From Hull House to SON Ministries: A Historical Look at Civic Engagement

As a student, the entire goal is to be able to take what you learn in the classroom and apply it to your professional life. I am so grateful for my work at SON Ministries, because it has allowed me to see the theories taught at work. In a class titled Public Service and Civic Engagement, we studied the history of civic engagement by looking at organizations such as the Chicago Hull House; it was nearly impossible not to see the similarities between Jane Adamm’s legendary work and that of Kim Emch’s mission with SON Ministries. The two share in the same altruistic aim, and prove that civic engagement is alive and constantly adapting to fit the needs of our ever-growing nation.

The United States of America has historically taken pride in its identity as “the melting pot,” therefore it is innately logical that refugees have long sought asylum and safety on its shores. However, their struggles did not end simply by seeing Lady Liberty; Hull House and SON Ministries both work to alleviate the struggles that plague them in their new home. In 1889, approximately 78 percent of Chicago residents were either foreign-born or the children of foreign parents. This large influx was often the result of the attraction of jobs available in the metropolitan area, but once they arrived, they were greeted with horrendous living and working conditions and became members of the urban poor (Salmon, 2008). Thus, Hull House began. Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr were committed to adapting to the needs in their community, and so they “taught English, provided childcare for working mothers, and counseled poor immigrants who were struggling to adapt to city life in a new country.” (NBC News, 2007) However, the most important service they provided to their community was intangible: “they thought of the people surrounding them as their neighbors, not as their beneficiaries.” (NBC News, 2007) This was a noticeable change in civic engagement from prior generations where “middle class white women” viewed those they served as charity instead of peers. It was a humanistic approach that has been mirrored, albeit unintentionally, in modern time.

SON Ministries’ vision is “to build our Hilliard community while offering a hand up (not a hand out) to families facing the unique challenges of poverty.” (SON Ministries, 2007) In promoting that vision, they provide a Full-Family English as a Second Language program, where adults are able to learn the language with the overarching aim of finding employment, not welfare. Family ESL is a modern version of the programs Addams provided where childcare, English classes, and other services such as a free legal clinic intersect to improve the quality of life of immigrants from twenty-four different nations. Unfortunately, the population that SON Ministries is able to serve is miniscule compared to the need. As of 2014, there were 13 million refugees “of concern” to the United Nation Refugee Agency. This translates to one in every 122 humans being classified as displaced, which is an all time high. This is critical: the world cannot afford for a decrease in engagement; there needs to be an increase in organizations like SON Ministries and Hull House in order to address a truly overwhelming problem.

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