The Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association (NCA) was established in 1963 as the first metropolitan-wide organization in the U.S. created to help plan, coordinate and budget the work of neighborhood centers. Many of Cleveland’s neighborhood centers were founded as settlement houses dating back to the 1890s.
The settlement movement began in England in 1884 as an effort to solve urban problems from within the neighborhoods themselves. Many of the problems that arose from industrialization – overcrowding, poverty and disease – were addressed through education, vocational training, visiting nurse networks and a focus on helping immigrant populations acculturate to America. The settlement houses fostered community pride and assisted neighborhoods in collectively solving their own problems.
Friendly Inn, established in 1874 by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union as a liquor-free meeting place, evolved into one of Cleveland’s first settlement houses.
Alta House was established in 1895 by John D. Rockefeller for the Italian immigrants in the Murray Hill area now known as Little Italy.
Goodrich-Gannett Neighborhood Center was founded as Goodrich House by Flora Stone Mather in 1896.
East End Neighborhood House first provided sewing classes for Hungarian and Slovak women in the Buckeye-Woodland-Woodhill district in 1907. It moved to its current location on the Van Sweringen family estate in 1916.
In 1911, The Phillis Wheatley Association was founded by Jane Edna Hunter as the Working Girls Home Association, to shelter and support unmarried African American women and girls who migrated north in search of employment. During the 1930s, it opened the Sutphen School of Music, the Josephine Kohler Daycare Center and the year-round Camp Mueller, one of only four African-American owned and operated residential camps in the U.S.
During the 1920s other Cleveland settlement houses included the West Side Community House, Merrick House Social Settlement, the Playhouse Settlement (later called Karamu House) and the Cleveland Music School Settlement.
University Settlement was established in 1926 by Western Reserve University (now CWRU) as a training site for social workers. Its original purpose was to help Eastern European immigrants adapt to life in America.
During the two decades following World War I, the hiring of trained social workers and an increased focus on program development marked the evolution of settlement houses to neighborhood centers. The advent of centralized welfare campaigns in the 1930s further impacted the nature of the settlement houses, as did the decline of urban populations.
In 1948, the Murtis Taylor Human Services System was established as the Murtis H. Taylor Multi-Service Center, the only traditional Black agency in Cleveland offering African-American-operated mental health program. Today, it has ten locations across Cuyahoga County and annually serves more than 8,000 individuals.
Also in 1948, the Neighborhood Settlement Association was established in Cleveland by Hiram House, Friendly Inn Social Settlement and University Settlement. In 1963, through the efforts of the city’s corporate leaders, it became the Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association.
Under the leadership of its first executive director, Robert L. Bond, “NCA” was recognized as a pioneer in the consolidation of neighborhood centers. By 1995, it had become one of the largest neighborhood center organizations in the United States.
Today, NCA remains a management support organization, working collectively with its member centers to strengthen their capacity to provide human services and education for children, families and seniors, and to advocate as their “collective voice.”