Jane Addams Hull House To End Immigrant Services

After more than a century of providing services for immigrants and the poor, the organization founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams is shutting down. The Jane Addams Hull House Association has struggled financially in recent years.

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And an organization famous for helping people struggling to work their way up in society has now hit bottom. Chicago's Hull House became a model for settlement houses in the United States and around the world. They helped immigrants. It was founded a century ago by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jane Addams. And its name sake, the Jane Addams Hull House Association, has struggled financially in more recent years. Now it plans to file for bankruptcy. NPR's Cheryl Corley has more.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It's been a last-minute, hectic flurry of activity for Hull House employees.

MARK TISDAHL: This is an office that's being packed up, and the employees that are packing up have paid for their own boxes, because we don't have money to pay for boxes.

CORLEY: Mark Tisdahl is one of about 300 workers losing their jobs. They and their clients got just one week's notice that the 122-year-old Chicago institution would shut down.

STEVE SAUNDERS: We hate it. It's been since September 18th, 1889, and we hoped for a much more dignified closing.

CORLEY: But the Jane Addams Hull House Association closes today.

SAUNDERS: At 5 o'clock.

CORLEY: That's Chairman of the Board, Steve Saunders. He says the closure is unavoidable because fundraising efforts haven't matched expenditures for several years.

SAUNDERS: We went through some very good strategic planning for the last 18 to 24 months to try to figure out ways to either reduce programs, reduce operating costs, increase income. And unfortunately with the economy turning in 2008, the math just wasn't able to work.

CORLEY: Some of the staff have asked the Illinois Attorney General to investigate to see if there was any mismanagement of Hull House funds. Saunders says although there's been an immediate response including offers of financial help, at this stage of the game it's too late.

(SOUNDBITE OF A ROADWAY)

CORLEY: Hull House was considered the most influential settlement house in the country, providing all sorts of services to immigrant families. And the House where it all started is still located here on the Near South Side of Chicago.

LISA LEE: When Jane Addams came, you know, it was one of the busiest, most poor neighborhoods in Chicago filled with 18 different ethnic groups. All the tenements houses were here. All the sweatshops were here.

CORLEY: And it was here, says museum director Lisa Lee, where Addams and Hull House co-founder, Ellen Gates Starr, decided to settle and work for immigrants rights, women's suffrage, public health and other issues.

LEE: You know, it became looked upon as the engine for social change.

CORLEY: Hull House expanded and the association grew in several locations around Chicago, providing foster care, job training, domestic violence counseling and pre-school to about 60,000 people a year.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN SINGING)

CORLEY: At the pre-school in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood, about a dozen three and four year olds, tongues sticking out, sang along with their teacher earlier this week.

Jessica Carillo isn't happy that the daycare is closing. Her 3-year-old son is her second child to attend.

JESSICA CARILLO: I think it's a very big disappointment. The teachers are great. The activities are awesome. It's a really good place, and especially in this community, as we need it.

CORLEY: Richard Hayes says the center has been a blessing for him since he drops his kid off early. He wasn't entirely surprised by the news because of the economy but...

RICHARD HAYES: I just thought there was more help out there.

CORLEY: Jessica Valencia says it's been a see-saw type of week. Parents were told not to come in Monday because there was no food, and later learned the center would close. Now it's a scramble to find a new place even though she's been told she'll get help.

JESSICA VALENCIA: In my case it will be very difficult because my son has autism.

CORLEY: Ian Bautista is the head of the United Neighborhood Centers of America, an organization of community groups that Jane Addams also helped found. He calls the closure of Hull House a tough loss. He says the economy puts community building organizations in a tough position when it comes to being fiscally sound.

IAN BAUTISTA: There are demands on our services that go up when the economic times are hard. But, at the same time, when the economy falters, the revenue that's available to meet those demands tends to be more stressed.

CORLEY: And one of the lessons organizations will learn from Hull House, he says, is to diversify and to not be overly dependent on government funds. It's a message that comes too late for Hull House.

Cheryl Corley, NPR's News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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