Parsons’ History

Bob_Jane_currentParsons Child and Family Center began in 1829 as The Society for the Relief of Orphan and Destitute Children of the City of Albany. Under the auspices of Mrs. Orissa Heely and Miss Elizabeth Wilcox, the home first opened its doors on December 2. There were two children on December 3, 1829, 18 children by December 30, and 70 children in March 1830.

Today Parsons Child and Family Center is not only one of Albany’s oldest family service organizations, but is known as the pioneer institute in its industry. Mrs. Heely had a concern in 1829 for the welfare of our children, and Parsons still holds this concern for our children today.

A collection of 175 years of Parsons archives can be found at the NYS Library and an inventory is available on line at www.nysl.nysed.gov/msscfa/sc17377.htm.


Jump To Era: 1829 – 1850 // 1851 – 1900 // 1901 – 1925 // 1926 – 1950 // 1951 – 1975 // 1976 – 2000 // 2001 – Present



  • May Orissa Heely’s infant dies in childbirth, and her husband abandons her. She suffers serious depression.
  • October Orissa Heely and her friend, Eliza Wilcox, plan the orphanage together. Ms. Heely says: “Now is the time. Defer it not!”
  • November 17 Sarah Weed, young daughter of Thurlow Weed, gives first donation “with the hope that some little Orphan may be benefitted thereby.”
  • November 23 The Ladies Orphan Society meets in the North Dutch Church on North Pearl Street. They elect officers.
  • December 2 Orissa Heely and Eliza Wilcox welcome Lewis Klean, a 5-year-old boy
  • to the Orphan Cottage.


  • June 3 Constitution written for “The Society for the Relief of Orphan and Destitute Children in the City of Albany.”
  • July 10 Edward Delevan elected first Board President.
  • September Budget for year – $900.
  • December 28 Albany City Common Council votes down request for $250 per year for Society operations.
  • December 31 130 homeless children in care; 150 turned away.


  • March On March 30, 1831 the State Legislature passed Chapter 94 of the Laws of 1831, an Act to incorporate the Society for the Relief of Orphan and Destitute Children of the City of Albany. It provided for a Board of 11 members, and authorized the agency to hold real estate to the amount of $30,000 and personal funds of $100,000.
  • Albany Academy puts on fair for the Asylum, donates $744.62.
  • April Albany Common Council votes to give the Asylum two acres of land on the northeast corner of “Washington Square”—now Washington Park.


  • January Orissa Heely, Superintendent; Susanna Greenwood, Assistant.
  • May Cholera epidemic in Albany.
  • Autumn Children move into first permanent building, 9,600 sq. ft., built for $18,800 at the intersection of Western and Willet Avenues (now the University at Albany downtown campus). Building in use for next 75 years.
  • December Orissa Heely leaves to start a new children’s asylum in Troy, NY.


  • Stephen Van Rensselaer elected President of the Board—serves until his death in 1839.


  • April Mayor Erastus Corning (I) becomes ex officio guardian of the Asylum’s children.


  • January Ms. Heely returns as Superintendent.
  • July Rachel Ramsay, former Asylum resident, graduates from The Albany Female Academy (now Albany Academy for Girls) and returns to teach at the Asylum.


  • Name of the agency unofficially changed to The Albany Orphan Asylum; confirmed by the New York State Legislature in 1893.


1851 – 1900


  • New three-story building constructed for $10,000; adds 4,500 sq. ft.


  • Orissa Heely resigns again and leaves the Asylum for the last time, having served for 12 years as superintendent. In addition to founding the Albany Orphan Asylum, which became Parsons Child and Family Center, Ms. Heely consulted at other homeless child asylums in Troy, Boston, and New York City, and also founded and taught at a school for African-American children, probably in New York.


  • June Asylum children sent to public school for the first time. Experiment fails, and the Asylum reopens its own school.


  • May 11 James D. Wasson, a member of the original Board of Directors, dies while serving as president. General John Rathbone succeeds him, and serves for the next 35 years, until 1901. This is the longest presidential term in the agency’s history.
  • December 2 Eliza Wilcox visits Orissa Heely, now a bed-ridden invalid in New York City. They celebrate the 37th anniversary of the institution they founded with a prayer of thanksgiving in Ms. Heely’s room.

1870s 1875

  • Children from Greene County admitted.
  • The New York State Legislature, forbidding the placement of children in almshouses with adults and providing funding for the operation of children-only facilities, passes the Children’s Asylum Act.


  • Albert Fuller becomes superintendent. He is later the subject of Mother Donit fore the Best, a book by Judith Duhlberger about the orphanage and its role in the lives of the families of the children who lived there.


  • Six hundred children reside in the eight buildings now jammed on the Washington Avenue site. Another 600 are placed in foster homes/work placements across New York State.
  • The Asylum owns 85 acres on New Scotland Avenue, which it uses to grow food for children and staff.


  • The New York State legislature amended the original law of incorporation to change the corporate name to “The Albany Orphan Asylum,” as it had been commonly referred to from the start. The total population of the organization was 600, with many of the children being placed in private homes.


  • A series of epidemics strikes the Orphan Asylum. Children suffer from measles, small pox, and whooping cough. There are 150 cases of diphtheria.
  • Jane Lathrop Stanford, daughter of the agency’s first treasurer, Dyer Lathrop, and founder (with her husband, Leland) of Stanford University, returns to Albany to conclude her family’s affairs. She gives the Lathrop family mansion and $100,000 in railroad bonds to the agency. Principal from this gift is still part of Parsons’ endowment.


1901 – 1925


  • State Board of Charities finds the Albany Orphan Asylum to be unacceptably overcrowded. Board agrees to build a new facility on the New Scotland Avenue farm.


  • Fire destroys New York State Normal College (later The State University of New York at Albany). The Albany Orphan Asylum sells its Washington Avenue property to the University, and begins to build “cottages” on the New Scotland Avenue farm. Population of children is reduced by half.


  • The Albany Orphan Asylum moved to property on New Scotland Avenue, establishing one of the earliest “cottage-type” institutions in the country.


  • June New Scotland Avenue cottages dedicated. They will serve as the agency’s main campus for the next 50 years.

1910s 1910

  • Russell Sage Foundation studies Albany Orphan Asylum and finds: “In no institution that I have visited is the ideal of home life for the children more successfully and consistently realized than here. All the conditions of comfortable and happy home life are met in the cottage. The heating apparatus is there, and the water supply; and there is food prepared and eaten. Throughout the institution, there are no boiler houses or smoke stacks or water tanks to remind us of a great manufacturing plant. Only, as in the ordinary community, the educational and the religious interest are common to all its members. The Asylum affords an excellent illustration of the genuine cottage system.”


  • Mrs. John D. Parsons makes a gift in memory of her late husband, John D. Parsons, one of the founders of the Albany Trust Company. This is the largest gift in the history of the agency.


  • The Albany City School District assumes control of the Albany Orphan Asylum’s school. One year later, School District classes are conducted at the Asylum after a fire destroys an Albany City District school.
  • The Albany Orphan Asylum sells 21 acres to the Albany Academy for an athletic field. The Academy later relocates here from Academy Park.
  • The Automobile Club of America promotes the construction of new housing in the area, and farmland becomes a residential neighborhood.


  • The Board of Managers of the Albany Orphan Asylum joins with boards of other Albany voluntary agencies to form the Albany Community Chest—now the United Way of Northeastern NY. The managers’ announcement said, “They had complete confidence that they are promoting the best interests of the Albany Orphan Asylum and its children.” The Albany Orphan Asylum’s first grant from the Community Chest was $7,000.


1926 – 1950


  • The enactment of social services legislation in the 1930s changed the focus of referrals to the Albany Orphan Asylum. The Asylum found that children in the institution had problems other than poverty.


  • The name is changed from the Albany Orphan Asylum to “The Albany Home for Children.” The change signifies a new awareness of children’s need for individualized care and attention. The “matron system” is replaced by one in which each cottage and its children are overseen by “house parents.”


  • The Albany Home for Children hires Ms. Velma Grove Wood, its first social worker. Ms. Wood is soon replaced by Ingeborg Olsen, of Yale University and Smith College. The Albany Home for Children’s new reliance on professional social work reflects an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the needs presented by children in out-of-home care, and of the needs of their families.
  • New York State authorizes The Albany Home for Children to arrange for the adoption of children who will be unable to return to the homes from which they came.


1951 – 1975


  • The Child Welfare League of America is asked to review The Albany Home for Children’s facility and to study reasons for the dwindling number of children in care. The League recommends the development of a more clinically-oriented program.


  • The Board sells all but 19 acres of its remaining property to Russell Sage College. The College converts most of The Albany Home for Children residential and administrative space into classrooms and labs. The Albany Home or Children builds two new, one-story residential cottages and rewrites its mission to focus on the treatment of children between the ages of 7 and 18.

1960s 1961

  • The therapeutic educational program opens with 19 students. They are offered individual clinical service, family work, and specialized education. Classes are conducted in offices and residential areas.


  • The Albany Home for Children’s first group home opens at 490 Hudson Avenue. Forty years later, the home is still operating.
  • The Foster Care program is organized. The program adds a domestic adoption component in 1973, and an international adoption service about the same time.


  • The Day Treatment program is established. Will become certified by the New York State Office of Mental Health in 1984.


  • Developmental Disabilities program started to serve both day and residential students who have severe autism. Program is phased out in the early ‘90s as the philosophy of “school inclusion” allows public schools to serve youth with these needs in normal settings.


  • First building dedicated solely to education erected. This allows for expansion of Day Treatment and for the provision of intensive special education to 100 day and residential students. Medical Clinic is later built on the north wing of the school.


  • Regional Adoption Project funded by New York State. The Albany Home for Children trains upstate workers in adoption theory, process, and technique. Regional Adoption is precursor to Sidney Albert Training Institute and to Post Adoption Services project.


1976 – 2000


  • Agency renamed (for the fourth time) “Parsons Child and Family Center” to reflect the agency’s expanded commitment to all aspects of support for the family, as well as to its continuing work in the service of the individual child.
  • The Prevention program is established as a major service to families raising children in the community. The Prevention program grows over the years to serve more than 200 families per year in two counties with 35 staff members.

1978 1978

  • Administrative staff move to 845 Central Avenue to allow for continuing program growth on Academy Road.


  • Parsons celebrates its 150th anniversary.
  • Medical Clinic opens funded by a $50,000 grant from the Albany Hospital for Incurables to facilitate health care for school students and residents.
  • Parsons merges with the Albany Child Guidance Clinic, which had been founded by Dr. Lenore Sportsman in the late 1940s. Dr. Sportsman directs the Clinic, which is relocated to Academy Road.
  • The Regional Adoption Project had been phased out. Parsons contracted with Eastern Child Welfare Society, Inc. in Seoul, South Korea, and began its International Adoption program. The Minority Adoption program was started as a demonstration project.
  • New school building opens. Entire school is re-named the “Neil Hellman School” in honor of local philanthropist Neil Hellman, the project’s major donor. The new building houses the High School and the developmental disabilities service.
  • The Board of Directors set up Parsystems, a separate for-profit corporation, to serve human services agencies in their development of new technologies.


  • Parsons receives a grant to establish one of New York State’s first Residential Treatment Facilities (RTF). The RTF is the first of several residences the agency will operate for the New York State Office of Mental Health. Lansing and Winne Cottages are entirely rebuilt to accommodate the new facility.
  • The new administration building is completed on Academy Road. All staff return from 845 Central Avenue.


  • Parsons was awarded a million-dollar New York State program grant to establish a Therapeutic Foster Care Cluster Home program and began the successful recruitment and training of families to care for some of Parsons’ most troubled children.

1990s 1992

  • Healy House opens as a regional crisis residence. It is named after Orissa Heely, the agency’s founder, and its capacity (8), is the same as that of Ms. Heely’s first cottage on lower Washington Avenue. The House is named “Program of the Year” by the Council of Community Services in 1994.


  • Parsons works with Albany County, Whitney Young Health Clinic, and Trinity Institute to establish the “Bright Beginnings” home visiting program. Bright Beginnings and Early Head Start together constitute the Center’s early intervention service and allow Center staff to help families achieve their highest goals while greatly reducing the possibility of abuse or neglect.


  • The U.S. Health and Human Services Agency awards Parsons the contract for Early Head Start in the city of Schenectady. Staff establish a home visiting component and later added a day care center, which together serve more than 60 families.


  • Home and Community Based Services Waiver contract awarded by the New York State Office of Mental Health to Parsons. Service covers six counties and allows staff to create intensive services to support youth and family in the home communities in order to avoid residential or hospital placements.


2001 – present


  • Activities Center opens following capital campaign. The new center replaces the 50-year-old Van Alstyne Building’s gymnasium and adds extensive space as well for music, art, art therapy, and staff meetings.
  • With a New York State grant, Parsons establishes “Post Adoption Resources Center” to train professionals and to assist families in the management of issues associated with adoption.


  • First satellite mental health clinic is established in Philip Schuyler Elementary School. In 2004 staff open two satellite clinics in the new Schuyler Achievement Academy and the Sheridan Preparatory Academy in the Albany Public School District.


  • Miriam House opens next to Healy House. Miriam House is an 8-bed community residence certified by the New York State Office of Mental Health, and serves youth discharged from higher levels of care.


  • Parsons begins planning for its 175th Anniversary. Steering Committee reviews old documents and artifacts, designs graphic displays, and schedules events. Paul Grondahl of the Times Union commissioned to write the history of the agency.
  • Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Services Post-Placement Project expands to five additional counties.

2005 2005

  • Parsons celebrates 175th Anniversary marked by a birthday celebration and concludes with a reception and exhibit at the Opalka Gallery of Sage College. The reception and exhibit is well attended by multi-generational alumnae, Past-Presidents, and numerous former and retired staff. Now Is the Time: A History of Parsons Child and Family Center, 1829-2004, by local author Paul Grondahl, is published.
  • Parsons’ Activities Center dedicated the Bob Wygant Activities Center in gratitude for Bob’s long support of the agency, and in admiration for a life lived according to the highest values of the true sportsman.
  • Agency is awarded a grant to establish a new and innovative Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care program, the first of its kind in the Capital Region. Home and Community Based Services Waiver program expands to five new counties, increasing the number of children served from 34 to 58. Parsons assumes responsibility for family support services provided by the Schenectady County Child Guidance Center, which include intensive and supportive case management as well as family advocacy. Parsons’ Neil Hellman School is the first of its kind to receive accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.


  • Parsons assumes control of the Child Program Family Resource Center on Bigelow Avenue in Schenectady. Child Program day care and preschool services are located with Parsons’ Early Head Start, enabling Parsons to service nearly 200 children and families at the site.


  • Parsons’ Home and Community Based Services Waiver expands the number of slots to 126 families in 12 counties, doubling the previous number served, and opens a new office in Gloversville. Healthy Families Albany County, formerly Bright Beginnings, broadens its geographical reach with a new office in Cohoes which will allow for staff to work with an additional 40 families each year. Parsons launches a tri-county Child and Adolescent Mobile Team (CAMT) to provide response to families of youth who are experiencing a crisis event as a result of the child or adolescent’s significant/uncontrollable behavior.


  • Parsons affiliates with Northeast Parent & Child Society under the new management company Northern Rivers Family Services. Ray Schimmer is name Chief Executive Officer of Northern Rivers, while John Henley becomes Chief Executive Officer of Parsons and Northeast.