Way back in 1868, a group of German, Scottish and Swedish settlers founded the Onward Presbyterian Church. Over the next century, the church evolved into an essential resource for immigrants in Chicago, serving as a school, a refuge, and a community center for thousands of impoverished newcomers.
We’re taking a moment this week to honor one of our partners, Onward Neighborhood House. Though their work began about three decades prior, it was not until 1927 that the organization was given its official name, at which time social worker Lena Seemann became the organization’s first Director. Her aim was to provide comprehensive aid to every social service need: from early childhood education to food distribution to English language classes to citizenship assistance, Onward House supported the West Town community in as many ways as they could. Throughout the 20th century, their services expanded and evolved, enduring the challenges of the Great Depression, the tumultuous uncertainty of the 60s, the Reagan-era cutbacks in government funding, and the digitalization of the modern age.
Onward House’s mission is “to open doors to improve lives and uplift communities through educational, economic and support services.” Over the year, these services have changed in response to community needs, and the organization prides itself on its “ability to adapt to societal changes.” In the early 20th century, the community was located in West Town and their needs were mainly food, clothing, and shelter. Today, their programming focuses on childcare and early education, digital literacy and workforce development, and their food pantry. Hundreds of families rely on these services, a number that more than doubled since the devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, they’ve also provided tens of thousands of dollars in cash assistance to families struggling to pay rent, and offered support on loan applications for struggling businesses.
These days, Onward Neighborhood House is located in Belmont Cragin: as the West Town population changed (and the median household income of the area increased), it became clear that Onward House needed to find a new location in order to serve those who need support the most. Their current location at 5413 W Diversey Ave is convenient to the large immigrant population that resides in Belmont Cragin.
Similarly, when CommunityHealth assessed patient data, we noticed that our patients live all over Chicagoland, spanning more than ten zip code regions, and that Belmont Cragin had the highest concentration of patients. Though the Lederman Family Health Center (our main location) is central to Chicagoland at large, many patients reported difficulty in commuting to West Town for their appointments. Thus, CommunityHealth at Onward House in Belmont Cragin was a match made in heaven: since opening our first satellite clinic last year, we’ve seen incredible results: a decrease in our appointment no-show rate and an increase in patient satisfaction. Thanks to Onward House’s collaboration, we’re bringing health care closer to home.
Paying attention to shifts in our patient population is what allows us to better serve them, and we’re proud that our micro-site is located within an organization that is equally sensitive to community needs. You can learn more about Onward Neighborhood House’s services via their website.