In 1985, John Kelly assumed the role of Executive Director of Samaritan House and through his leadership, helped transform the agency. A San Francisco native, John earned a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union. Prior to coming to our agency, John spent 25 years as a Catholic priest (thus earning the name “Father of Samaritan House”) and nearly two decades teaching at Serra and Menlo Atherton High Schools.
Under John’s guidance and in response to the growing needs of the community, Samaritan House widened its breadth of services and transformed from an agency that provided referrals to an agency that provided services. Upon his retirement in 1999, John recounted his time with our organization and spoke of his philosophy for providing service to the community, which was simply: if there is a serious need in the community that no one is currently meeting, then Samaritan House will address it.
During this time, Samaritan House also became a Core Service Center for San Mateo County, helping bridge the gap between the needs of the community and public and private aid. Today, we continue to work with this network of Core Agencies that provide San Mateo County residents with information and referrals, emergency assistance, case management, food and clothing vouchers, and many other services.
In 1974, Dr. Cora P. Clemons, R.N., M.F.C.C., M.P.H., Ph.D, had a growing concern. So many people needed basic social services but they had a hard time getting to her. “Isn’t there a way to bring services to the areas where the people in need live?” she wondered.
When Cora brought together some of her associates to talk about the problem, they came up with a creative idea to form a nonprofit agency and put its office in the heart of San Mateo in the community which needed the most service. In December 1974, Samaritan House opened its doors to provide ongoing information and referral to any San Mateo citizen experiencing basic need.
Samaritan House was originally located in a small, 2-bedroom house located in North Central San Mateo. Space – and privacy – were at a premium in this first location, which provided workspace for 3 Samaritan House case managers, a Salvation Army worker, a representative from the U.C. Department of Nutrition, and visiting staff from the County Health Department.
Over the years, Cora saw Samaritan House grow from a few case managers providing referrals to an agency with many programs providing food and nutrition, shelter, healthcare, clothing, counseling, worker resources, and holiday assistance. Amazing to think how far we’ve come and how many people we’ve been able to help thanks to such wonderful community support!