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In 1888, a group of Atlanta women formed a sewing circle at the First United Methodist Church’s John Barclay Mission to mend the clothing of street children. While delivering clothes one day, the women discovered a child tied to a bedpost as a safety measure while her mother worked long hours in the cotton mills. Determined to help these children, the women began to care for them at the mission, and Sheltering Arms was born.
An old railroad box car served as the first “center.” The second consisted of borrowed space in a local bar. The women held parent meetings, brought families together to share experiences and learn together. Today, Sheltering Arms serves more than 3,000 children and their families each year, offering learning opportunities as young as six weeks of age, and proactive support for families from GED courses to job search and housing assistance from services based in 13 centers across Atlanta.
Inspired by the spirit of Roberto Ferruzzi’s painting, Madonna of the Street, our founding mothers chose the name Sheltering Arms in 1890 for their child care work. Madonna of the Street now hangs in our downtown Atlanta headquarters. From the very beginning, our founders knew the value of supporting not only children, but the families and communities that surround them. In a sense, they were the first to recognize that to “embrace early” is to embrace a bright future for everyone who cares for a child.
Madonna of the Streets (Madonnina), 1897