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History of Family Rescue

With a group of 20 dedicated individuals, Gay Northrup founded Family Rescue in 1981.

The first service offered to the community was a telephone crisis hotline.  At that time, only one paid staff worked tirelessly with a handful of volunteers.

It was obvious however, that victims of domestic violence needed more than emotional support provided through a hotline; they needed safe refuge and an array of supportive services to help them break the cycle of violence.  Based on concepts developed by Erin Pizzey at the internationally acclaimed “Chiswick Women’s Aide” in London, England, Ms. Northrup opened Family Rescue’s flagship program, the Rosenthal Family Lodge, an emergency shelter in 1982. This facility houses 36 beds and the agency’s 24-hour bi-lingual crisis line.  A court advocate stationed in shelter provided legal advocacy services.

By 1986 community support groups were being provided in shelter for non-resident victims.  This was not an optimal situation, but clearly preferable to watching women walk away, unattended due to lack of shelter beds.  In 1989, every square inch of the shelter facility was being used, forcing administrative staff to relocate into separate offices.

During its first ten years of operation, Family Rescue listened to and served over 5,000 victims of domestic violence.  During those years the agency honed its philosophical orientation and developed its service philosophy, principals of both which still guide the agency today.  We believe domestic violence to be more than a woman’s issue; it is socio-political in nature; a public health concern; a criminal justice outrage; a business challenge.  Victims are not hopeless, helpless, and hapless, but resilient, strong individuals and their own best advocate.  We see their children as primary clients deserving of services designed and targeted specifically for them.  Victims are the experts; advocates are facilitators who provide a non-judgmental atmosphere where change is not forced but encouraged to take place.

Family Rescue Administrative Offices

8811 S. Stony Island Ave.
Chicago, IL 60617


The second decade of agency operations was marked by tremendous growth as the agency expanded to accommodate the burgeoning needs of clients.  In 1990, the Community Outreach Program was opened which offered a full array of domestic violence services to non-residential clients.  In response to client requests for additional support, in 1991 Family Rescue opened the Ridgeland Apartment Program. It is a nationally recognized supportive housing program designed specifically for homeless domestic violence survivors with children seeking to make successful transitions from homelessness-to-welfare-to-work.

The next year, in 1992, Family Rescue partnered with the Chicago Police Department and opened the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit which was housed in a police station.  Advocates were teamed with police officers and responded to victims who were calling 911 for assistance.  Advocates linked victims with domestic violence services and assisted them in obtaining Orders of Protection in criminal court.  It was the first program of its kind in the country.  In 1993 an on-site licensed day care center was added to the Ridgeland Apartment Program.

1996 saw the birth of two programs.  The Violence Prevention Project, under the auspice of the Community Outreach Program, began teaching a violence prevention curriculum in local schools.  That same year Family Rescue partnered with Chicago State University to create the CSU Works Program which focused on assisting survivors of domestic violence gain vocational training and enter the world of work.  In 1998, Family Rescue developed the Safety Net Project, a community coalition of concerned businesses, individuals, social service providers and community institutions to begin a dialog about community accountability and domestic violence.  In 1999, we also began operating a Medical Advocacy Program which assisted victims of domestic violence seeking medical attention in the emergency room at Jackson Park Hospital.  These programs operated five years or more before eventually being phased out.  The violence prevention education work continued until 2008.

In 2000 Family Rescue stretched itself again and began sending its Court Advocates to civil court to assist victims of domestic violence who were attempting to obtain Orders of Protection there pro se.  The Domestic Violence Reduction Unit was incorporated into this initiative, and the expanded program was named the Court Advocacy Program.  In 2005, when then new Centralized Domestic Violence Court was opened, Family Rescue’s Court Advocacy Program was one of two domestic violence agency’s offered permanent offices in the building.  The Domestic Violence Reduction Unit retained its offices in the police station.  From 2004 through 2009 Family Rescue partnered with the Domestic Violence and Mental Health Initiative whose clinicians trained agency staff on the impact of trauma on adult and child victims of domestic violence.  In 2008, we expanded on our belief that for true safety planning, victims must include financial empowerment and stability.  As a result, we began providing financial literacy classes to victims.  In 2009, we began partnering with Susan Spencer, a nurse and social worker living in Pennsylvania, pioneering work on the intersection between domestic violence and the transmission of HIV/AIDS.  She has trained agency staff to train other human service professionals in the area.  Family Rescue was the first program in the country to have this training which is part of a national movement to bring other layers of health care to survivors of domestic violence.

By 2008, an economic recession was deepening in the country and both private and government funding for agency services began to be negatively affected.  In 2009, a transition team of board members and senior staff met to address the projected loss of significant funding.  Over a three year period, the agency streamlined its service delivery system.  Today Family Rescue operates four programs out of five locations, has 46 staff members and 45 volunteers and interns, and a budget of 2.6 million dollars. Since its modest beginnings, Family Rescue has developed into a comprehensive domestic violence agency providing a full array of services to and on behalf of victims.


Family Rescue is seen as a valued and respected leader in the field, and has been an innovator in provision of services to victims of domestic violence.

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Family Rescue and its staff have received a number of accolades and awards over the years.

1995 – Executive Director Joyce M. Coffee received the Victim Advocate of the Year Award from President Bill Clinton.

2000 – Family Rescue received the ORBA Award for Excellence in Financial Management from Nonprofit Financial Center.

2005 – Chicago Community Trust awarded the agency the James Brown IV Award for Outstanding Community Service.

2005, 2007, 2009 and 2014 – The Cook County States Attorney’s Office has recognized agency staff four times for outstanding legal advocacy to victims.

2011 – Avon selected Family Rescue as its Chicago Domestic Violence Community Partner.

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Family Rescue offers its support services thanks to the generous support from individual donors and organizations. On behalf of the women and children that we support,
Thank You for your kind donation!

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