An Old Tree Bearing New Fruit
Newark Day Center (formerly The Newark Female Charitable Organization) is the oldest social services agency in New Jersey. It is also the third oldest in the nation.
The agency has a rich history, having tirelessly served the Greater Newark community for over 200 years. Although services have changed over time, the goal has never veered from the original plan of caring for the poor and distressed.
The Center stands as a beacon of stability to the community it serves. Many of the local social services agencies in existence today can trace their origins to Newark Day Center, including the United Way of Essex and West Hudson, the American Red Cross of Newark, the Newark Boys and Girls Scouts, the Conference of Jewish Charities, the Salvation Army, and Newark Beth Israel, St. Barnabas, and Presbyterian Hospitals.
“Your neighbor is suffering; therefore devise some means to assist,” came the plea from the pulpit of the Old Presbyterian Church in the Village of Newark in 1803. Immediately, a handful of distinguished ladies gathered at the home of Rachel Bradford Boudinot, wife of the judge and patriot Elisha Boudinot. Their goal was to “devise some means for caring for the poor and distressed persons in the village.” Work quickly began under the title of The Newark Female Charitable Society, later renamed Newark Day Center.
Their original plan and primary goal of the society was simple: helping people gain employment by training them in new skills and by providing both the means and materials to earn a living. In other words, helping people learn how to help themselves. In those early days, money was rarely given. Food and clothing were supplied in emergencies.
Over time, more programs were added to assist in this goal. Sewing, cooking, maintaining a kitchen garden, and doing laundry were skills taught primarily to poor women. This way, they could support their children. Mothers’ Meetings were held to assist in parenting skills.
In addition to providing training and materials, the Society also provided the space for all of these activities. All funds were raised through Society members’ dues, donations, special Sunday collections in the Newark churches, and other fundraising activities.
In 1836, Newark was incorporated as a city. As its population grew, so did the number of poor people requiring aid. The Society continued to meet their needs, using several locations throughout the city for the variety of programs they provided.
The Newark Female Charitable Society Building – A Historical Landmark
In early 1886, it was decided that the Society needed its own building. The women formed a building committee, and traveled to New York and Boston to get some design ideas. Plans were drawn to their specifications with the assistance of architect R.H. Rowden.
Construction of The Newark Female Charitable Society Building at 305 Halsey Street was completed by the end of 1886, thanks to the assistance of several prominent citizens. That building still stands, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as on the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail.
The Fresh Air Fund
As Newark continued to attract immigrants as well as industry, overcrowded tenements filled the city and factories spewed filth into the air. The agricultural Newark of 1803 with its green grass, open spaces, and fresh air no longer existed.
The idea for the Fresh Air Fund began in 1882, when a member of the Society saw a poor German immigrant man sitting outside his tenement, struggling to breathe. She thought that it would be wonderful if this man could be sent to the country for some fresh air. Immediately, the Fresh Air Committee was organized.
Today, over 137 years later, the Fresh Air Fund continues to provide summer camp experiences to inner-city children.
Changing Times, Changing Services, Changing Names
As needs arose, the Society quickly and efficiently added or revised its services.
A Day Nursery was started in 1878, so that women could go to work and leave their children in a safe and nurturing environment. Classes for youth in sewing and gardening were added.
In 1886, a midday meal was added for hard-working men and women who otherwise might not have a good meal.
In 1895, the Ordered Work Committee began to arrange for various city hospitals to order and purchase clothing from the women who sewed.
A Boys Amusement Room—the very beginnings of a Boys Club—was created in 1910. It encouraged boys to stay off the streets and engage in positive activities instead.
Over the ensuing years, governmental support services and other social agencies grew, enabling the Society, by now called Newark Day Center, to focus on the specific services it provides today.
Newark Day Center Today
Today, Newark Day Center provides a multitude of comprehensive services, as follows:
- Early Childhood Education– The pre-school program provides early childhood education for children from birth to age 5. Programs include Early Head Start, Abbott, and private childcare classrooms, and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) .
- Staff Development and Training– All staff must earn a number of training hours per school term. A variety of training programs are available to the staff.
- Newark Family Resource Network Parent Aide Program– This program provides services to families referred through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, and is contracted by the Division of Children and Families. Parent aides assist parents with learning techniques and skills to improve both parenting and life skills while ensuring the safety and well-being of the children.
- Senior Information and Referral Services-Newark Day Center assists senior citizens with housing, Medicare and Medicaid, and other information and referrals.
- The Fresh Air Fund-Organized in 1882, the Fresh Air Fund provides summer camp experiences for children in the Greater Newark area.
With our very deep roots and our continuous outreach, Newark Day Center is indeed “An old tree bearing new fruit.”