An Agent of Change: CHICAGO COMMONS (IPPY Bronze Medal Winner)

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9781467545266: An Agent of Change: CHICAGO COMMONS (IPPY Bronze Medal Winner)
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WINNER, 2014 Bronze IPPY Award! The Chicago Commons Association is a non-sectarian volunteer social service agency founded in 1894 to support inner-city Chicagoans in their quest for a better life. This is the definition usually given to potential donors or outside foundations considering a contribution to Chicago Commons. But Chicago Commons is so much more than this summary statement. It is a common philosophy, a kindred spirit, a cohesive force. It is our founder, Graham Taylor, and those who followed after him. It is the hundreds of residents who have lived and worked at the settlement, the thousands of volunteers who have given their time and energy to help others. It is the countless people who have participated in the Commons effort to improve their lives, and thus all our lives. It is the embodiment of the courage to act, to adapt, to approach new horizons. And as such, for close to 120 years,Chicago Commons has succeeded in being far greater than the sum of its parts. So what exactly is Chicago Commons? Almost everyone who has come in contact with Chicago Commons has asked this question. Prospective board members, community residents, donors, persons receiving services, social work students doing field work, politicians, and even board members and staff who have had a long association with Chicago Commons ask it. What is it about Chicago Commons that prompts this question, and why is it so difficult to answer? After all, Chicago Commons has been around for over a century. Certainly this is enough time for a clear and simple answer to have evolved; yet the question continues to be asked. Chicago Commons is a social service agency, a community center, a neighborhood organization. It provides day care and job training, and works with the poor just as Hull House did. Hull House, founded by Jane Addams, was one of the first settlements established in Chicago, predating Chicago Commons by several years. All of these descriptions and countless others have from time to time been used to describe Chicago Commons, but none are sufficient, for each conjures up an image that only partially captures the essence of the Commons. It was started as a settlement house but when we begin to describe Chicago Commons as a settlement house, picture the blank stare of the person listening. So where do we begin? The origins of the settlement house are rooted in the Industrial Revolution as it took hold in England and changed the social fabric of English society. Within 50 years it had taken hold in the United States, too. Prior to its onset, England as well as the rest of Europe was largely engaged in agriculture and trade with peasants who worked the land and merchants who formed a small but growing middle class. The Industrial Revolution brought an explosive and unprecedented increase in productivity and self-generating growth. Technological and economic innovations like the power loom and the steam engine were displacing human skill and effort, creating a changing social and economic scene. The convergence of the economic philosophy of Adam Smith, the emergence of democracy as a political movement, and the technological changes being introduced in the production of goods for consumption formed a context for understanding changes in societal responses to inequities and injustice toward the poor and the working classes. The pace of change was so rapid that traditional institutions, such as churches and the extended family, were unable to adapt,thus creating fertile ground for the human exploitation that occurred. Out of this chaos came a movement for reform, and the settlement house became an agent advocating this change. In CHICAGO COMMONS, Seever takes you on a journey through the settlement house movement as a response to this unparalleled upheaval during the 19th century.

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About the Author:

Frank S. Seever, Ph.D. was President of Chicago Commons for over 30 years and retired in 2001. He also stepped down as President of The Taylor Institute of Chicago, founded in memory of Graham Taylor, founder of Chicago Commons, and his daughter, Lea. The Institute engaged in research, public policy analysis and program development in the U.S. and abroad. These projects led to over 30 major reports and publications (including five books) that have influenced policy and practice in community economic development and humanitarian services. Seever's career in social work has included an executive position with the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers. He also served as director of a National Institute of Mental Health project on juvenile delinquency. He is a graduate of Washington University, St. Louis, MO and Bryn Mawr College,Bryn Mawr, PA. Seever has been recognized at the highest levels for social service leadership. Honors include: The Chicago Spirit Award for Outstanding Services Benefiting the Economically Disadvantaged Citizens of Chicago, presented by The Sara Lee Foundation; The Urban Leadership Award for Innovative Programs Serving Urban Populations, presented by the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation; Excellence in Sustained Management of a Not-for-Profit Organization, given by the Beatrice Foundation; The Distinguished Alumni Award, given by the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, St.Louis, MO

Review:

Frank Seever is a quiet hero, someone who changed lives without asking for recognition. In these pages, he recounts those extraordinary years running Chicago Commons, a place steeped in the tradition of the settlement house movement and he does so with humility, grace and an eye towards celebrating the successes and acknowledging the debates. --Alex Kotolowitz, Author, Chicago, Illinois

There is no question that the modern dilemma of community development, social support and empowerment needs this kind of reinterpretation of the power of the settlement approach. Frank Seever's book is important, insightful and timely. --Edward F. Lawlor, Dean, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, St.Louis, Missouri

Countless political speeches have been made and untold billions of dollars have been spent unsuccessfully across the country on today's crushing urban problems. There is a crying need to move beyond endless studies, government programs and the loud voices of special interest groups. Frank Seever gives us hope that change is possible. --Ron Manderschied, President, Northwestern University Settlement Association, Chicago, Illinois

There is no question that the modern dilemma of community development, social support and empowerment needs this kind of reinterpretation of the power of the settlement approach. Frank Seever's book is important, insightful and timely. --Edward F. Lawlor, Dean, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, St.Louis, Missouri

Countless political speeches have been made and untold billions of dollars have been spent unsuccessfully across the country on today's crushing urban problems. There is a crying need to move beyond endless studies, government programs and the loud voices of special interest groups. Frank Seever gives us hope that change is possible. --Ron Manderschied, President, Northwestern University Settlement Association, Chicago, Illinois

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