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Photography by Al DiFranco

History

History

More than 30 years ago, a group of friends came together to discuss the needs of Chicago’s Chinese community. Their backgrounds were diverse. Some of them were working in the community teaching English and others were social workers. They were alike in their desire to help others and their drive to make a difference in their own community.

The Chinese American Service League sprang from these meetings, and as the community has grown, so has CASL. Through the years, the agency has maintained its initial commitment to service and has remained grounded in a holistic, one-on-one approach to service.

CASL is proud of it’s history and remarkable growth, which could not have been possible without the help of clients, volunteers, donors, and members of CASL’s board and staff.

1978-1985 Establishment and Acceptance
CASL’s founding members addressed several needs within the community: English language assistance, refugee settlement assistance, help with applications and documents, and more.

The initial community reaction to the organization was mixed. The process and benefits of social service agencies was unfamiliar to the community. Many Chinese, who traditionally do not seek outside assistance to resolve personal problems, avoided CASL. But groups outside of Chinatown saw strength in the organization’s leadership and, in1980, CASL became a regular member of United Way.

As the CASL’s success won over the community, programs were added and by 1983 CASL’s staff grew from 1 to17 and the agency had outgrown its 700-square-foot office.

In May 1985, after an unprecedented Capital Campaign that brought visibility, recognition, and support from diverse aspects of CASL’s community, CASL moved to a new 10,000 square foot facility.

1986-1995 Consolidation and Growth
In CASL’s new home, long-awaited programs and services could begin. A multilingual and multicultural childcare center was formed and the chef training/baking program began.

CASL also formed its neighborhood development and community-organizing program in reaction to citywide issues that greatly affected the Chinatown community, and an Advisory Board was established to raise awareness and boost fundraising capabilities.

The new office could not hold CASL’s programming for long. As more families came to CASL, staff reacted swiftly, setting up after-school programming, youth outreach programming, and academic tutoring and youth mentoring.

By 1991, CASL held a second fundraising campaign and added a 9,000 square foot facility—the Children and Youth Center—nearby on Canal Street. By 1995, a small one-story building was added to house the expanding Elderly Service Department.

The growth of the agency during this decade was astounding; Fiscal Year 1995 saw CASL’s budget at over $2.5 million, up from less than $300,000 in 1985.

1996-2004 Meeting Challenges for a New Millennium
In less than 20 years CASL’s annual client levels jumped from less than 1,000 to over 10,000 new clients. New programs were created and more resources were needed to help meet critical needs.

An innovative Adult Day Service program was added, and new facilities were acquired. Transportation was needed for these clients and the youth and family programs, and CASL began to operate a fleet of vehicles.

CASL also saw the need for more elderly housing in the community and sponsored CASL Senior Housing, a 91-unit residential facility, which opened in 1998.

Clearly, CASL would continue to do what it took to meet community need—but its infrastructure, both facility and staffing—needed to adapt. To allow for CASL’s individual programs to grow, including its childcare and health programming, cultural retention classes for youth and elderly, and other expansions, it became time to move to a new facility.

CASL began planning for a new home, which would combine its disparate sites into a single unit. In the fall of 2002, CASL broke ground in Chinatown for its new community service center. By 2004, CASL’s current building was completed and occupied, coinciding with CASL’s 25th anniversary, ushering in a new era in CASL’s history.

Since Day One, CASL has been in a state of evolution, but the mission has never changed: to meet the needs of the community it serves with a compassionate heart. CASL gives dignity and opportunity to those who not only need it, but also are willing to work to achieve their goals.