CLEVELAND — The Friendly Inn Settlement was founded in 1874 by the Women’s Temperance Union League to provide social services for families in need. The organization's impact is still felt today under the leadership of its president and CEO, Yolanda Armstrong.
“We've been in existence for 148 years.......they [families] came to Friendly Inn Settlement,” said Armstrong.
Some of its founding members were Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Mrs. Horatio Ford, Mrs. Flora Stone Mather and Mrs. George Worthington. The Friendly Inn was one of the city’s first settlement houses, and continues to be the longest continuously serving settlement house in the United States.
Residents come for youth leadership programs, early childhood services, the computer lab and a program for expectant mothers.
The need is greater than ever.
"We have a food pantry. I'll tell you during COVID we served over 65,000 meals this past year and our food pantry serviced families in need,” she said.
Vanessa Cunningham, who is the manager of the food pantry, and a team of volunteers prepare boxes of nutritious food and fresh bread for distribution twice a week. Cunningham sees the demand for it and knows how important this service is to the community.
"It's fulfilling because I started out years ago down here. So I know it's a need for it. And people really appreciate it between pays or a lot of people are laid off and they need the food,” Cunningham said.
Armstrong said The Friendly Inn is a vehicle that helps people move forward in their lives, and to be a part of that movement is not just her profession but her purpose.
"Danita I'll tell you, life for me ain't been no crystal stair. And when I think about how I grew up and the people who helped me, I knew that my destiny was to be in a position where I could help other people,” Armstrong said.
The Friendly Inn is helping people who were strangers enter its doors and feel a warm sense of community and leave feeling like they received a helping hand from a friend.
"Our tag line is cultivating, planting and nurturing. It's all about bringing a brighter day to families in this community where many of them have a sense of hopelessness. So we give them that hope here at the Friendly Settlement," Armstrong said.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.