Our past sets the tone for the incredible work you help us do for our community now.
Since it was established in 1896, Neighborhood House was many things to many people. Before other organizations were formed, we were the ones that taught dance, was the place to go for sports, provided services for individuals with both physical and developmental disabilities, and started the first medical clinic on the south side of Peoria.
“Our founders were really progressive,” said CEO Becky Rossman, “The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and they knew people needed basic necessities, as well skills to get jobs and provide for their families.”
One of the first classes taught was fret wood sawing, thanks to the help of students at Bradley Polytechnic Institute. By 1900, there were classes in bent-iron, wood carving, furniture making, and sewing by Bradley faculty. One of the most prominent leaders was A.S. Oakford, who led the first Board of Directors in 1910 and directed many Neighborhood House expansions in the years that followed.
“Since A.S. Oakford’s time, his descendants have stayed a part of Neighborhood House by serving on our Board,” said Rossman.
During the early 1900s, most of our clients were European immigrants and their children with upwards of 14 languages spoken on any given day. The population consisted of Austrians, Bohemians, Croatians, Lithuanians, Jews, Italians, Mexicans, Poles, Russians, Hungarians, Slovenians, Syrians, Ukrainians, Serbians, Africans and the first generation Irish and Germans. Notably, even during times when the rest of the world was segregated, Neighborhood House was not.
Because we served so many nationalities, we taught English, as well as civic pride and responsibility through The American Club for girls and the Boys of the Republic for young men. At that time, most women were homemakers, but not amongst the most poor. The Catholic Women’s league saw a need and formed one of the first day nurseries in Peoria at Neighborhood House in 1904. As it turns out, providing childcare became one of our central businesses that endures today.
“Kids come to Neighborhood House who are two years behind their peers developmentally, and our teachers get them where they need to be by the time they leave for kindergarten,” Rossman said.
The day nursery was popular from the beginning and it was able to expand when Neighborhood House moved from Washington Street to a newly built building on Adams Street. It was during those years that an enduring partnership formed with Unclaimed Freight (Now UFS Downtown Outlet Center) which was then located right across the street from Neighborhood House. The owner, Mitchell Serafin, was an active supporter. His son-in-law, Tom Wiegand served on the Board for decades and now Mitchell’s grandson, Gerard Wiegand, is currently on our Board. UFS still sponsors Santa for Seniors, our holiday program that delivers Christmas gifts to seniors.
“Our UFS family has been proud to support Neighborhood House in their mission to address the many needs in our Peoria community,” said UFS CEO Pierre Serafin.
It’s often said that Neighborhood House is cradle to grave because we serve people at every stage of life. For the past 40 years, Neighborhood House has delivered meals to homebound seniors and disabled adults. Meals on Wheels is now our largest program, serving over 1,000 seniors a year. Currently, we are taking a step back in time and re-establishing much needed programs that were changing lives 123 years ago. We are helping adults gain skills needed to obtain and maintain employment. Through Summer Camp, After School Meals, and Summer Meals, we are keeping children off of the streets by providing a safe place to eat a nutritious meal and have fun. Neighborhood House is continually evolving, responding to the needs of the times, and this is what ensures that we will forever be one of Greater Peoria’s strongest institutions.