This month the SobelCo nonprofit spotlight is turned on Family Connections, a nonprofit that has specialized programs created to provide professional counseling, skill-building, supportive housing, training, and prevention services for children, adults and families across Northern New Jersey.

Their decades-old mission states, “We will engender hope, enhance safety, heal trauma, and strengthen families and communities through innovative counseling, skills-building, training and prevention.”

For 140 years Family Connections has held fast to its goal of serving the complex needs of New Jersey’s most challenged communities. This includes delivering services targeting early childhood social and emotional development, adolescent development and safety, trauma, mental illness, addiction, unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.

With a history that began in the late 19th century, the organization continues to uphold the research-based therapeutic services that have always been at their core. 

Today’s leaders uphold those same tenets while they continue to improve the quality of life for families by bringing programs to pre-schools,  schools, and even directly to homes. Engaging the community wherever they may be, even meeting people in their own homes, has always been a part of the mission for Family Connections right from the start. 

In 1879 when the Registry Society was launched, it assumed responsibility for serving the people in the community - wherever they might be found.  In fact, recently recovered minutes from early board meetings, record the fact that the organization owned a stable of horses which they used to visit families in their homes!

Fourteen decades later, Family Connection is still interacting with their clients, often in their own homes, just as they did over a century ago.  The horses were not only used to enable the organization to reach their clients at home, but the minutes also reflect that they often loaned horses to families in need. 

Today’s East Orange-based organization continues the wonderful tradition of supporting those in need – but perhaps not by offering a horse! Instead, this modern day organization offers critical support leading to strength and independence by minimizing gang influence, increasing social and coping skills,  and ultimately, encouraging employability and financial liberty.

In 1959, the Registry Society morphed into “The Family and Children Services Agency,”    embracing a vision that included involvement in improving the state’s child welfare system, an emphasis on foster care and the abused and neglected children who are overlooked in the process.    

The 1950s and 1960s brought the rapid downsizing of psychiatric hospitals.

As a result, it was left to the nonprofits in the area to step in and assume support of this vulnerable community.   In 1969 Family and Children Services Agency merged with the Child Guidance Clinic, an agency that had been around since 1948, founded with the singular goal of providing services to adolescents and their families. Prior to the launch of the Clinic in the late 1940s, a team made up of two social workers, one psychologist and one psychiatrist came together to conduct a survey of the communities in the Oranges and Maplewood (on a $40,000 budget!) regarding closing the gaps in services that occurred because of the closures. Their purpose was to understand the communities, observing students and diagnosing behavioral problems.

By 1949, just one year after they first began, the Clinic had caught the attention of the New York Times where an article appeared stating, “The clinic, the home, the physicians, the church, the school and the hospitals will all cooperate. The Child Guidance Clinic is the responsibility of the whole community and each segment has an important role to fulfill.”  Three years after they opened their doors, the Child Guidance Clinic had already treated 256 parents and children with specialized services to specifically address their problems from a holistic perspective.

By 1969 it was clear that the Clinic was the perfect partner to support the continued evolution of the Family and Children Services Agency. The merger was one important step toward picking up the slack left by the closing of state mental health institutions.    

The journey for this 140 year-old organization started with the original Registry Society which ultimately evolved into the Family and Children Services Agency, an organization with a broad scope of services. But it wasn’t until they folded the Child Guidance Clinic into the legacy organization that they began to specifically concentrate on a provision of services for adolescents.

Since that merger in 1969, Family Connections has continued to grow.

Seventy years after the NY Times noted the unique approach of the Guidance Clinic, Family Connections still promotes the same governing principles. Progress continued with the organization embracing evidence-based models to support treatment for mental health and substance abuse. Today they offer programs that address child welfare and connecting the dots to combine research regarding clinical treatment with the necessary resources to solve the problems.

By the 1990s, the state of New Jersey recognized the need to greatly improve services for children in the child welfare system, guaranteeing their safety in foster care while engaging in sufficient permanency planning for the successful reuniting of families whether offered in homes, in housing programs or in supportive housing environments. With the concept of ‘connecting’ emerging as a central theme for the organization, in 1997 the board decided to rename it Family Connections to accurately reflect their central aspirations.

Thirty years later, in 2019, Family Connections remains guided by the deep roots planted in 1879 by the Registry Society, cultivating unique skills in key areas regarding healthcare and substance abuse services to the community. The state and counties are helping to fund important programs, many developed by Family Connections, as it holds fast to the goal of establishing early childhood development programs.             

Surviving and thriving for 140 years is a remarkable feat!

On May 8, 2019, Family Connections will celebrate their 140 year old legacy of connecting families to each other and to community resources while shaping the mechanisms for delivering that essential help.  At their Taste of New Jersey, being held at the Wilshire Grand Hotel, they will honor both the Orange Orphan Society with the 2019 Roger Manshel Lifetime Achievement Award and SobelCo, presenting our firm with its 2019 Champion of the People Award. 

Our firm is so proud and grateful to have been selected by Family Connections as the recipient of this prestigious recognition. We hope you will join us as we all congratulate Family Connections for their 140 years of dedicated service and offer a toast to their future!

We invite you to visit the website to learn how you can participate at familyconnectionsnj.org.