Unity House Organizational History

Two abandoned apartments and four thousand dollars are scant resources to launch an ambitious venture to help the poor. But 1971 was a time of idealism and hope, and the founders of Unity House saw too much need all around them to be deterred.

In July, 1971 a nun, Mary Jane Smith, and two Franciscan friars, Regis Obijiski and Peter Callaghan, opened the doors of a dilapidated building on Eighth Street that was to be the base of their effort to reach out to the community.

According to Mary Jane Smith, “We tried to be everything to every man, woman and child who walked through the door.”

They worked with people to cut through the red tape of the welfare system, prodded landlords to maintain housing for poor people and sought jobs for people with limited skills.

During those exciting first years, Unity House grew simply by responding to whatever need seemed to present itself, from collecting and distributing food and furniture to providing shelter for victims of domestic violence.

In 2013 Unity House moved to its present location:  a community resource center called The Front Door at 2431 Sixth Ave. Consolidating many services under one roof has allowed for greater programming that serves more people while, for the first time, offering space for the community.  Educational services at A Child’s Place are offered at two child care centers in South Troy and Albany, in the community, the home, and at partner locations. Unity House’s Domestic Violence Services Program is located at 6 102nd Street, the Kathryn Allen Building, in Lansingburgh, also home to the Unity House Law Project. For victims of domestic violence, Unity House operates the only licensed shelter in Rensselaer County, in a confidential location.

In 2017 Unity House merged with Northeast Career Planning, helping people to overcome barriers to employment. With the merge, programs and services around employment, PROS services, and vocational services were improved and expanded, offering greater access through various satellite locations in the Capital Region.

Unity House celebrated 50 years in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the increased demands for services brought on by the economic impact of the pandemic, Unity House never closed doors. The agency pivoted to continue to serve under stressful conditions, offering enhanced services and gaining valuable agility.

Since its inception in 1971, Unity House has grown to meet the increasing needs of those living in Rensselaer County and surrounding communities. Providing crisis intervention, advocacy, skills teaching, information, resources, encouragement and support, Unity House continues to help disadvantaged people lead productive and healthy lives.

The building on Eight Street in Troy where Unity House first started is still in use. The site has had many uses over the years, always in service to people in need. It is currently under renovation, to once again house people.

Visit this page to see our current board of directors and leadership team.