BY BETHANY BRAY
---- — SALEM — It’s hard to underestimate the number of local families that have benefited from Children’s Friend and Family Services.
The Salem-based nonprofit is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. The organization has helped thousands of people through the years — from providing support services to returning Civil War soldiers and their families, to offering counseling and mentors for children today.
The agency opened its doors in 1837 as the Seaman’s Widow and Orphan Association.
Now, the nonprofit serves 5,000 children each year from four offices, in Salem, Lynn, Gloucester and Lawrence, offering a myriad of services, from teen parenting programs to mental health counseling.
On any given day, Children’s Friend and Family Services has 3,000 open cases, said Carla Saccone, president and CEO.
Children’s Friend and Family Services marked the 175th anniversary earlier this fall with a celebration at Hamilton Hall on Chestnut Street, where the group held meetings in the 1830s. And the organization has just reached its goal of raising $175,000 in its 175th year.
Although the agency has changed its name and focus over the years, its mission has always been the same: to help children grow up healthy and become contributors to society.
“If families or children were having problems, the agency was there,” Saccone said. “We might be old, but we’re not old-fashioned. We stay current.”
To that end, the organization is kicking off a strategic planning process this year, looking toward the future.
“Think of all that’s happened (in 175 years), and the agency has always had a place,” said Saccone. “We’re here still. But we’re not just here, we’re healthy, strong and modern, which I think is something to be proud of.”
The organization’s funding comes from a mix of charitable donations and state agencies.
The organization has licensed clinicians, social workers and counselors on staff. Among its programs are mental health and juvenile court services, teen parenting programs, and services for parents with children who have behavioral, health or other challenges.
The organization’s mentoring program pairs at-risk Essex County youngsters, ages 7 to 18, with volunteer mentors. They meet two hours a week, to get an ice cream, go to the movies or just take a walk and chat, said Arden Dore, director of youth mentoring.
The relationship takes the youngsters “out of their everyday life,” she said, and exposes them to new places and things, such as learning how to swim or going camping.
At any given time, the nonprofit has between 35 and 55 mentor pairs, said Dore. The group meets once a month for events, such as a picnic or disco bowling night.
“These kids need someone to believe in them, be involved,” said Dore. “It can really turn their life around.”
To learn more or to get involved, visit www.childrensfriend.net.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.