Stronger Families, Stronger Milwaukee

Celebrating 130 years of Aurora Family Service

When Aurora Family Service was founded in 1882, the "average" family had two married parents, four children, and at least one grandparent all living under one roof, rented at $4/month. Laborers worked 14 hour days, sometimes 7 days a week, at $2/day. Milwaukee's population was only 115,000, half of whom were foreign-born, and only 300 of which were of African-American descent.

Over the next century, two world wars, the Great Depression, urban renewal, the civil rights movement, changing social values, massive demographic changes, and technological advances have transformed our city and our culture. Throughout it all, Aurora Family Service was there to help local families navigate this endless sea of change.

As Wisconsin's largest and oldest non-profit family organization, we have responded to the community's needs with groundbreaking programs on prenatal care, financial wellness, family therapy, mental health, parenting, child abuse, elder services, substance abuse, marriage counseling, adolescent behavior, employee assistance, displaced worker training, adult and child day care, literacy, grief management, and other critical topics. Since day one, our mission has been to help families solve the many problems – emotional, economic and physical – that challenge their health and happiness. We still believe that every family deserves the best care, regardless of their ability to pay for services.

Operating as Associated Charities from 1882-1921, the original philosophy of our agency was "not alms, but a friend." The organization was founded by businessmen troubled by Milwaukee's increasing urban poor population. At a time when few services were available to families in crisis, other than begging in the streets, the visionary leaders of Associated Charities vowed "to learn through personal investigation where actual destitution and need of aid existed, and to see that relief was promptly furnished where so needed."

In the 1880s, the poor were treated a separate class, considered to have problems, attitudes and habits quite different than the rest of society. Families were sometimes directed, and even threatened, to follow the instructions of charitable organizations in order to receive care. Associated Charities was built on a foundation of kindness, dignity and respect for the individuals that is still present in the work of Aurora Family Service today.

By coordinating the work of numerous churches and private societies, Associated Charities was able to effectively and efficiently provide for a larger number of families than these groups could deliver independently. We introduced the first day nursery in Milwaukee for children of working mothers, as well as a savings and loan society for tiding families over in times of crisis.

All of our employees were volunteers until 1912, when the first trained case workers came on the job. After greatly expanding our services for children, we became the Family Welfare Association in 1921. During the Great Depression, when 2/3 of Milwaukee wage earners lost their jobs, our caregivers were there to stabilize families during their historic struggles. In 1944, we changed our name to Family Service of Milwaukee, focused on family counseling and home care services, and opened our downtown headquarters at 1243 N. Van Buren St.

At our 75th anniversary in 1957, President Norman D. Johnson said, "In spite of present day full employment, social security and public health programs, there are still troubled families in Milwaukee. Family Service continues to be effective in creating better family life."

"Our work is not charity any longer, in the sense of giving clothing, food and shelter, but short-term constructive counseling services to people who temporarily find modern life too big for them. Professional help can quickly put them back where they can help themselves. As long as there is a Milwaukee, there will always be a need for Family Service."

In 1982, we celebrated our centennial with a special memorial event at the Milwaukee County Historical Society. "One comfort in these hard times," wrote the Milwaukee Journal, "is that Family Service, which has grown strong over the years, appears up to the challenge of its second century."

Since 1993, we have been headquartered at 3200 W. Highland Blvd. Family Service of Milwaukee became part of the Aurora family in March 1995 and changed its name to Aurora Family Service in 2001.

"To break the cycles of preventable illness and family violence that exist in our society, we will need to become much more active in early intervention and prevention efforts," said G. Edwin Howe, Aurora president at the time of acquisition. "Family Service has a long, rich tradition of providing effective parent education and other prevention programs which we believe will ultimately result in healthier lifestyles in Milwaukee."

In 1996, we launched the Family to Family Thanksgiving program, which provides 3,000 meals to local families through community partnerships, sponsors and donations. Since 2007, we have hosted an annual Race, Families & Milwaukee Summit to create more open, honest dialogues about the role that race plays in our community.

"I am proud to be a part of Aurora Family Service and its long history," said Kathryn Crumpton, manager of the Aurora Center for Financial Wellness. "Economic stability is essential for a family's success. No one wants to worry about how they will pay their rent or feed their family. The Center for Financial Wellness will continue to find and implement new ways to educate and assist families with their household finances."

For 130 years, Aurora Family Service's mission has remained constant: stabilizing and strengthening families through times of crisis and change. We bravely accept the challenge of building stronger families, a stronger community, and a stronger future for all of Milwaukee.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services. For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, Aurora Family Service welcomed its Board of Directors, caregivers, sponsors and donors to the 130th Annual Meeting. Guests enjoyed presentations by David Carter, chairman of the board; Jane Pirsig, executive director; and poet Tanesha, who dedicated a piece of original work to the agency.

Congratulations to our caregivers for 130 years of preserving unique family traditions, culture and heritage for every Milwaukee family!


Meet the award-winning individuals recognized at this year's history meeting:

Meet some of the inspiring and visionary leaders of the Aurora Family Service Board of Directors: