History

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.

Timeline

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

Meet our leadership since 1915.

1870–1899

1870

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

1893

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

1900–1949

1914

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."

1936

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.

1942

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

1945

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.

1950–1999

1957

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.

1984

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.

1994

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.

1996

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

2000–present

2004

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

2016

Kirstin Chernawsky becomes Executive Director of Erie House.

2017

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

2018

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.

2019

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.

2020

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

1915

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

Florence Towne

1926

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

1951

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

Merri Ex

1977

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

1985

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

Esther Nieves

1997

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

Ricardo Estrada

2003

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

Celena Roldán

2010

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

Kirstin Chernawsky

2016

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

Learn more about our history

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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