"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." —Frederick Douglass
In the early 1800s, when Syracuse was still a village of fewer than 5,000 people, the education of children was a luxury afforded only to those who could pay the tuition for a private school. A group of churchwomen became interested in educating children who were less fortunate and, in 1835, rented a room behind the village store and established the Syracuse Free School. The school closed in 1839 as a result of a new tax that provided for public education to all children.
In 1841, still recognizing a need for children, the same group of women turned their attention to children who were parentless or abandoned and being cared for in the County Poor House. The “Association for the Relief of Destitute Children”, was formed with the sum of $427.38. The efforts of the women resulted in the incorporation of the Syracuse Orphans' Asylum and a home for forgotten children. Its doors opened on May 10,1845, to 10 boys and five girls.
By 1847, the house had expanded to serve children throughout the county. In an effort to accommodate the growing needs of more children, the location of the home was moved several times over the years. In 1922, it made its last move to what was then the outskirts of the city, a 146-acre farm on Salt Springs Road, and its present location. On the occasion of its 100th anniversary in 1945, the name was officially changed to Elmcrest Children's Center.
Elmcrest continued to function as an orphanage into the 1960s. With changes in social policy and a decrease in the population of true orphans, Elmcrest turned its attention to serving the needs of “troubled youth.” In 1980, Elmcrest began to refocus its efforts to provide services to children with emotional as well as behavioral issues and began to increase its services to children with special needs. In the more than three decades since, Elmcrest has established itself as a leader and innovator in the field of services to children in Central New York.
Today, Elmcrest Children's Center is still in the business of providing for children and families. It provides a multi-service residential treatment and education center for children with emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric disturbances; a respite program for children with developmental disabilities and serious medical conditions; and an early education center and Universal Pre-K (UPK) program. Together with their families, over 2,500 individuals are served yearly in more than 20 different programs. At any given time, Elmcrest is home to 130 youngsters, with another 150 preschoolers being served in its early education facility. In addition, another 80 families at risk of having their children removed from the home receive supportive services, counseling, education and training.