As immigrants flooded into the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries many were helped in their transition into Americans and the American way of life by the settlement house movement. The basic settlement house philosophy was to work “with” people not do things “to” them. Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reports that for 100 years that philosophy has been the guiding principle of Neighborhood Centers, Inc.
In the early 20th century immigrants who came to Houston to build new lives found themselves outside of the mainstream of everyday life. They did not have access to education, jobs or health care. Then in February 1907 Alice Graham Baker, the grandmother of former Secretary of State James Baker founded the Houston Settlement Association. Rusk House was established on the city’s east side.
“From that first settlement we’ve grown to an organization of over 50 locations and 600 employees and we serve about 160 to 180 thousand people a year.”
Angela Blanchard is President and CEO of what is now known as Neighborhood Centers, Inc. She says NCI has lasted a century by simply sticking to its mission of providing resources, education and connections to people in under served neighborhoods to help them become part of the fabric that is Houston.
“Unlike a lot of traditional social services in terms of our view, when we are going into neighborhoods to work with folks, we’re really studying them from the standpoint of their strengths and resources and assets and abilities. That perspective is a powerful one. You can build on those things. If you can help people see for themselves what it is they own and what they can contribute and what potential they possess, and you can build on their aspirations, then you know that you can make a difference.”
Blanchard says a man in the Gulfton area began selling fruit in a small cart that has grown in size over time as his sales increase. She says he’ll be a prime candidate for a business incubation program that is planned for a new project. It’s a campus in Gulfton that will link a new community center with the city’s multi-service center. The project is ambitious, but for Neighborhood Centers Inc, it is the need that is important, not the size of the need. Oriana Garcia says a lot is planned for the community center in addition to the business incubation program.
“We’re looking at housing an immigration and civic leadership center, a resource library, a charter school, a market place that may entail some kind of farmers market or arts and crafts market, in addition to that senior programs, youth programs, some type of leisure learning and we’re also looking into a credit union.”
Garcia helped says there will also be ESL, GED and Houston Community College Classes and an expansion of existing family health and education programs. This work for Oriana Garcia is truly a chance to do for others what was done for her. She says her family emigrated from Honduras when she was four and in those early days they were helped by NCI.
Angela Blanchard says the future for NCI is just like the past; understand that people may be poor but they posses abilities and dreams and you help them best by working with them to find the path to their dreams.
For more about NCI, you’ll find a link at kuhf.org.