In 1888, a group of Atlanta women formed a sewing circle at the First United Methodist Church’s John Barclay Mission to mend the clothing of street children. While delivering clothes one day, the women discovered a child tied to a bedpost as a safety measure while her mother worked long hours in the cotton mills. Determined to help these children, the women began to care for them at the mission. An old railroad box car served as the first “center.” The second consisted of borrowed space in a local bar. Today, Sheltering Arms serves more 3,600 children and their families each year, offering learning opportunities as young as six weeks, and proactive support for families from GED courses to job search and housing assistance from 16 centers across Atlanta.
Inspired by the spirit of Roberto Ferruzzi’s painting, Madonna of the Street, the women chose the name Sheltering Arms in 1890 for their child care work. Madonna of the Street now hangs in our downtown Atlanta headquarters. From the beginning, the founders knew the value of supporting the families of the children who came to Sheltering Arms. Each week they held parent meetings. Parents shared experiences and learned from each other. This dedication to supporting both children and their families is the cornerstone of Sheltering Arms’ tradition and philosophy.
Watch our history video and timeline to see how Sheltering Arms has evolved over time.