February 12, 2018 – 5:30-6:30pm
UW-Milwaukee Alumni House
Neighborhood House: Managing Mission and Uncertainty in the Civil Rights Era
Ruth Hansen, Lecturer, UW-Whitewater
Neighborhood House, established in 1909, was the first social service organization in the young industrial city of Gary, Indiana, and one of four settlement houses that developed in Gary during the Progressive era. As Gary matured into a major city, economically and politically driven by the steel industry and rife with racial segregation, crime, and labor struggles, Neighborhood House adapted to meet the changing needs and resources within its environment. Why, then, did the organization shut its doors in 1971? Although Neighborhood House never received government funds directly, volatility in government policy during the 1960s and 1970s contributed to its closure. Nevertheless, owing to the determination and creativity of its staff and volunteers, inspired by a vision of social justice as God’s will, important projects survived beyond the organization itself.
This historical case study examines the last ten years of Neighborhood House’s existence, using a resource dependence framework together with considering the values of its sponsors and leadership. It is an organization in a distinct context – a highly segregated northern city, negotiating the transition from the Great Society through the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement and a vastly unsettled environment locally, regionally, and nationally. But aspects of its history may be instructive to and inspiring for nonprofit leaders today. Our nation continues to struggle with racism and urban poverty, again raising the importance of structural issues: whether or not an organization directly receives government funding, it exists within a policy context. The themes of race relations, charismatic leadership, a dynamic resource environment, and the values and missions of organizations are ones that recur and intersect. Individuals directing service organizations will continue to discern their best responses within their own distinctive contexts.