at Settlement Houses and other locations are free and open to the public. Through Art in the House, modeled in part after GCAC’s award-winning Children of the Future program, children 5- to 11-years old can begin their connection to creative thinking, leadership and lifelong learning through the arts.
TRANSIT ARTS: TRANSIT ARTS, for young people ages 12 to 21, is about creating, inspiring, teaching, cultivating and attracting young talent. Originally known as CAPACITY, TRANSIT ARTS is a continuation and expansion of a long-running collaboration with the Central Community House. CAPACITY and now TRANSIT ARTS have touched thousands of teens in Central Ohio and garnered national attention and praise. TRANSIT ARTS includes art-related activities in Settlement Houses and other community sites, along with summer job and internship opportunities, touring performance productions and entrepreneurial opportunities in the arts.
One of GCAC’s roles in the Art in the House partnership is in recruiting and managing the hiring process for master and apprentice artists to work in the Settlement Houses to lead the arts programming. Art in the House master artists are highly accomplished, professional artists with a diverse range of experience a great passion for teaching. Apprentice artists are young people, often with an interest in pursuing a career in the arts or arts education and many times with experience as a TRANSIT ARTS participant.
GCAC’s current roster of master artists includes Queen Brooks, Richard Duarte Brown, Wendy Kendrick and Keomanich (Keo) Khim. Their apprentice artists are Jazmine Blaney, Mosheh Clark, Craig Gardner, Keisha Liege-Steele and Keneije Smalls.
Mosheh Clark started out attending summer arts programming at his neighborhood Central Community House when he was just 13. It was while at CCH that Clark got involved with TRANSIT ARTS.
“I first got involved with teaching as a youth at Central Community House, working with the younger kids there,” said Clark. Jackie Calderone, TRANSIT ART’s director took notice of his interest in art and mentoring kids and suggested he apply for the Art in the House apprentice artist program where he is under the mentorship of mixed media artist Richard Duarte Brown.
“Following Duarte, we do a lot of painting projects,” said Clark. “We just did an airbrushing project. We also partnered with the Columbus Arts Festival this summer and painted big butterfly sculptures that were placed throughout the festival site.”
The butterfly sculptures are now on display at the Franklin Park Conservatory along the path to the Pollinators Garden for their native butterfly program going on through the summer.
Having advanced through the programming at the Settlements Houses to where he is today, Clark said that despite the decreases in funding and hardships due to the current economy, CCH and other Settlements still have strong support and participation from the surrounding communities. “The programs have really grown,” said Clark. “Sure, we’ve been discouraged with the lack of funding, but many people may not realize that we have more kids coming in and participating. A lot of this has to do with collaborations happening with local organizations like GCAC and TRANSIT ARTS.”
"Art is the great denominator,” said Pam McCarthy, executive director of Central Community House. “The arts bring us back to our roots and allow us to share our different cultures with each other.”
“I am so upbeat about how the programs have developed at CCH the past couple of years,” said McCarthy. “The work brings to fruition the very tenants that settlement houses were based on. We want these kids to grow in a healthy environment and to be linked to as many positive adult role models as possible, which in turn strengthens and nurtures our communities.”
GCAC’s associate artist, Jim Arter, has been involved with the out-of-school arts programming since he helped start the Children of the Future back in ’92. Arter currently heads up the Art in the House programming at the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center. Arter also coordinates the many exhibitions featuring artwork by Art in the House kids at venues such as the Columbus Metropolitan Library, COSI, the Rhodes Tower and OSU’s Urban Arts Space.
Arter wholeheartedly believes in the holistic approach that was pioneered by Jane Addams in the very beginning of the Settlement House movement.
“Including the arts and culture in Settlement House programming is just as essential as tending to the basics needs of an underserved community,” said Arter. “The arts feed the spirit—the arts can break down barriers. People, and especially children, of every culture understand song and dance and stories, or creating art with their own hands to express themselves. That means of connection is important to building a sense of community.”
Art in the House and TRANSIT ARTS are financially assisted by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, the AEP Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and private donations. TRANSIT ARTS receives additional funding from the United Way of Central Ohio and the Columbus Foundation.
Image: Participants in arts programming at Central Community House.