A Publication of WTVP

Strengthening Families for a Stronger Community

The roots of FamilyCore can be traced back 120 years.

by Lisa Ullenius |
Shanties dotted Peoria's riverfront at the turn of the century.

Although FamilyCore has only been operating under its current name for a decade, the roots of the social service agency can be traced back 120 years. At its inception in 1900, the new organization was called Associated Charities and Philanthropies. Housed in Room 104 of Peoria City Hall, one of its prime objectives was to “secure the harmonious action, cooperation and coordination of the different charities in Peoria.”

The Early Years
The first employee hired by Associated Charities and Philanthropies was a nurse. And the second? A horse! The two traveled along the Illinois River, serving citizens living in shanties along the banks. According to FamilyCore CEO Ann Lading-Ferguson, this meant seeing to quite simple things. “The material needs of families weren’t always being met,” she explains. “So the agency took care of them through projects such as establishing a laundry and woodpile for the deserving poor and distributing food and clothing.”

Very soon after, Associated Charities realized their focus needed to shift to include the social and emotional needs of families. From 1918 through the Great Depression, the agency’s emphasis changed from the development of a strong, active volunteer group to paid professionals who offered clients guidance to help them work through their problems. By the 1930s, a third of their cases involved unemployment and budgeting needs, followed closely by marital problems. At this time the government stepped in with welfare, and the agency began serving families regardless of their income.

Perhaps most interesting though, are the significant agencies that were either born out of—or formed alongside—this proactive, turn-of-the-century organization:

  • In October 1903, Associated Charities and Philanthropies decided to employ a nurse to give proper attention to the medical needs of the poor. This nurse and an appointed nursing committee formed the nucleus of what later was to become the Public Health Nursing Association, now known as the Visiting Nurse Association.
  • In 1915, the Red Cross was one of the divisions of Associated Charities.
  • The agency’s hiring of professional social workers coincided with the establishment of a community fund, now known as the United Way.

Emphasis on Family
Following radical philosophical changes to foster care and adoption in the 1960s and ‘70s, the agency changed its name to Counseling & Family Service—a name many in the area still have in their vernacular. “This name change really reflected the wide scope of professional services they were providing for children and families,” Lading-Ferguson explains. It wasn’t until 2010 that the agency began operating as FamilyCore, which better reflected its growing number of outreach, child welfare and counseling programs aimed at strengthening family life in the Peoria area.

This emphasis on family is what drives Lading-Ferguson, her board and staff. “Our collective understanding is that strong families, equipped with the tools and ties to succeed, are at the heart of any vibrant, tight-knit community,” she emphasizes. “We are well aware of how far-reaching our resources have to be.”

FamilyCore employs over 80 individuals who work with schools, the court system and other social service agencies to connect counseling, intervention, preventative education and other support services with those who have a need. The organization takes a holistic approach in its continuum of care, often providing boosts of support to multiple generations. The end goal is to maintain the integrity of family, however it may be defined—something FamilyCore has been doing for more than 12 decades.

Anniversary Celebration
The agency is marking its 120th anniversary with a series of events, the largest of which will be its inaugural Kentucky Derby Soirée (now rescheduled for September 5, 2020). “We wanted to do something very special to celebrate this milestone,” Lading-Ferguson explains. “Although fate interfered with everyone’s plans for the immediate future, we are looking forward to celebrating this fall.”

Having been at the helm of FamilyCore for just three years, she is impressed with the generosity demonstrated thus far. “I am so thankful for the understanding, support and belief of this community. It’s truly a living example of what ‘family’ means.” PM

Visit or call (309) 676-2400 for more information.