UCAN has been a part of Chicago's social service network for over 141 years.
1860s: Civil War era
UCAN's story begins in the early 1860s at the onset of the Civil War, at a time when most German-Americans were sympathetic with the North. President Abraham Lincoln had been nominated just a few blocks from St. Pauls United Church of Christ, and he had befriended many members of the church. When he called upon these members to serve the Union, the men responded wholeheartedly. However, as they left for service, they realized their return was uncertain, which led them to meet with the pastor of St. Pauls to express their concerns. Who would care for their wives and children should they give their lives for their country? A promise was made that those who returned would care for the children of any of those who did not. This promise was the seed that would grow into UCAN.
1867: The Uhlich family's gift
The first small German Orphan Home was located at the corner of Ontario and LaSalle in 1866. This small house was soon filled, however, leading to the purchase of a building to house 30 young children on Clark Street near Garfield. The people of St. Pauls Church raised $8,000 to support this home, a truly large sum of money for those difficult times.
To celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in 1867, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Gottfried Uhlich announced the donation of a large piece of property at Wentworth and LaSalle Avenues which would perpetually endow the orphanage home. In March of 1869, the Illinois Legislature approved an act to incorporate the Uhlich Evangelical Lutheran Orphan Asylum.
1871: The Chicago Fire
October 8th, 1871 was an unforgettable date for members of St. Pauls and the children of the orphan home, as both buildings felt the rage of the Chicago Fire. The Uhlich Home children were housed temporarily in the Lake View Public School and within a few days joined the children of the Chicago Half Orphan Asylum, where they remained for the next fourteen months. As news of the fire spread throughout the nation, donations totaling $5,000 were sent to help defray the cost of reconstruction. In addition, the Chicago Fire and Relief Society allocated $20,750 to the building of a new home. In 1872, a new home was built at Burling and Center Street which housed boys and girls for the next fifty-six years.
1924: A move to the 3700 block of North California Avenue
In 1924, Pastor Pister conducted a campaign for funds to build a new home. Mr. and Mrs. Carl Buehler generously donated ten large city lots in the 3700 block of North California and ground was broken in 1927. The children arrived in 1928 to the new Uhlich Children's Home. Following the Great Depression, the Uhlich home became the beneficiary of a large estate left by Mr. Edward J. Abel, allowing Uhlich to construct a second building in this location in 1940 with furnishings made possible through the generosity of Edward's sister, Miss Minnie Abel. This additional building at Uhlich, housing both high school aged children and a modern gymnasium, made it one of the finest homes in the country.
1960s-1990s: Societal change
With the establishment of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in 1965, the Child Division of Public Aid was dissolved and the State took over as the guardian for children-in-need. Uhlich Children Home's enrollment became almost completely that of wards of the state, largely due to the high cost of care that was unaffordable for families.
Gradually, societal problems grew. Divorce among parents increased and single parents became more common. Mothers went back to work, and some children returned from school to empty homes. Gangs, drugs and gun violence threatened the safety of our communities. Education, poverty, homelessness and abuse were just some of the dangers that Uhlich addressed with its array of programming.
2004: UCAN merges with FamilyCare of Illinois
In 2002, Uhlich Children's Home changed its name to Uhlich Children's Advantage Network (UCAN) to reflect the wide variety of services provided, and in 2004, UCAN merged with FamilyCare of Illinois, another agency with a rich history. Originally called the Chicago Home for the Friendless, FamilyCare was chartered in 1858 to address the problems of the urban poor. The Chicago Home for the Friendless offered a wide range of services to help families overcome misfortune and remain intact in spite of their overwhelming troubles. In the early 1900s, as social services expanded and changed, FamilyCare moved from institutional to home-based services and closed its residential facility entirely.
Still connected to its faith-based heritage today, UCAN is a member of the Council of Health and Human Service Ministries of the United Church of Christ. As a denomination, the United Church of Christ and its predecessors have a long and proud history of advocating for social justice. UCC congregations took the lead in advocating for the abolition of slavery, and were the first to ordain African-Americans, women, and openly gay persons as clergy. Like UCAN, many hospitals, nursing, and children's homes founded by concerned United Church of Christ congregations over a century ago are still providing care today.
In 2011 we received renewed accreditation from the Council on Accreditation, and were cited for our commitment to working with older youth, for our brilliant, hard-working, passionate, and energetic staff, and for treatment programs custom designed for clients' needs. And in early 2012, UCAN absorbed two of the Jane Addams Hull House Association's programs into our already existing Transitional Teen Services program.
To read a letter from Jean Bogart, a descendant of the Uhlich family, please click here.