In the 1950’s, Polish, Yiddish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Slovak, and Lithuanian languages could be heard along the side streets of West Town, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. The steady migration of seasonal workers from Puerto Rico and Mexico brought a substantial population of Hispanics to Chicago, adding the Spanish language to this culturally diverse mix of Chicago’s inner city. In the midst of a foreign culture, many immigrant workers soon found themselves unprepared for Chicago’s urban environment and struggled to find housing, clothing, food, and employment.
By 1954, called to meet the need of newly arrived immigrants, a group of multi-denominational Hispanic pastors rented a storefront at 1671 West Ogden Avenue, in the heart of a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. They called this center Casa Central Evangelica and began providing counseling and aid to those in need. As their scope and services expanded, the agency became known simply as Casa Central. Reverend Daniel Alvarez, a pastor and social worker in New York City, came on board as the Director of Casa Central in 1964 – a position he held for the next 25 years.
At the time he arrived, Casa Central operated with budget of $26,000 and a staff of three employees, but the agency soon evolved from its humble beginnings. Casa Central has since grown into a cornerstone for the Hispanic community, with a staff of over 550 employees and a network of social service programs that reach nearly 20,000 individuals each year.
In 1989, Ann R. Alvarez assumed the Presidency and led what has become the largest Hispanic social service agency in the Midwest. With locations in the Humboldt Park and Archer Heights neighborhoods, Casa Central’s programs fill gaps in services and meet the new needs of the community with well-regarded programs in early education, homeless prevention, and senior services, among other areas.
Children who received their first winter coats and doctor check-ups from Casa Central in the 1950s and 1960s have now grown into successful adults with their own children in Casa Central’s after-school programs and their parents in its senior programs. The agency has touched the lives of multiple generations of families in Chicago’s Hispanic population and continues to transform lives and strengthen communities.