Family Service of Northwest Ohio

In 1906, the group changed its name to the Toledo Federation of Charities. Early programs of the organization included administering an emergency fund to lend money to families in need of short-term assistance, finding work for the unemployed, and sending “friendly visitors” to individual homes to teach general good health and work habits in an effort to improve the living conditions of the poor. Between January and October 1908, the Federation received almost 3,500 calls for assistance, including employment requests, charity relief, transportation, loans, legal advice, and visitations.

No case records were kept until 1909. Until that time, the Federation operated out of a donated office on St. Clair Street, had no money of its own for relief, and had only one employee; a secretary paid 50 cents per day. The secretary kept a daily log of activities, noting phone calls, visits, and correspondence written. Olive Colton was noted as a frequent visitor to the agency (she later helped organize the Child Welfare Agency, an offshoot of the Federation during the 1960’s).

On April 23, 1909, the Toledo Federation of Charities organized under the Ohio law as a “corporation not for profit” with a five-fold purpose: to promote inter-charity communication, to eliminate duplication services by acting as a clearing house for other local charities, to investigate cases, to serve as an employment agency, to police the city for corrupt agencies, and to ‘promote the general welfare of the poor…”

Edward D. Libbey served as president of the organization in 1909. He was also the leader of the Benevolence Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, and forged a spirit of cooperation between the city government and the Federation that would last until the 1930s. Many other prominent Toledo families were involved in the early history of this organization. Sinclair Walbridge was president of the Federation for twelve years, his maternal grandmother, Mrs. John Cummings, had been its first president, and his paternal grandfather (W.S. Walbridge), mother (Mrs. C.B. Walbridge), and wife (Margaret) were all board members. Members of the Edward D. Libbey, 1910 family were also prominent in the Federation. Arthur Secor was vice-president in 1905, Virginia Secor Stranahan served four terms as vice-president, and her brother George later became president.

By 1919, the Federation began shifting its focus from charity relief to social services and began infusing the social work perspective into programs and services. In May 1919, the Toledo Federation of Charities changed its name to the Social Service Federation to emphasize their shift to treatment of individuals and families involving social work rather than charity relief. During this time, they expanded their staff and budget to accommodate programs that addressed social service needs of Toledo during the 1920’s. And by 1929, the Federation had reached the ranks of a professional independent social service agency.

In 1925 Wendell F. Johnson rejoined the staff of the Federation as Director. A native Toledoan, he had previously been employed at the Federation as Assistant Superintendent in 1922 He moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to take the position of Executive Associate Aide of a social senior agency in 1924, then returned to Toledo in November 1925. Johnson was born in 1893, educated at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Toledo, and given an honorary doctorate from Bowling Green State University. He also served as president of the Ohio Welfare Conference from 1936 to 1937 and taught social work courses at the University of Toledo, Ohio State University, and LaVerne College (CA). During that same time, he was director of the social service department of the Lucas County Relief Administration (1933-1934), district supervisor of the Ohio Relief Commission (1934-1935), and secretary of the Toledo Council of Social Agencies (1935-1936). Johnson was also involved in Toledo municipal affairs as secretary of the city publicity and efficiency commission and as the first editor of the Toledo City Journal. He was Director of the Federation for 34 years and interim director once after his retirement. Johnson died on October 22, 1988 at the age of 94.

In 1928 the Federation moved into new headquarters on Superior Street as a result of a bequest from the Libbey Estate. The move was a prudent and necessary one. As the Depression of the 1930s deepened the Federation became increasingly involved in family relief and counseling. In January 1930 the relief load was 200% above normal, and in 1931 it had increased to three times normal. Four new offices were opened up during the Depression, and the Children’s Bureau was moved to a separate building. The agency may have been the first in Toledo to establish a racially integrated staff; the Pinewood district office was headed by Mrs. VanMeter, a black employee, during the 1930s.

The financial pitfalls of the Depression threatened to shut down the Federation in the mid- 1930s. When the Community Chest failed to meet its goal in 1932, it was forced to cut the Federation’s monthly appropriation of $14,000 each month. In 1933 the staff worked without pay because of the bank holiday, plus the Federal Emergency Relief Administration put a freeze on all federal relief funds. In March of that year the Federation accepted an appropriation of funds from the City of Toledo to maintain its services. The Lucas County Relief Commission took over the Family Service portion of the Federation, and the Children’s Bureau was left to work with $1,000 monthly appropriation from the Community Chest.

One of the most important services offered during this time was the Children’s Aide Department, Toledo’s first foster care agency, which focused on finding temporary homes for children, and in some cases, organizing adoptions. The Federation also kept the responsibility to investigate cases to prevent fraud or duplication of social service or charity relief efforts.

However, by 1935, the Federation disassociated itself from relief work, but helped to organize the Council of Social Agencies to assume the responsibilities of the clearing house activities. The Federation underwent many changes during this time. By 1934, however, things were improving for the Social Service Federation. The board proposed the establishment of a family consultation service to the Community Chest, which appropriated $25,000 for the project. When a plan to fund a psychiatric clinic failed, the Federation brought in a psychiatrist from Detroit and a psychologist, both on a part-time basis. By the end of the decade, the Travelers’ Aid Society joined the Agency.

During the War years one of the Agency’s primary functions was performed by the Traveler’s Aid Society. Many people were in transit at that time, either moving to army training camps, or relocating to work in defense industries. The Traveler’s Aide program provided funds to individuals and families who had lost money or transportation while passing through Toledo. Travelers’ Aid was also involved with a USO project at Union Station during World War II.

Other issues also arose in the 1940s. The board began to favor foster homes over institutional care, and in 1941 the Agency was the first of its kind in the nation to draw up comprehensive adoption policy statements. An increase in the number of illegitimate babies during the 1940s put pressure on the system of foster homes that continued throughout the 1950s. In 1954 the organization’s name was changed to Child and Family Agency of Toledo to reflect its two-fold mission of Child-Placement & Family Consultation services, as well as the Traveler’s Aide program.

Also during the 1950’s, the organization added the Homemaker Service program, in cooperation with the Junior League of Toledo, a type of “mother substitute” program to provide care for children in their home during a mother’s illness or absence . The agency continued to offer Children’s Services, Family Service (including adoption), and Traveler’s Aid.

The 1960s were characterized by many changes in the director’s position. In 1962 Bruce Herrin left the job and Wendell Johnson returned as interim director, but by the end of the year a new director, Robert Bergstrand, was found. During this time, priority was given to specific programs to provide service to families before problems arose. By the 1970’s, the Traveler’s Aide program and the Adoption Services were slowly being phased out. In 1970 the agency moved into the new Community Services building at One Stranahan Square. And after a long-range plan was developed, the organization’s name was changed to Family Service of Greater Toledo.

The name change signified an emphasis on the family that characterized the programs created in the 1970s. The main focus of the agency were parent-child issues, marital conflicts, individual stress issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, adolescence, aging family members and retirement. Family Living Experience was formalized in 1970 and renamed Creative Family Living in 1973. The adoption program was slowly withdrawn from the list of services in 1974. The Homemaker Service, which was originally to last only three years, grew to include a Home Health Aid program in 1975 to provide in-home help to parents unable to care for children due to medical or psychological issues and added personal care and elderly care in 1976. The Home Health Aid portion was created in cooperation with Community Nursing Services, which took over that service in 1980.

Services were expanded to include more of northwest Ohio in the 1970s. An office was established in Wood County in 1975 and one was opened in Ottawa County in 1978. A geriatric program was also added to the slate of services in 1975. Later in the 1970s, Family Service added an Employee Assistance Program to manage chemically dependent employees of local industries.

Family counseling continued to be the core of Family Service’s mandate throughout the 1980s. The organization also maintained its Homemaker Services program, but new community problems inspired the creation of new programs. A Consumer Credit Counseling program was initiated in the early 1980s, Plays for Living dramatized social and familial problems and solutions, and 1985 saw the publication of a Family Service newsletter, Family Dynamics. In 1981 the agency offered its first student internship in cooperation with Bowling Green State University. And in late 1989, after securing funding from the Four County Mental Health Board, an office was opened in Wauseon.
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