Featured Nonprofit: United South End Settlements

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Andover House opened its doors in January, 1892 through the work of the Andover seminary. It was the first settlement house in Boston and only the fourth in the U.S., but it sparked the start of a movement in the South End. Settlement houses originated in England, a way for people with resources, education, and access to opportunities to move into struggling communities and work alongside residents to disrupt the social injustices they faced. At the end of the 19th century, the South End was in dire need of job training, child care, sanitation, education, and a wide range of other services.

Not long after, a number of other settlement houses opened their doors within the neighborhood, working together and complementing each other to all in the different gaps within the community. In 1960,  five of those settlement houses - Hale House, Lincoln House, Andover House (renamed South End House), Harriet Tubman House, and the Children’s Art Center - merged to form the United South End Settlements (USES). The organization celebrated its 125th anniversary earlier this year.

Over time, settlement houses have had to adapt to their community’s needs in order to thrive, and the South End has transformed significantly in the last 20 years. At what is an inflection point both for the organization and the people it serves, the USES has taken an in-depth look at its community and developed a 5-year strategic plan that will move its mission forward, Vision 125. “We are shifting to a theory of change and a mission that’s about harnessing the power of our diverse community to disrupt the cycle of poverty for children and their families,” said USES Vice President of Development Nikki Stewart.

“The aim is to serve families holistically through early childhood education, after school programming and summer sleepway camp for youth, and a job training and coaching model for parents and caregivers.”

The ultimate outcomes are centered on resources, which revolve around financial stability, resilience, or the intrapersonal skills needed to bounce back from hardship and overcome obstacles, and relationships, or social capital, which is all about actively engaging South Enders into fostering meaningful contacts across demographic lines. “We are looking to disrupt the cycle of poverty for 1,000 children and their families over the next five years,” Stewart said. “The success of the plan really relies on our community getting behind this and supporting each other.”

This shift in focus comes with certain concessions, of course. USES will transition its senior health and wellness program, while its youth programs will inform the new model. “Poverty is a multi-generational issue and children are the key to breaking the cycle” Stewart said. Research shows that even small changes in a child’s environment can have a big impact.

“Children with $1 to $499 in a college account are three times more likely to enroll in and graduate from college” Stewart said. “That dollar amount is not going to do much from a financial perspective, but the idea that somebody thought this child could go to college and achieve a brighter future is a powerful thing.”

For more information on how to get involved with the United South End Settlements, visit uses.org