As the 82nd anniversary of social change pioneer Jane Addams’ death approaches (May 21), long-standing Boston-based United South End Settlements (USES) will be celebrating the timelessness of the community-centric settlement house movement she founded, and the 125th anniversary of its own interconnected legacy.
On May 24, CEO Maicharia Weir Lytle will host The Neighborhood Gala, one in a series of special events to mark USES’s 125 years of harnessing Addams’ unique settlement house model to forge social and economic change. Since its founding in 1892, USES has transformed thousands of lives by mobilizing the historically diverse community in and around the South End to collectively uplift children and their families by fostering the relationships, providing the resources, and inspiring the resilience that counteracts poverty. The Neighborhood Gala is set for 6 p.m. at USES’s Tubman House, 566 Columbus Ave.
“I’m proud to say we’ve remained true to Jane Addams’ original extraordinary vision,” said Weir Lytle, who has led USES since her appointment in 2014. “Jane created a model of social change that welcomed and took advantage of diversity in communities as a catalyst. Our entire community is engaged in helping the most vulnerable families overcome economic hardships, which makes it more likely for everyone to thrive, across all socio-economic and racial backgrounds. There’s reciprocal positive impact when we bring people together, and USES continues to demonstrate that in a distinctive way.”
As the settlement house movement has evolved to meet the needs of the changing times and communities around the US, significant change is also ahead for USES during its 125th year. Weir Lytle is leading a new era of strategic reinvention and transformation at USES that she announced last month, following a comprehensive strategic planning process with input from community members, staff, donors, and Board members.
One of the major changes will be to end the senior programs that take place at the Tubman House within USES. The organization is going to transition their seniors within existing programs to other, more experienced providers. That will mean that the senior program end on June 30.
“To achieve our new vision, we need to align our programs and operations to our new theory of change and renewed mission,” Weir Lytle announced last month. “This means we will work to transition our existing senior services programs to experienced organizations we believe can serve our seniors even better than we can while we explore how we engage seniors in the new model, shift the focus of our Workforce Readiness program from education to career preparation, and move from stand-alone vacation arts programming to agency-wide arts access for all of our youth. These changes will happen at the end of our fiscal year – June 30 – allowing time for a thoughtful transition.”
In an around the South End, high inequality persists, especially among the youngest, most vulnerable residents. Despite a rapid influx of higher-income neighbors in recent years, 36 percent of children in the South End live below the poverty line, and 46 percent of households remain in public housing.
“USES has historically tried to meet the very wide range of needs in this community,” explains Weir Lytle. “By pivoting to focus specifically on families with children who are striving to break a multigenerational cycle of poverty, we’ll be able to target members of our community whose needs and potential are great. And, we envision impact that has a positive cumulative effect on every member of participating families in our community, including seniors and other extended family members.”
By late June, USES will begin embracing families with the holistic range of programs they’ll need to achieve economic mobility and “whole family” well-being; programs through every stage of their children’s development from infancy through young adulthood, and career coaching and skills-building programs for parents.
In the late 1800s, emancipated slaves, European and Asian immigrants, and rural laborers flocked to big cities in search of work and a better life. Their arrival in cities like Boston sparked a wave of social change that led to the settlement house movement which swept the country, giving rise to organizations like USES, and brought people together across economic, ethnic and racial differences to build community and help each other prosper in areas of our cities that economic progress left behind.
“As USES looks forward, it’s also essential to remind the community that our work is inspired as well by Harriet Tubman, who is a proud part of the history of our landmark building on Columbus Avenue,” said Weir Lytle of the American heroine and honorary president of the original Harriet Tubman House, a former Boston settlement house that provided shelter and skills training in the early 1900s for black women from the South. “Harriet was known for advancing opportunity and addressing inequality. She showed that one woman, driven by her values and vision, has the power to forever change the world. She is the definition of resilience. By humbly taking Harriet’s cue, we believe USES can continue changing this community around us, more deeply than ever.”
For more information about USES’s Neighborhood Gala, visit: www.uses125.org/gala.