Our History: 1880s
Our history is as diverse as Wilmington’s. Started as a result of the Settlement House Movement of the late 1880s, the Italian Neighborhood House, as it was then known, was founded by Emily Bissell on the West Side of Wilmington to assist newly arriving immigrants with such matters as Americanization, literacy, housing and employment.
The Settlement House Movement was often pragmatic, experimental and responsive to the specific neighborhood needs at particular times – a tradition West End Neighborhood House continues today. Serving greater numbers of more diverse populations, community-based social service agencies today shadow the settlement houses of yesteryear.
Our History: World War I
By the advent of World War I, the Neighborhood House was already collaborating with other social service agencies and, in the early months of the war, the United States Navy used the facilities for a barracks and club for the “Navy Patrol” in the city.
In December of 1918, a building was purchased at 708 Lincoln Street, which gave birth to our present day site. An Italian-owned construction firm, Ernest DiSabatino and Sons, contracted the remodeling work which took place during 1919 and 1920. Ernest DiSabatino’s son, Paul E. DiSabatino, served as an active member of our Board of Directors for many years.
Our History: The Great Depression
In the midst of the Great Depression, the Italian Neighborhood House endeavored to maintain services. The Well Baby Clinic flourished, and the clubs, sports programs, playground, and kindergarten provided child care and helped enrich the lives of the youngest members of the community.
The Neighborhood House also became a center for employment and relief fund assistance. The New Deal instituted by Franklin D. Roosevelt helped alleviate some financial programs. In 1936, the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) began to implement some of its programs through the Neighborhood House. With the help of the W.P.A. and the perseverance of Emily Bissell, the House continued to flourish through the Depression, initiating a prenatal health care clinic, sports teams for girls, and the area’s first Girl Scout Troop.
Our History: The 1940s and ‘50s
During World War II, the House linked air-raid systems with the Wilmington public schools and began collaborating with the Wilmington Board of Education to provide increased nursery school programs. The Red Cross joined the House and set up a home-nursing program to train women in first-aid skills while staff assisted in the war effort by coordinating the sale of thousands of dollars of war bonds in the neighborhood.
As women from the neighborhood obtained jobs in defense industries, the House assumed a special significance as a “home away from home” for many of the youth. Today, West End strives to maintain the same sense of safety and security.
The late 1940s and the 1950s proved to be a period of stability for the Neighborhood House and for the West Side community as a whole. But the challenges of the turbulent ’60s were yet to be met.
Our History: The 1960s, ‘70s & ‘80s
In the 1960s, the composition of the neighborhood began to change as minorities, such as African Americans and Hispanics, began to populate the area.
In the atmosphere of racial and social ferment of the ’60s, members of minority groups were actively struggling to correct some of the historic inequities of American society, forcing people to face up to their responsibilities to help correct the situation. West End was up to the challenge.
In response to the social changes, West End again mirrored its services to the needs of the people. West End adopted the “multi-service center” approach to social problems, engaging in a wide array of activities and services. Staffing the center reflected the changes and, with new federal funding, young, creative and enthusiastic professionals joined West End to develop and administer programs that characterized the development of the federal antipoverty efforts.
In the 1970s and ’80s, West End Neighborhood House began to take the shape it holds today. Federal employment and training programs, a presumed answer to the welfare problems, were initiated at West End along with crisis alleviation, full-day childcare, tutoring and housing programs.
Our History: The ‘90s and ‘00s
During the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century, West End Neighborhood House expanded rapidly to focus on the specific needs of their diverse community members. During this period, West End shifted toward a comprehensive system of care in order to provide the tools and services necessary for families to gain independence and self-sufficiency. West End maintained its status as a hub of community activity, but broadened its reach to help individuals attain education, employment, affordable housing and childcare and build strong financial futures.
West End built stronger services for children by creating the innovative “Tiny Steps” program, which helped increase the health and wellness of low-income mothers and lowered local infant mortality rates. They also purchased the 8th Street Baptist Church to create a child development center, which today serves as the West Side Head Start site.
With a renovation and the addition of the Emily Bissell Wing, West End was also able to expand its Employment and Training program and Division of Youth Services. The new facilities spurred opportunities for academic enrichment, additional recreational activities and employment services for local at-risk youth and adults struggling to find work.
In 2001, the Life Lines program was created to help former foster care youth adjust to adult independence. Additionally, West End became a leader in the area of financial education and management by eradicating financial barriers to stability. The creation of the Statewide Security Deposit Loan Program, the Rental Assistance Program, housing case management and counseling, in addition to other programs, continue to help families find their financial footing today.
In 1998, Cornerstone West, West End’s development arm, was established as a not-for-profit community development corporation to serve as a proactive catalyst for positive community revitalization and to create housing for Wilmington’s low and moderate income families. Since Cornerstone West’s inception, 125 homes have been built and numerous neighborhoods have been revitalized.
Our History: Today
West End’s mission is to assist individuals achieve self-sufficiency, reach and maintain their maximum potential, and live responsibly and harmoniously in a healthy community and complex world.
Each year, West End serves over 10,000 individuals in the areas of employment and training, GED preparation, tutoring, crisis alleviation, first-time home ownership, before and after school care, youth and adult socialization and physical fitness, Summer Camp, community revitalization, rental security deposits and relocation loans and grants, truancy prevention, transitional housing, as well as numerous community based events such as holiday programming.
A special feature of our programming is our collaborative efforts with other private organization and public agencies. This enables us to provide a wider range of services to our clients and allows for more economical expenditure of funds by all involved. In these times of limited funding, collaboration is an essential aspect of responsible and effective service provision.
Furthermore, as a responsible social service agency, West End has succeeded in capping its management costs to below 12% for over 15 years. This is a hallmark of effective management and administration. To ensure financial efficiency of the agency infrastructure, every program at West End is conscious of its position as a community-based service provider, and our mission continues to be driven by our not-for-profit credo.
Over the course of several decades, the innovative programs at West End Neighborhood House have become successful prototypes for service organizations both regionally and nationally. Today, West End continues to be a social service leader by reacting quickly and efficiently to adapt to the needs of the community. Although a stagnant economy recently created a wave of tight funding opportunities and a higher population of Delawareans in need, West End augmented and fine-tuned its services by expanding their low-interest loan product, employment training and job search opportunities and services focused on foreclosure prevention.
As the needs of the community continue to change, West End Neighborhood House looks forward to providing their customers with the tools and opportunities they need to achieve self-sufficiency, overcome challenges and attain their goals.