Neighborhood House and Family Service, Morristown agencies with storied pasts, stake futures on merger


Two social service agencies with deep roots in Morristown are merging, in hopes of securing their future in an increasingly challenging environment for nonprofits.

The Morristown Neighborhood House, a resource for immigrants and working class families since 1898, will become a subsidiary of Family Service of Morris County, established two centuries ago by local churchwomen to help families affected by the War of 1812.

Together, they will be known as Cornerstone Family Programs, although the Neighborhood House will retain its name, a small board and its Flagler Street headquarters.

Patrice Picard will oversee the Morristown Neighborhood House as CEO of Cornerstone Family Programs.. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Patrice Picard will oversee the Morristown Neighborhood House as CEO of Cornerstone Family Programs. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“They needed to be comfortable that we understood and respected their importance in the community,” said Family Service Executive Director Patrice Picard, who will become CEO of the combined operation over the next few days.

“The important thing from my board’s perspective was that the community at the Neighborhood House will continue to be served,” said Jerry Marcus, chairman of the board there.

The organizations have complementary programs, Patrice said, so no cutbacks are envisioned at the moment. Administration and fundraising will be consolidated, however. That should bring more efficient tracking of performance, she said.

“We’ll be able to demonstrate really well that we’re making a difference. That’s important to funders,” Patrice said.

So is growth, and strong management–two more reasons she cited for the move.

“I’m very excited. I think this offers a great opportunity for both organizations, and for the community,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to build a stronger community, and more effective programming.”

Family Service–which already has started using the Cornerstone name–has a $3.6 million budget and 100 employees serving 7,000 clients in northern New Jersey.  Based on Elm Street in Morristown, it provides a range of counseling services and programs for seniors and military families. It also works with more than a dozen preschools, and owns a preschool in Madison.

At its bicentennial earlier this year, Family Service celebrated its founding by 17 ladies from the Presbyterian Church. They called themselves the Female Charitable Society, and they created a social safety net generations before the New Deal.

Family Service bicentennial

The Neighborhood House got its start helping Italian and Irish immigrants. More recently, its client base has shifted from largely African-American to Hispanic.

Known around town as the Nabe, the nonprofit provides educational, recreational and cultural programs for about 1,500 clients daily with a budget of around $3 million and a staff of about 80. Satellite operations in Dover, Denville, and at the Frelinghuysen Middle School in Morris Township will continue, Patrice said.

The Nabe has fought to maintain an after-school program called STARS (Smart, Talented, Athletic, Responsible Students) despite state funding cuts.  Another program called Pathways to Work pairs day laborers with employers.  There are programs for single mothers, and for young males who need role models. Sports include basketball,  soccer and boxing.

Brian Cavanaugh has been the Nabe’s interim leader since April, when Executive Director David Walker left to take the top job at the Somerset Home for Temporarily Displaced Children.

The Nabe fights to save after-school program



Family Service made the first merger overture last fall, although both organizations had mulled the possibility for some time.

Growth was a goal in a five-year strategic plan by Family Service. As its bicentennial approached, former board member David Welsh of Normandy Real Estate Partners asked, “Have you thought about the Neighborhood House?” Patrice recounted.

A study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, meanwhile, had urged the Nabe to explore strategic alliances with local nonprofits.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation recommended, and funded, La Piana Consulting to help with the nitty-gritty. A longtime supporter of the Neighborhood House and Family Service, the Morristown-based Dodge Foundation contended that a combined entity would be more sustainable, Jerry Marcus said.

The Morristown Neighborhood House. Photo:
The Morristown Neighborhood House. Photo:

“They felt that, given the current fundraising environment, a nonprofit of a certain size would attract more attention,” he said, adding that the merger should enable Family Service and the Nabe to offer “a more complete spectrum of services.”

A family might get after-school services from the Nabe, for example, and counseling from the Family Service side, he said.

Details of the affiliation were worked out “very carefully and very cautiously,” even though both boards backed it,  Patrice said.

Pro bono legal advice came from Morristown firms Riker Danzig and Wiley Malehorn, Jerry said.

And the Cornerstone name?

Family Service of Morris County had contemplated a new moniker for years, Patrice said. Too many people confused it with other family service providers, or with a government agency. And its service area extended beyond Morris County.

Cornerstone’s new challenge, Patrice said, will be convincing donors to Family Service and the Neighborhood House not to consolidate their giving.



Video history of the Nabe



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