Family Services of Winnetka and Northfield: Providing help for 103 years
Gazette Article by: Robert Mardirossian, Ph.D. – Executive Director
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1996
Family Service of Winnetka-Northfield is proud of its historical roots. They illustrate the social consciousness that is a hallmark of local residents. In 1893 the nucleus of Family Service was established when three merchants, Robert Moth, Max Meyer, and James Hunt, formed the Winnetka Relief League. By 1905 the Relief League evolved into the Winnetka Relief and Aid Society, providing food, clothing, and shelter to needy families. In 1912 the Society hired Miss Mary Garretson, a visiting nurse, who served Winnetka for 34 years. In addition to home visits, she also monitored the health of the village’s school children.
Shortly after arriving in Winnetka, Nurse Garretson appealed to her friends in the Congregational Church to collect and distribute clothing to families in need. This group formed the “Clothing Sales Committee of the Relief and Aid Society,” first housed in Emma and Kate Dwyer’s basement at the corner of Elm and Birch Streets. In 1922 the project’s name was changed to “The Winnetka Thrift Shop.”
From its inception the thrift shop has financially supported family services and provided residents with affordable, quality clothing and household supplies.
In response to the Depression and a need for greater service, in 1931 a joint committee of the Winnetka Relief and Aid Society and the Winnetka Woman’s Club organized the Social Service Bureau. It was run with great success by Mrs. Axel Hofgren, a professionally trained social worker who helped men and women find employment and assisted them in solving personal problems.
In 1933 the Winnetka Relief and Aid Society and the Social Service Bureau were consolidated. Emma Rodgers succeeded Mrs. Hofgren as director of the Winnetka Relief and Aid Society in 1934. Under her 24-year leadership, the agency grew and moved from the village Hall to the Winnetka Community House. The name of the agency was changed to Winnetka Family Welfare Society in 1938 and to Family Service of Winnetka in 1949.
Under Marjorie Browne, who served as director form 1958 until 1974, Family Service continued to grow and became recognized for its strong counseling and professional training program. After providing services to the Village of Northfield for four years, the agency officially changed its name to Family Service of Winnetka-Northfield in 1960. Three years later, Family Service moved to rented space on Spruce Street, where it was housed for ten years.
Since 1973, when the board of directors purchased a building, Family Service and The Winnetka Thrift Shop have operated in their quarters at 992 ½ Green Bay Road in Hubbard Woods. Family Service benefited from the leadership provided by subsequent directors, Stan Levy (1974-1982) and Walter Rest (1982-1992).
Today, Family Service is not only proud of its rich history, but of its current commitment to maintaining its responsiveness to the communities it serves. Offering high quality counseling and psychotherapy on a sliding fee scale, insuring that no one is turned away because of limited financial resources, Family Service strives to strengthen family life as did its forerunner, the Winnetka Relief League, over 100 years ago.