City Mission is the oldest multi-service agency in New England and the second oldest in the United States. Founded by members and clergy leaders of Old South Church UCC and Park Street Church in response to the hardships facing Boston residents, it has served the educational, economic, and social needs of impoverished area residents since 1816. Since its inception, City Mission has acted as the conscience of the community, often pioneering key social programs that later became separate nonprofit agencies that attracted broad community support.
Educational programs have always been a strong focus of City Mission’s work. In the 1820s we established neighborhood Sabbath Schools (and later vacation bible schools), providing classes in baby care and sewing for young mothers. A City Mission committee successfully argued for public instruction for children under the age of 7, resulting in the creation of Boston’s public primary schools, and City Mission board members were subsequently involved with the founding of Boston English High School.
Another significant project related to education was the establishment of a Commission on Housing and Education. Greater Boston Community Development, Inc., was founded from this effort, and the educational component of the Commission assisted parents and community groups in improving the public schools as well as facilitating the availability of affordable housing.
Other social and economic issues have been at the forefront of City Mission’s concerns over the years. In 1818 City Mission founded the “Penitent Female Refuge” in response to concerns about prostitution in the West End. The re-named Orchard Home School now operates under the auspices of the Home for Little Wanderers. And, it was a City Mission missionary who drew the city’s attention to unsafe living conditions for young women working in Boston, leading to the founding of the YWCA Boston.
Over the years, City Mission has served as a critical resource for other underserved and vulnerable populations including youth, the elderly, prisoners, and hospital patients, providing them with direct services through its staff and volunteers or connecting them with other agencies that can help to meet their needs. City Mission’s urban missionary work is the forerunner of the case management model of support for families, which is now the standard in agencies across the country.
City Mission has also taken bold steps to provide services that were not available through existing agencies. As recognition grew in the city that poor families had no access to outdoor activities in the summer, City Mission initiated the Fresh Air Fund in the late 1800s. And most dramatically, when the Boston school desegregation case was put forward, City Mission was instrumental in obtaining legal assistance for some of the defendants.
Today, we combat family homelessness and poverty though a multi-level approach. We provide direct services that are designed to empower participants as well as service learning experiences that are designed to teach and to serve local communities.
City Mission is unique. We work for program participants by empowering them to improve their lives. In addition to providing direct services, City Mission also advocates for systemic change in public policy. We work in both the city and suburbs, building bridges across perceived boundaries. Our work includes raising awareness in issues of social justice and providing volunteer and service opportunities.