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Change + Tradition: From the War on Poverty to Today

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The 1960s and 1970s brought about enormous changes to Italian Home for Children.  The federal government’s “war on poverty” greatly increased funding for human services programs at a federal, state, and local level. 

Italian Home responded to that sea change then and continues to respond to changing needs today. Change – combined with our longstanding history and tradition of high-quality residential care – has become a cornerstone of the organization’s culture.

“In the early days, we were an orphanage, a residential home for children” recently noted Alan Jacobson, Chief Executive Officer of Italian Home. “Then we added a school to our campus. Today, we have greatly expanded our services beyond Jamaica Plain and into the community. We are helping children with emotional, behavioral, and learning challenges reach their potential at home.

“Simultaneously, our services on campus are changing as we take advantage of the latest research and best practices, leading to the creation of programs like our cutting-edge new program that serves children with Autism who have experienced trauma” Jacobson said.

“Change has been part of our DNA throughout our history.”

Transformation in the 1970s

In the 1960s and 1970s, the government began licensing child welfare institutions and purchasing services from them. At Italian Home, children were no longer solely coming from the Italian community for care.

In 1973, the board formally acknowledged the shift that was underway. The organization’s name was changed from the Home for Italian Children to Italian Home for Children to acknowledge the more diverse ethnic and racial groups being served. That same year, the organization hired its first lay executive director, Anthony Tomasello, to negotiate the changing times.

Within a few years, Italian Home had hired a social worker, a consulting psychologist, and lay teachers to join the sisters in caring for children whose behavioral, learning, and family problems were becoming more complex.

“To remain in existence, Italian Home needed to transform from what had been convent-based home for children into a professionalized residential treatment program,” said Chris Small in a recent interview.  Small, the longtime Chief Executive of Italian Home, began his time at the organization as its first Director of Professional Services in 1979.  “We developed a full range of clinical and education services consistent with recommendations made by the Child Welfare League of America,” he said.

“The conversion from an excellent custodial care facility to a sophisticated treatment facility also meant introducing scores of childcare workers to provide the 24-hour coverage previously provided by seven sisters,” Small wrote in a history of Italian Home produced for its 85th anniversary.   “The 1927 main building was completely renovated and expanded to create modern cottage-style units and additional office space.”

More changes in the 1990s, 2000s

Since that time of great change in the 1970s, Italian Home has consistently met challenges with innovation and compassion.

“In the 1990s we added specialized education in the Pallotta Educational Center, helping children who have only known failure finally experience success in an academic setting,” Jacobson said.  “We created the Community Based Acute Treatment program (CBAT) as a residential, 24/7 alternative to hospitalization for children with a wide range of very challenging emotional issues. In 2000, we added the Cranwood Group Home in East Freetown to serve children in southeastern Massachusetts, and in 2001 we joined with the Brighton Allston Mental Health Association Clinic to provide individual, group and family therapy in the community and partnered with Boston Public elementary and high schools to provide case management and dropout prevention services.

“More recently, we have created in-home behavioral services, in-home therapy programs, and therapeutic mentoring to work with children and their families. We are helping children who are aggressive, injuring themselves, unable to follow directions, or have other behavioral issues live comfortably and cooperatively at home and in school.  Today, our services are expanding to better serve children with autism. We are helping children and families with a wide range of needs develop more positive behaviors and communications skills,” Jacobson says. 

The children living at Italian Home today in many cases have more mental health and behavioral challenges than they did a century ago.  “Our services today go far beyond our history as an orphanage,” said Jacobson. “We are helping hundreds of children and families on our campus and in their homes, schools, and communities overcome challenges created by poverty, domestic or community violence, mental illness, substance use, and other forces that are getting in the way of their learning and growth.”

Few organizations celebrate centennials

“There aren’t a lot of organizations that exist for 100 years or more,” said Jacobson.  “It is those that continue to evolve and change with the times who make that milestone.  It’s the ability to change, while remaining true to the ideals of our founders a century ago, that makes Italian Home so special.”

Italian Home History - Sepia Tone
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