Washburn Center for Children

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Winning Nomination

We are nominating Washburn Child Guidance Center for recognition as one of the "Minnesota 150." For 124 years Washburn has been a leader in child welfare and mental-health services in Minnesota. It is also an example of the generous corporate and civic philanthropy that has helped define Minnesota's culture of socially responsible giving.

Washburn began in 1883 as the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum for "homeless children who needed a place to live." The orphanage was established through a bequest of Cadwallader Colden Washburn, founder of General Mills; his brother, William Drew Washburn, served as president of the Board of Trustees from 1883 to 1912. During its first 30 years of operation, 942 children lived and attended school at Washburn.

The orphanage was closed in 1924 and replaced by the Washburn Foster Home Placement Agency. Services included psychological examinations, consultations with local medical and social service agencies, and placement of children in foster homes.

In 1950 the agency, responding to the needs of the community for more mental health services, established the Washburn Memorial Clinic--later to be called Washburn Child Guidance Center--for children with learning and behavior disabilities. Today, Washburn operates three clinics in Hennepin County and provides assessment, therapeutic and consultation services for thousands of children and their families, regardless of ability to pay.

Washburn's long history of service in Minnesota, its focus on helping some of our most vulnerable children, and its dedication to finding and implementing the best ways to do that, make it a worthy candidate to be a "Minnesota 150."
~Marcy Tollefson, Minneapolis, MN, and Jean Wilhide, Minneapolis, MN



Establishing a culture of concern that has grown with the city

On the morning of May 2, 1878, a huge explosion at Minneapolis's Washburn A Mill killed eighteen workers, injured many more, and flattened buildings in a large area radiating from the riverfront. Mill owner Cadwallader Washburn immediately set to work rebuilding his nearly ruined business by hiring scientists to determine the cause of the explosion and by building a state-of-the-art replacement for the old mill that incorporated the latest safety features.

But something more than business was on Washburn's mind after the explosion. He became increasingly concerned about the families of workers injured or killed in industrial accidents. He died four years later, and he designated $375,000 in his will for the founding and endowment of Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum. From 1886 through 1924, 942 children lived at the orphanage, located at Fiftieth Street and Nicollet Avenue, then on the outskirts of Minneapolis. The children were also given an education, both on-site and at public schools. In 1927, due to increasing costs for child care and changing community needs, the orphanage and grounds were sold to the Minneapolis Board of Education, which soon built Washburn High School on the site.

But Washburn's dream didn't end there. In response to unmet needs in Minneapolis, the organization's trustees founded the Washburn Foster Home to coordinate the placement in foster homes of "children who, because of temperament, environment, unfortunate experiences or health problems[,] required a more careful and thoughtful handling than the average agency could give." In 1951, the board of trustees again changed the home's name and mission; as Washburn Memorial Clinic, it responded to a growing need for mental health services for at-risk children.

Since 1975, as the Washburn Child Guidance Center, and through its 2007 change to Washburn Center for Children, the organization has maintained Cadwallader Washburn's original focus on children who are at the highest risk within the community.

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