In the mid-19th Century, on the banks of the Mississippi River, the community of St. Louis struggled to help travelers headed west. People came to explore the wide-open frontier, or maybe even find gold in the hills of California. But unreliable stagecoach schedules, cholera and unexpected delays in the journey often left travelers without the resources for basic human necessities like food and medicine. It was a time when medical and other community services were largely restricted to residents. Travelers had to rely on the kindness of strangers during an arduous journey. St. Louis, under the leadership of Mayor Bryan Mullanphy, struggled to help provide services to these American pioneers and new immigrants who became stranded on a journey to a new life. At his death in 1851, Mullanphy left half a million dollars in his will to help "aid travelers going west." The Travelers Aid movement had begun.
160 Years of Service to Communities
It is not surprising that Travelers Aid got its start with the Industrial Revolution. Mobility was at the heart of the economy as cities grew to accommodate a new workforce. By the time America reached the 20th Century, Travelers Aid Societies had sprung up in major cities across the country - Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. The programs began with the simple idea of protecting stranded people, especially women and children, from those who would use, abuse or victimize them in their time of misfortune. Ensuring a safe haven was the hallmark of Travelers Aid. Although many of the Travelers Aid programs were born in communities of faith, Travelers Aid provides services regardless of age, gender or beliefs. It is the oldest, non-sectarian, social welfare organization in the United States.
Creating a National Network
In 1914, Grace Hoadley Dodge, founder of the Travelers Aid program in New York, brought together Travelers Aid workers to form an association. From this association grew the concept of a "chain of service," with one agency helping another when inter-city transportation of a client was required. The association responded to the mobility challenges of the times, whether helping immigrants arrive at a safe destination or displaced workers return to their homes. During World War II, Travelers Aid was one of the original "United Services Organizations" - USO for short - that provided assistance to traveling service men and women. Travelers Aid operated "troop transit" lounges in 175 locations.
Where once agencies exchanged telegrams, reconnecting people is now facilitated via the Internet. Today, one of the strengths of Travelers Aid is that its services respond to the specific needs of the community. While each member agency shares the core service of helping stranded travelers, many Travelers Aid agencies provide shelter for the homeless, transitional housing, job training, counseling, local transportation assistance and other programs to help people who encounter crises as they journey through life.
In the 21st Century, more people are traveling than ever before. Many are tethered to their support systems via credit cards, debit cards, cell phones or calling cards. An interruption to their travels is an inconvenience, but with money to spend and a reassuring call back home they can make the best of it. Such is not the case with people who live on the financial edge or when crime robs them of their identity and their resources. Traveling is stressful under the best of circumstances, but an interrupted trip or an emergency is a crisis for the people involved, and Travelers Aid is there to help. Travelers Aid is most visible in transportation centers - the nation's busiest airports, as well as bus and train stations - where each year nearly eight million people seek information or assistance. Every situation is unique: A diabetic person has an unanticipated delay in his journey and realizes he needs medicine; a pre-paid phone card from Travelers Aid enables a teenager to contact her parents; a woman who can't speak English turns to Travelers Aid for help in contacting her family. Travelers Aid volunteers (more than 2700) provide reassurance as well as the information necessary for travelers to make informed decisions. Travelers Aid assists elderly and disabled persons, and anyone who needs extra attention to make their connections.
Professional Skills and Urban Connections
When persons become stranded, professional counselors step in to offer assistance. They engage the client and his or her family in the process of developing a plan that brings an end to the crisis and ensures a safe return "home." Travelers Aid has earned its motto of a "helping hand along the way." Travelers Aid began in the nation's largest cities and at its busiest crossroads. Primarily an urban phenomenon, Travelers Aid today serves metropolitan areas with a total population of 110 million. Travelers Aid is part of the fabric of social service agencies that respond to the needy. Homeless, and others, who feel disconnected in their own community, reach out to Travelers Aid. Whether through a local network referral process, or with specific programs geared to provide shelter and food, or training and support, Travelers Aid helps clients make the transition from crisis to independence. Examples include helping victims of domestic violence escape the trauma and get to a safe environment, aiding newly employed workers with local transit tickets, providing transitional housing, and serving as an advocate to ensure the needy get the services they require.
A Continuing Benefit
Travelers Aid has a rich history spanning three centuries, and diverse programming designed to meet the needs of stranded and disconnected people in each of its member communities. Although modes of transportation have changed over the years, the needs of travelers and disconnected persons have not. Today, mobility is crucial to the economy and to the American spirit of freedom and independence. The complexities of modern life make Travelers Aid more valuable today, and for more people, than when it first began.Travelers Aid International, based in Washington, D.C. is the national association for Travelers Aid agencies across the country. Supporting the Travelers Aid mission, TAI provides a myriad of services and assistance to member organizations in local communities nationwide, and also directly administers local programs.
An active Board of Directors is drawn from member agencies, corporations, transportation-related organizations and associations, and those concerned with the provision of social services. TAI staff and the Board work together to safeguard and expand our core objective of aiding those disconnected from their support systems, in crisis, or in transition.