By MRINALINI PANDEY
The oldest social service organization in Illinois – Chicago Child Care Society (CCCS) – is celebrating its 170th anniversary.
Begun as an orphanage on Wells Street in 1849, the CCCS has evolved through the years; now located at 5467 S University Ave. in Hyde Park, it is a non-profit organization that provides community-based education and human services in Chicago’s South, Southwest, and South Suburban areas.
When it was founded as the Chicago Orphan Asylum, it was the first non-denominational orphanage in Chicago that accepted children of any faith and ethnicity, focusing on caring for homeless children whose parents had died in the cholera epidemic.
The organization’s 1976 publication, titled “Children of Circumstance,” details the history of the first 125 years of Chicago Child Care Society, explaining how the organization was founded in desperate times to cater to the increasing needs of people when other city organizations were unable to cope with the cholera epidemic.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Orphan Asylum together with Ministry-at-Large (the only other institution that accepted homeless children of any faith and ethnicity) became a haven for the children and orphans of the war. Before the city could recuperate from the aftermath of the war, the great Chicago fire broke out in 1871. Then, Chicago Orphanage Asylum responded to the situation by distributing clothing to the fire’s victims.
The organization went on to provide both temporary and permanent assistance to families who were victims to two World Wars. By mid-1900s, the organization expanded in its original function as a foster home and adoption service for children and began serving teen parents and pregnant teens who were kicked out of their homes to fend for themselves. In 1949, on its 100th anniversary, the organization was renamed Chicago Child Care Society to more accurately reflect its services.
“Now we are doing preventive care for children from birth to 5 years that includes a preschool center and home visiting. The majority of our services are in home visiting to families.”, said Deb Schlies, chief development officer at CCCS. Home visiting is part of the Head Start and Early Head Start, two programs of the federal government, for families that are at risk because they are teen parents, low income, under-resourced, or come from high-poverty neighborhoods. Under the home-visiting program, the agency’s social workers visit homes of at-risk families to provide them support with parenting skills and development of their children, Schlies said.
In addition to caring for children, CCCS now offers youth development and mentoring services and family support with programs like 2Gen. The organization offers early childhood program for children 0-5 years, prenatal service and support to pregnant teens, and kinship and housing advocacy services for families that are clients of DCFS and in need of stable housing. CCCS also has a host of mentoring and support programs for teens and young adults.
Speaking with the Herald about the agency’s programs, chief program officer Craig Lynch, emphasized the role his organization plays in guiding adolescents at an age where they are impressionable and vulnerable to slipping into a life marked with frequent involvement with law enforcement agencies. “We have a male mentoring program called KALU (Kings Achieving Leadership and Understanding); it’s cohort based. Young men come together, and we teach them different life skills (how to collaborate, how to handle adversity, conflict) and goal setting as those skills help them make good choices. One of the tenets of programs like that if you can equip young people with the skills to make good choices then they will make choices that will leads them in a different direction, a more positive one.”
An organization that survives for 170 years may have lessons for any other social service organization to heed, in the words of Lynch, “This organization has shown that it can adapt to the needs of communities and the needs of families. Another reason is that the services that we provide really meet the needs of the under-served communities have: quality child care, working with young people so they can stay more connected to school, reduce their involvement with the justice system, help their career goals and planning, etc.”
Chicago Child Care Society’s birthday bash fundraiser, “Wind in My Sails,” will take place Nov. 7 from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Chicago Yacht Club, 400 East Monroe Street at the Harbor. The cocktail social fundraiser is open to the public. The net proceeds from the event go toward supporting the programs and services provided by the Chicago Child Care Society. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.cccsociety.org/