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Settlements and Neighborhood Centers

Settlements And Neighborhood Centers[1]


The social Settlement movement began in England during the 1800s. The Settlement movement in the United States consists of the combined activities of over 800 settlements and neighborhood houses, 10 city federations of these agencies, and the National Federation of Settlements. It grew out of the concern of social and religious leaders nor the widening gaps in society created by the industrial revolution. The population of cities were expanding with little attempt being made to expand facilities and services for the masses of people. Our American cities in addition, were becoming the new homes for a continuous stream of immigrants from Europe representing many ethnic backgrounds.

One of the attempts to meet these urgent needs of complex urban life was the church extension movement and much of modern social work had its origin in this phase of Church development. This was true of settlement work, except that a different philosophy dominated the settlement movement from that of other welfare programs.

The term “Settlement” is of English origin, having been applied to London’s Toynbee Hall (the first Settlement, 1884) when its leaders “settled” in the working class district of White Chapel. The term “neighborhood house or center” is more characteristically American, free from any implications of class distinction. It connotes an activity center which does not emphasize the sociological philosophy of the earlier settlements. However, in some instances, the two terms are used quite interchangeably.

The settlements and Neighborhood Centers are multifunctional agencies, which exist to serve the social needs of persons in given geographical neighborhoods—the neighborhood is their “client.”

It provides: (1) Informal Educational and Recreational Services, (2) Neighborhood Services, and (3) Personal Services.

In the informal educational and recreational services, the agency aims to create rich programs to meet the needs of all participants. In its neighborhood services the agency includes cooperation with and participating in the work of neighborhood organizations and civic associations, interesting other community organizations or agencies in providing needed services, working with neighborhood citizens, educating neighborhood people for social action in their own neighborhood and on their own behalf. In the area of personal services the agency helps the individual or family itself or helps them by referring them to the agency best suited to meet their needs.

From the point of view of the neighbor, the settlement is a social center with facilities for his family’s enjoyment. He may be unaware of the study and research underlying the program which keeps an enthusiastic group of residents and volunteer leaders active year after year, but he is or should be, conscious of the quality of services rendered. His participation is the measure of his interest. The settlement leaders value highly the activities program which provides these neighborly activities.

Settlements and neighborhood centers invariably attract large numbers of children, occasioning an assumption that the houses exists primarily for children’s activities. Actually the settlement’s primary concern is the home in its neighborhood setting, an interest which logically focuses attention upon childhood—its environment, well-rounded training, and ultimate citizenship. Settlement federations are insistent, however, that their member houses shall not be regarded as children’s center. “A place to keep children off the street” is not an adequate characterization of a neighborhood house, commonly as it is voiced even by well disposed friends. Educational in its every effort and concern with the family as its unit of work, the settlement regards its youth efforts as a broad program of community leadership.

Visitors to settlements are invariably intrigued by the round of exuberant activities. Winter and summer, indoor and outdoor, day and evening groups are open to tiny tots, growing children, adolescents, and parents. Arts and crafts, music and dancing, games and tournaments, debates and lectures, committees and neighborhood council meetings—there is something of interest for everybody.

The broad social aims of the settlement are those common to all social work: strengthening of family life and democratic society through helping individuals achieve happiness and security, developing satisfying relationships through group experiences and organizing programs for the well-being of the total community.

The specific objectives of the settlement today are: (a) to help the people of a neighborhood to live together in such a way to become a source of enrichment to one another in their social relationship; (b) to discover and develop indigenous leadership which will operate for the good of all people across racial, religious, and nationality lines; and (c) to help people fulfill their citizenship responsibility to one another and the wider community through effective patterns of individual and group action.

These common purposes or objectives, are the cord which binds all neighborhood centers together. Beyond these, settlements are apt to be more different one from another than they are alike. This is due primarily to the differences in neighborhoods in which settlements are located. The particular services provided by settlements depends upon the needs of their own neighborhoods and the existence or lack of other facilities to meet these needs, it can be understood why the services of settlements are so different from agency to agency. Where one settlement needs a nursing another might need an all-day program for the aged—one maybe involved in urban renewal—another helping to develop a tenant’s council in a new housing project. The settlement house often undertakes a service to demonstrate need, and then is instrumental in having the service taken over by another voluntary or a public agency.

There is no traditional program pattern.

In general, however, 3 methods of services can be identified. These are: (1) work with individuals; (2) work with groups; and (3) services with or on behalf of the neighborhood as a whole. The settlements have dual objectives in working with groups. The focus is both upon the development of the individual through the satisfactions enjoyed through an enriched social life and the creation of a better neighborhood environment. One is work with groups which the settlement sponsors as membership groups—clubs, classes, teams, and interest groups for persons of all ages. These informal education, recreation, and group work programs provide the bulk of services in most settlements. They have proved to be the best tool in helping to develop harmonious relationships and feelings of neighborliness. Another type of work with groups is that wherein the settlement provides services to neighborhood groups not under its own auspices. In working with neighborhood as a whole—observation and study of the neighborhood is an ongoing part of every settlement’s work.

From the earliest years of one’s life, and individual is drawn into one or more groups, many of which are of his own choosing. An essential element in achieving social maturity is success in group experiences.

Social group work’s objectives are no different from those of social work of which it is a part. Social work seeks to improve human relations. Group functions in this broad area by providing group associations and experiences which afford persons a controlled environment within which they may be helped to adjust and relate to each other.

In social group the group itself is utilized as the primary measure of personality growth, change and development. Since the derived outcome of group work is the social development of both individual and group in the community, the kinds of groups in and through which experiences are provided are of the upmost importance.

Another objective of group work is to help develop the capacity and increase the skills of persons to participate effective—by in the groups and communities of which they are a part. This is an essential requirement of democracy, which calls for people able to establish a participating relationship with others in the pursuit of social goals. Persons who are secure and accepted are better able to participate in cooperative activities. Because of the relaxation and enjoyment of group life they are able to express themselves in a creative way. Fundamentally, social group work fosters the establishment of social relationships as complete and satisfying as possible.

The function of a Group Worker is: to help individuals, by means of guided group experiences, to develop and use their capacities for personally satisfying social relationships, to help them to deal with the problems presented by their environment and to use the resources of this environment in a constructive way. As a result of these positive, progressive experiences the persons who take part in them are enabled to carry more effectively their responsibilities in a democratic society.

Individuals join groups because of wanting to be with certain people and because of wanting to do things these people do. To the member the program may be the important reason for his being in the group. To the worker the program is a means or tool of individual and group development.

Broadly conceived, programs as a concept refers to the entire range of activities, relationships and interactions deliberately designed to foster the fulfillment of the interests and needs of the group. It is a two dimensional concept, implying both stream of activities and the continuous interplay of personalities which creates the activities.

The group worker gives help to the group in the development of program in line with the members’ interests and needs. Program is a developmental experience rather than something superimposed. The specific methods and media of program are important only as they fulfill needs.

Note:   [1] Social Work Year Book: 1947, 1954, 1957 “Settlements and Neighborhood Centers,” “Social Group Work”

Source: University of Chicago. School of Social Service Administration. Office of the Dean. Alton Linford Records, 1956-1969, [Box 14, Folder 11], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

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