True to its Mission
The name certainly turns a lot of heads: The Providence Shelter for Colored Children. And though it has transitioned from a shelter building into a charitable foundation, the organization’s mission of helping minority children in the greater Providence area remains the same. Jim Hummel takes a look at the group’s 175-year history and finds out why some board members over the years have been the staunchest advocates for keeping the original name.
Click here for more information about the Providence Shelter for Colored Children.
They are today’s stewards for one of Rhode Island’s oldest independent charities.
On this Saturday morning in April a committee gathers to decide how more than $100,000 will be spread to three dozen agencies in the Providence area.
They are members of the Providence Shelter for Colored Children - yes, you that heard correctly - which has withstood periodic efforts to change its name since the organization was founded in 1838. More on that in a minute.
Cline; ``The name actually struck me as really odd but I was intrigued.’’
Linda Cline is the group’s current president.
Not only did the name pique her curiosity but the fact there is no shelter building - that was closed in 1940 and the assets converted into a foundation. The name, though, and the group’s goals remain steadfast 70 years after the doors closed: financial support for children of color.
Cline: ``There are so many organizations that need financial assistance in order to thrive, in order to be viable. We’re still servicing African American children in the Greater Providence area and we have not strayed from that mission.’’
Lima: ``I had some understanding of the shelter…’’
Mary Lima has been on the board for more than three decades. Lima knew children who had lived at the shelter before it closed in 1940.
Lima: ``It’s quite an interesting history in terms of the role they played because there was no other facility, state or otherwise, that provided a shelter for the colored black children at that time, for families who needed this kind of assistance, particularly because the women were single parents, worked as domestic workers or maids in homes throughout Providence particularly on the East Side.’’
The shelter was founded by a group of middle-class white women living on the East Side in 1938 that included the granddaughter of leading anti-slavery activist Moses Brown.
It was housed on this section of North Main Street the first decade, before moving over the lower end of Wickenden Street where Route 195 was later built and several years ago knocked down.
For nearly a century, though, the shelter was located in this building on Olive Street, in what is now the heart of the Brown University campus. Connie Worthington is a past shelter president and knows much of the organization’s rich history.
Worthington: ``A lot of the children throughout the history of the shelter as a home for kids was a place where parents who were working at the houses on College Hill could board their children because the kids weren’t welcome. The mother was expected to have breakfast on the table and be there 24/7.’’
Walker-Cabral: ``At some point they ended up being cared for by the shelter for colored children. ‘’
Elayne Walker Cabral’s mother, Betty Walker at the age of 10 lived in the shelter with her siblings after Betty’s mother fled from an abusive husband. Betty Walker later served on the board and died four years ago at the age of 74.
Walker-Cabral: ``My mom was insistent as the oldest, she was about 10 or 12, and had five younger siblings and insisted that they stay together. So somehow the shelter was responsible for them being placed with a minster and his wife who cared for them until my mother got married.’’
Changes in child welfare policies in the 20th century meant a dwindling number of children in the shelter, which ultimately closed its doors.
Since then the organization has transitioned into a charitable foundation. In the 1950s and ‘60s it gave relatively large sums to a handful of organizations, including the Urban League of Rhode Island, The Mount Hope Day Care Center on the East Side, the John Hope Settlement House and Inspiring Minds, which was previously named the Lippitt Tutorial and then Volunteers in Providence Schools.
In 1970 the focus shifted and now the Shelter annually funds a variety of organizations and schools, including Community Music Works, Crossroads Rhode Island, Sophia Academy and the San Miguel School.
This year a total of $112,000 went to 36 agencies , in amounts ranging from $500 to $6,500.
Hummel: ``So you’ve been involved for 30 plus years.’’
Hummel: ``Why do you stay with it?’’
Lima: ``Even though our grants may be small - if I can help those kids who really need our assistance and if my voice continues to matter on the board, then I feel I have a responsibility to stay engaged.’’
Hummel: ``There has been discussion off and on over the years, sometimes passionate discussion, about changing the name, maybe to keep up with the times, or to keep it as it was. And so, you’ve been in the middle of some of those discussion. ‘’
Lima: ``I’ve been in the middle more than once. ‘’
Hummel: ``Tell me how that is and why they come up periodically.’’
Lima: ``As we bring new board members on who don’t have the full history of the board, that’s generally when those discussions will come up. A new board member may raise the question as to why are we the shelter for colored children? ‘’
Hummel: ``Whydo you feel strongly about keeping that name?’’
Lima: ``Just a sense of that history and being able to maintain the history and I think that’s why I advocate for it.’’
Worthington: `` We refer to children of color in this day and age, so it’s not so impossible. But I think the main thing is it’ historic. It’s 175 years old. That’s been the name that long and I think anytime an organization has changed its name it’s tough.’’
Walker-Cabral: ``I remember saying to my mom when she first went on the board, `I think you should make some kind of proclamation that they should change the name of this from being colored children to being African-American or black children, having gone to college in the South I was very militant. And she said `They would never do that because that is who they served: colored children’ and they didn’t make a distinction between Black and African-American and Cape Verdean and other immigrant people.’’
While the mission is the same, the committee sometimes has a challenge because there is a limited pot of money to go around.
Worthington: ``We stretch the money so we can give to all these organizations that meet our guidelines that they’re taking care of African-American kids, that they’re enriching their lives, they’re making their lives better, healthier, full of more promise.’’
In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Spotlight.