Another Year Older, and Another Year to Be Thankful

Published: November 25, 2020

It’s hard to believe that Families First is turning 185 years old this year. That longevity speaks most to the strength of our supporters and the need for our services, which have grown right alongside our community. But our birthday also happens to be Thanksgiving—and we think that’s a great reason to take a moment and reflect on a few of the milestones that shaped us.

Without these moments in our history—and unflagging support of our community—we wouldn’t be the organization we are today. We’re so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to serve, and we look forward to many more. Here are just a few of the milestones we’re celebrating.



Families First was first known as the Indianapolis Benevolent Society. Formed on Thanksgiving Day, our mission was to provide relief to the city’s “destitute families.” At the time, our philanthropical work was almost entirely in the form of charity, such as providing food, shelter, and caring to those in need.


The United States paid a terrible price during the Civil War, and the city of Indianapolis was no exception. Throughout this tragic period in our nation’s history, the Indianapolis Benevolent Society was devoted to caring for the wives, mothers, and children of the soldiers who’d had no choice but to leave them behind. During this time, we also built the Home for Friendless Women “for the aid and improvement of abandoned women.”


The Indianapolis Benevolent Society turned its administrative and investigative functions over to the Charity Organization Society. As a result, several new charitable organizations formed very quickly, including:

• Society of Friendly Visitors, whose members regularly visited families.

• Dime Savings and Loan, organized in 1887 to encourage thrift among the poor.

• Summer Mission for Sick Children, started in 1889 to send sickly infants and new mothers to summer hospitals on the outskirts of the city.

• Fairview Settlement, started in 1907 to provide housing for widows and children.

• Social Service Exchange, which allowed all Indianapolis charities to share their case records. In 1941 this became part of the Council of Social Agencies.

• Legal Aid Bureau, started in 1912 to provide free legal assistance to the poor. This later became the independent Legal Aid Society.


Indianapolis Benevolent Society and Charity Organization Society maintained separate identities but functioned as two arms of the same organization with the same executive director and board of directors. But individually, they focused on different needs in the community:

• Charity Organization Society investigated cases to identify those worthy of aid and refer deserving cases to the appropriate charity.

• Indianapolis Benevolent Society provided assistance to those people approved by the Charity Organization Society.


Seeing a need to streamline efforts, the Charity Organization Society, Indianapolis Benevolent Society, Children’s Aid Association, and Mother’s Aid Society all merged into a new organization—the Family Welfare Society. The goal of the new organization was to address problems of the family.


As the work of the Family Service Association of Indianapolis expanded, the organization opened a new branch in Hancock County.


During this busy time, new branches were opened in Boone, Hamilton, and Morgan counties.


Family Service Association of Indianapolis changed its name to Family Service Association of Central Indiana.


Family Service Association of Central Indiana became Family Service of Central Indiana.


Family Service of Central Indiana became Families First, which is what it remains to this day.


Of course, these are just a few of the highlights from nearly two centuries spent helping people in the communities we serve. There are a million other stories we could tell, and just as many more reasons to be grateful.

If you’d like to learn more about our history, or have questions about our programs and services, contact us today.