Our History

The Legacy of Felton Institute

Felton Institute is a leader in providing cutting-edge services that transform people’s lives. Founded in 1889 as the first nonsectarian relief organization in the city of San Francisco, Felton’s historical timeline encompasses innovation and resilience. Its groundbreaking programs and services are interwoven into the fabric of Bay Area history; in 1906, Felton directed the entire San Francisco Earthquake Relief Program as well as providing services for orphans and introduced the first employment agency in the United States, among other notable accomplishments. Since its early beginnings, Felton has recognized the importance of fostering programs and services that positively impact the community and beyond.

Since Felton’s founding, countless individuals, families, and communities have benefited from the dedication of a passionate leadership and workforce that continues to serve and empower others. In the present day, Felton boasts numerous programs serving those impacted by the justice system, individuals struggling with mental health, preparing children for educational success, providing older adults with critical resources, and more.


Early Years: Leaders in Innovation

Felton was originally called Associated Charities (renamed Family Service Agency in 1958, and then to Felton Institute in 2014). The young organization was instrumental in developing a system of professional social services before the city had public welfare programs. It provided nutrition, employment, and housing programs saving thousands of families from destitution.

Felton’s early leader and director, Dr. Katherine “Kitty” Felton, was appointed Executive Director in 1901. Called the “conscience of San Francisco,” she led the first foster home system in California to address the high infant mortality rate.A great success, the foster parenting experiment brought San Francisco’s infant mortality rate to the lowest rate of any city of its size in the United States. Additionally, Associated Charities developed the first employment agency in the U.S. The organization would soon shift its focus from advocacy to direct services when it began directing the San Francisco Earthquake Relief Program in 1906. Since that time, Felton has flourished in the present day, continuing its commitment to empowering others.


Present Day: Strength in Adversity

Felton Institute’s very foundation was built upon the ideals of giving children and families in crisis access to social services and resources to help them build upon their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. Adapting to the emerging needs of the community under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Al Gilbert, Felton has expanded and thrived. The organization has been honored throughout the years for its continued hard work and dedication. Supporting cradle-to-grave endeavors, Felton’s services, many of which successfully collaborate with city and state agencies, offer award-winning programs. Services include early psychosis, early care and education programs that foster a cradle-to-college pipeline, service linkage for the unhoused and older adults, a suicide prevention hotline, and services for the justice-involved, among other vital programs.

Felton’s workforce is as diverse as the community it serves. Today, the organization employs a racially and ethnically diverse executive leadership and workforce as well as those with lived experience – from former pregnant teen clients to the formerly incarcerated who provide their expertise and compassion. Felton reaches across all racial, ethnic, cultural, social, and linguistic lines.

In 2019, Felton Institute was honored by San Francisco Mayor London Breed when she declared October 30th Felton Institute Day. The day is a symbolic acknowledgment of the enduring legacy of resilience and providing critical services to those in need. Mayor Breed said of the pioneering organization, “Felton is an important partner in making us deliver what is necessary to make San Francisco a better, more equitable place for our residents.”

Felton’s long and varied legacy is one that encapsulates strength and innovation as it empowers those it serves. Founded over a century ago, the historic organization has uplifted community members whilst imparting self-sufficiency. Creating and fostering programs that uplift individuals, children, and families through its critical services, Felton moves forward with confidence, inspired by those they serve.