Erie House was originally founded as a “little Dutch Church” in West Town with a focus on serving the area’s immigrant population. As the city and its immigrant populations changed over the years, so did Erie House. While founded in the settlement house tradition, today, we are a modern social services nonprofit providing the most comprehensive support immigrant and low-income families need to thrive.

The Erie House Story

Erie Neighborhood House opened its doors to Chicago’s West Town community on December 4, 1870. As the city and community have changed over the last century and a half, so have we. What began as a church evolved to become the now oldest operating settlement house in the city.

In the last 150-plus years, we’ve expanded our footprint to a second site in West Town and later into Little Village to reach more of our predominantly Latinx immigrant participant population. We also offer programming from satellite locations in Humboldt Park and Logan Square, and home visiting in Back of the Yards. We’ll soon open another center on the Near West Side.

Child care and education have always been part of Erie House. In 1893, we offered one of twenty flagship programs in Chicago’s Free Kindergarten Association, and in 1942 we began providing daycare in response to growing demand during WWII as the American workforce evolved. In 1984, we launched TEAM, a groundbreaking mentoring program that supports the growth and development of neighborhood youth.

We’ve been an incubator for other community-based organizations, including Erie Family Health, which began as a clinic operated by Northwestern University medical students at Erie House in 1957. Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation was also founded by Erie House in 1967 to create affordable housing opportunities for members of the community. And in 2005, Erie Elementary Charter school was founded out of Erie House to provide a bilingual school option for neighborhood families. 

And finally, we’ve continued to grow and evolve to provide what our community needed the most. In 1996, we opened a community technology center to provide new education and professional development opportunities for our participants in a rapidly changing world. In recent years, we’ve responded to our immigrant community’s concerns by providing “Know Your Rights” trainings and expanding our Legal Services department. We’ve also heavily invested in mental health, community wellness and safety through our Proyecto Cuídate program, our fastest-growing department based in Little Village. 


Browse photos from our archives and explore the timeline below to journey through our over 150-year-long history.

Meet our leadership since 1915.



Holland Presbyterian Church — the precursor to Erie Chapel Institute and later Erie Neighborhood House — is established in West Town.


Erie Kindergarten is one of twenty flagship programs in Chicago's Free Kindergarten Association.



Florence Towne begins her 37-year tenure at Erie House, serving as teacher, girls' group leader, and head resident. Reader's Digest calls her "Angel of the Alleys."


Erie Chapel Institute is renamed Erie Neighborhood House. The same year, a new building is dedicated at 1347 W. Erie St., where we still operate today.


Erie House begins providing daycare in response to growing demand during World War II as the American workforce evolves.


Rev. Douglas Cedarleaf marches with Erie House participants in solidarity with an African American family who had been harassed upon moving to West Town. The march is featured in TIME Magazine.



The Carmella Jacob Clinic (which will later be renamed as Erie Family Health), staffed by Northwestern University medical students, is established to serve low-income families.


Erie House collaborates with the Northern Trust Company to launch Tutoring to Educate for Aims and Motivation (TEAM), a groundbreaking mentoring program that supports the growth and development of neighborhood youth.


Erie House moves into its second West Town location at 1701 W. Superior St., sharing a renovated factory building with Erie Family Health Center. This new space allows Erie House to expand early childhood education programming and serve more of the West Town community.


Erie House opens its community technology center, opening new opportunities for education and professional development for participants in a changing world.



Erie House expands to begin serving families in Little Village, a community with a rich Mexican American identity.


Kirstin Chernawsky becomes Executive Director of Erie House.


Amidst growing concerns about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Erie House begins delivering "Know Your Rights" training to the community.


Our Proyecto Cuídate community wellness and safety program expands its footprint in providing critical mental health services to our community, ultimately becoming a standalone department within Erie House.


Erie House's Legal Services program grows into its own department, expanding its mission of keeping families together and allowing them to achieve a greater sense of security in the U.S.


Erie House responds to the coronavirus pandemic with expanded virtual programming, a safe return for children and youth, and a Community Relief Fund to provide direct financial assistance to participants.

Our Leadership

since incorporation in 1915

George Searles


Erie Chapel incorporated and adopted the name Erie Chapel Institute in 1915. Rev. George Searles was both pastor and director.

Florence Towne


Florence Towne arrived at Erie as the kindergarten teacher and head girls resident in 1914 and went on to spend 25 years in the role of director of Erie Chapel Institute.

Ross Lyman


Rev. Ross Lyman served dual roles as minister of Erie Chapel and executive director of Erie House. 

Merri Ex


Merri Ex first came to Erie House as a community organizer. She became executive director at age 24 and was the first Spanish-speaking director of the agency.

Rafael Ravelo


Rafael "Rafa" Ravelo is the first Latino individual to become executive director. 

Esther Nieves


Esther Nieves succeeds Rafa Ravelo as executive director after serving as associate executive director for the agency.

Ricardo Estrada


A Mexican-American immigrant, Ricardo "Ric" Estrada became executive director at Erie House after serving as associate executive director under Esther Nieves.

Celena Roldán


Celena Roldán served as social worker and director of child care before being named executive director.

Kirstin Chernawsky


Kirstin Chernawsky became executive director after serving as senior director of development and communications.

Cristina De La Rosa


Cristina De La Rosa became Erie House's 10th  executive director after serving as Senior Director of Programs. Cristina has been with Erie House for over 10 years.

Learn more about our history


A Neighbor Among Neighbors

Erie Neighborhood House: 150 years as a Home with No Borders

By Maureen Hellwig

"This masterful work tells how enduring values have allowed a settlement house to be an open door and a community voice to a succession of immigrant groups for 150 years - and counting. What is particularly valuable and unusual is that the analysis is equally insightful for every period, including the present."

— Gary Johnson, CEO, Chicago History Museum