Our History - A Heritage of Service

quoteThe three-state agency that today is Lutheran Community Services Northwest came to be from several Lutheran social outreach ministries, known by different names, which came together over the years as an organization with a unified mission – to “partner with individuals, families and communities for health, justice and hope.” While there have been many changes in our geographic footprint and the diverse range of services provided during this 90-year history, what has remained constant is our commitment to reach out, sharing God’s love, in service to our neighbors.

The earliest roots of our agency began in 1921 as part of the Lutheran Compass Mission, serving “down-and-out” individuals and families in Tacoma, Washington. A few years later, in 1926, concerned Lutherans in Portland, Oregon, came together to start a similar outreach effort, known as the Lutheran Welfare Society.

Refugee Center photo
Our work in refugee resettlement first began in the 1940’s, helping individuals and families fleeing war-torn Europe find hope and new opportunity in Northwest communities.

The 1930’s
The onset of the Great Depression created great human suffering and needs that Northwest Lutherans joined together to address. A downtown Tacoma hotel was purchased to serve homeless and jobless men. In Portland, the agency provided clothing, bedding, food and rent assistance.

The 1940’s
In 1944, Associated Lutheran Welfare, the third major component of our present agency, was formed in Seattle and soon became involved in adoption services. During the post-war years, many displaced Eastern European refugees were resettled through the efforts of our predecessor Lutheran agencies in both Portland and the Puget Sound

The 1950’s and 60’s
Social changes in the affluent mid-century brought with them demands for new social services. Mental health, marriage and family counseling became areas of emphasis, along with services for “unwed mothers”.  Agency offices were opened in Spokane in 1956 and the Tri-Cities in 1964.

Refugee Center photo
Lutheran Welfare Center, Portland,
circa late 1940’s

New Programs and Communities
The 1970’s and ‘80’s were a time of expansion, in terms of both new programs and communities served. Services for refugees and unaccompanied minors were expanded in both Portland and Seattle, senior services grew in Tacoma, and the Rape Crisis Center was started in Spokane. New offices were opened in Beaverton, McMinnville, Klamath Falls and Prineville, Oregon, as well as in Bremerton, Washington.

The 1990’s brought further growth, with new offices in Astoria, Oregon, and Boise, Idaho, and the addition of programs such as HopeSpring in Beaverton and Family Support Centers in Snohomish County, Washington.

Combining Strength with Strength
In 2001, Lutheran Social Services of Washington and Idaho joined with Lutheran Family Service of Oregon and SW Washington to form Lutheran Community Services Northwest.  Our ministry currently serves over 100,000 people annually, through more than 100 distinct local programs in offices across our region, continuing the original vision of those caring Lutherans, 90 years ago, to reach out in loving service.