Friendly Town

Beginning in 1960, and in step with the national civil rights movement, the nationwide Friendly Town Program funded by The Community Renewal Society (formerly know as The Chicago Missionary Society )  collaborated with Marillac House and various other social service agencies to provide Chicago children with a chance to experience life outside the inner city. The program had two proposes, to give “children of all races and faith a good time and a new experience with middle class living beyond the inner city” and for the host family to “gain from the experience by acquiring a new awareness of city problems and a new friend.”[1] Children (ages 6-11) participating in Friendly Town were sent to approved host families for a two week stay outside the city. The program came to an end due to lack of funding in the 1970s. A combination of factors including rising gas prices which then caused the bus ticket prices to rise dramatically coupled with a severe drought effecting the farming communities in the upper Midwest that funded the Chicago kids’ trip caused it to fizzle out, but all the participants were enthusiastic until the end.

The Community Renewal Society’s Friendly Town program took place in various areas such as the Chicago suburbs (Wheaton, Clarendon Hills, Crystal Lake, Glen Ellyn) and rural areas such as North Dakota (Devils Lake, St. Peter) and Minnesota (Hettinger, Cavalier).2 In addition to Marillac House, other organizations which participated include- Casa Central, Y.M.C.A, Ameircan Friends Service Committee, Englewood Methodist Church, First Congregational Church and Warren Avenue Congretional Church among many others such as over 60 churches in 1966.3 The host families and children participating were chosen by these organizations and churches. The Friendly Town Program was “one more of live and cooperation than of organized philanthropy. Churches and other organizations, mostly in smaller communities, [took] it upon themselves to provide transportation and activities. “4

To ensure the health of the children, they were given a pre-departure physical examination by a clinic doctor collaborating with the program.5 The Chicago Tribune described children participating in Friendly Town as “quiet and nervous,” but Finest (a man our class interviewed) said he didn’t know to be nervous about leaving his home. Describing his stay at Friendly Town as one of the best times of his life, Finest recalled being one of only black people in town while not experiencing an racist attitudes during his stay in Devils Lake. In one trip, Native American Children even accompanied Chicago children during their Friendly Town stay. Freedom from discrimination and widespread acceptance was also described by a Friendly Town participant now living in the Chicago suburbs as he was interviewed by The Devils Lake Journal during a trip back to see his old host family.6

The bond between some Friendly Town participants and their host families was clearly strong. This can be seen in an interview in The Devils Lake journal and in the fact that many Friendly Town participants visited their host families outside of the program. In some cases, host families of Marillac participants came to Chicago to visit during the summer. 8

Due to a decreasing in funding, The Friendly Town program diminished in the 1970s. Since The Community Renewal Society could no longer fund trips, many participating organizations used their own funds to send children. For example, a Chicago Tribune article covered the dedication of one women who raised funding for Cabrini- Green  children to make a trip to Litchfiled, Minnesota. Describing the importance of Friendly Town in the lives of the children she said, “I felt the kids needed to get out of the city. I just didn’t know what to disappoint any of the kids.”8  Similarly, the Marillac archives contain various letters between Marillac and the Community Renewal Society one of which announced a decrease in funding for the Friendly Town program.

The program which Marillac developed in collaboration with The Community Renewal Society used Devils Lake , North Dakota as a central location. This blog will be dedicated to those who participated in the Friendly Town program and was made in collaboration with Marillac Social Center.

[1]  “1,100 Deprived Children Go On Trip Today,”Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1966.

[2]  “W. side Kids to Country”Chicago Defender, July 8, 1971.

[3]  “1,100 Deprived Children Go On Trip Today,”Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1966.

[4]  “W. side Kids to Country”Chicago Defender, July 8, 1971.

[5]  “Getting Ready For Rural Visits,”Chicago Defender, June 8, 1967.

[5]  Louise Oleson, “Living in Devils Lake Made Me the Man I Am Now: Chicago Man Grateful for His Time in North Dakota, Says It Saved His Life,” Devils Lake Journal, October 19, 2011.

[7]  “W. side Kids to Country”Chicago Defender, July 8, 1971.

[8]  “37 Kids Taste Farm Life,”Chicago Defender, July 29, 1969.


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