SWAN Inc. at Montgomery Neighborhood Center, one of Rochester’s original settlement houses, has joined a network of similar organizations in New York State. The center is now part of United Neighborhood Houses, becoming its 45thmember.
“Affiliation with partners in purpose is an invaluable resource of organizations like ours, whose goal is to better the lives of the community we serve,” says Tiffany Owens, executive director of SWAN. “We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working in concert with UNH in advocating for conditions that inspire, include, and illuminate hope!”
Located at Cady Street, the Montgomery Neighborhood Center began with a mission to promote and foster neighborhood life and guide its development. At first, programs at the center included crafts and cleaning up the neighborhood, among other activities. Though arts and crafts remain on the agenda, the center has evolved since then.
Now, the center provides family emergency services which assist households in the 14608, 14611 and 14619 ZIP codes. Sponsored by United Way, it aims to aid more than 1,400 households each year. With a goal to improve the quality of life of residents in the southwest area, the senior nutrition program provides services including meals, monthly nurse visits and dietitian consultations, while neighborhood preservation helps low-income homeowners, seniors, and persons with disabilities within the neighborhood with minor home repairs and landscaping. This summer, the center unveiled its Montgomery Gratitude Garden, which has more than 100 vegetable plants and flowers.
United Neighborhood Houses, a policy and social change organization, mobilizes settlement homes like SWAN to advocate for public policies and promote practices and organizations that build neighborhood resiliency. It partners with its members on issues such as healthy aging, early childhood education, neighborhood affordability and community engagement. Members also can tap customized professional development opportunities and peer learning, in addition to guidance and research support.
“We believe deeply in the power of the settlement house movement to reinforce neighborhoods with local residents and resources at the center,” says Susan Stamler, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses. “Expanding our footprint beyond New York City limits is an important step in effecting meaningful change in legislative districts throughout New York.”
SWAN embodies the essential qualities of a settlement house through its work, making the membership a natural fit, Stamler adds. UNH officials spoke with the Rochester center to discuss the benefits and responsibilities of membership, ultimately resulting in a unanimous vote at UNH in support of SWAN’s membership. It makes SWAN the first Rochester-based organization to join the network.
“With the support of UNH through advocacy, peer exchange, and professional development, SWAN will be able to both continue and expand the essential services they provide to the Rochester community,” Stamler says.
In the United States, settlement houses first took root in the 19th century, as immigration led to a spike in population and an increase in poor living conditions in urban areas. These houses had an overarching goal: to bridge gaps between social classes by building stronger and healthier communities. The movement also tackled social justice, joining the fight against discrimination. Advocacy and social change remain part of the movement today, as do fellowship and health.
During the pandemic, the Montgomery Neighborhood Center has been supporting families and older adults, officials say. The center has run multiple COVID-19 vaccination clinics and has worked to understand and address community needs. In the future, the center hopes to expand its health and wellness programming, including mental health services, and implement new initiatives to bring community members together. The affiliation with UNH is likely to help it meet its goals.
“Our organization’s vision and mission will be enhanced with the advocacy and support of such a pristine organization of high regard for New York State communities at large,” says Woody Hammond, president of SWAN’s board.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.