Charles Settlement House was founded in 1917 by Miss Harriet Barry and a group of Catholic lay women as an affiliate of the Catholic Charities. These women assisted Italian, and later German, immigrants to settle in the community. The agency is named after Charles Barry, the father of the founder. It was originally located on Magne Street (now West Broad Street). In 1919, Charles House relocated to 445 Jay Street, a site the agency still uses, and began receiving Community Chest funding.
At the outset, the settlement provided health services until St. Mary's and General Hospitals provided this service and as a place of worship until St. Francis of Assisi Church was built in 1929. Early programs included English, Citizenship, Nutrition, and Homemaking classes to help the newcomer adjust to his environment. Early social development programs, still an important component of agency programs, included clubs and classes for grade school youth, teens, and adults and summer programs for youth. In 1965, a Neighborhood Development Program to encourage citizen participation through Neighborhood Associations, and a family casework service were added. Senior services and a nutrition center were added in 1972 as that need was identified in the community.
The agency was incorporated separately from Catholic Charities in 1978, and soon after events began that would bring major change to the agency and the community. In the early 1980s, Charles Settlement House was part of a wide scale community-based planning study. The results of the study indicated that there were significant human service needs in portions of northwest Rochester (north of Lyell Avenue) and that those areas were unserved and underserved in terms of programs and services to address the needs.
The Board of Directors of Charles Settlement House felt it was their duty to review the findings of the study carefully and determine what, if anything would be the appropriate response of the agency. An Advisory Board was established to represent both community groups and areas of needed expertise. The group worked for six months and produced a report that called for two things: the expansion of the present building and services at 445 Jay Street, and the establishment of a new site for delivery of human services in or near the Edgerton neighborhood.
Based on a recommendation of the United Way, Charles Settlement House combined with the other five Rochester settlement houses that were in similar need of renovated and/or expanded facilities to pursue a systems approach to realizing this potential. The United Neighborhood Centers of Greater Rochester Foundation (UNCGRF) was established and it was charged to raise 20 million dollars to fund the various capital projects.
Funders also indicated that there would be no new program funding in the foreseeable future, so Charles House was challenged to look at innovative ways of bringing additional programs and services to the neighborhood where they could be accessed by community residents. Sixteen metropolitan- wide human service agencies were called together to discuss the possibility of a collaborative venture. Six agencies, with Charles House as lead, formed the Northwest Collaborative. Original members included Action for a Better Community, Family Service of Rochester, Hillside Children's Center, Monroe County Department of Social Services, and the Urban League of Rochester. The goal of the Community Center is to provide coordinated, comprehensive services to neighborhood residents right in the neighborhood.
Many sites were examined as possible locations for the Community Center to be built north of Lyell Avenue. Finally a property was acquired on Parkway Avenue (originally the Gioia macaroni plant) and in late 1995 construction began. The Charles House Community Center opened in January 1997.
The opportunity to purchase a building right next to the 445 Jay Street site provided and ideal location for an Activity Center. The Jay Street sites were renovated and the Activity Center opened in 1996.