SOS Children’s Villages International Celebrates 70 Years of Improving the Lives of Children Across the Globe

March 11th is the 70th day of the year, and at SOS Illinois that gives us cause to bring recognition to an important milestone in the history of our parent organization, SOS Children’s Villages International, which is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this year. For seven decades, SOS International has provided crucial programs and services for children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected in over 550 Villages in more than 130 countries across the globe.

Photograph of Hermann Gmeiner and youth being served. Courtesy of SOS Children's Villages International.
Photograph of Hermann Gmeiner and youth being served. Courtesy of SOS Children’s Villages International.

Founding SOS Children’s Villages International 

In 1949, a young Austrian named Hermann Gmeiner founded the organization in the years following World War II, and the original mission was to care for children who lost family members during the war. Today, SOS Children’s Villages International cares for more than 87,000 children who are in out of home care for a variety of reasons. Natural disasters, war, disease, and children’s rights make the mission of SOS International crucial to achieving a sense of social justice in every part of the world today.

Having experienced the horrors of war himself as a soldier in Russia, Hermann was then confronted with the isolation and suffering of the many homeless children as a child welfare worker after the end of the Second World War. In his unswerving conviction that help can never be effective as long as children have to grow up without a home of their own, he set about implementing his idea for SOS Children’s Villages.

The Village Model of Care includes four core principles of Gmeiner’s vision: ‘Having a caring mother, siblings, a home and a supportive community give a child a place to belong, where one feels safe and wanted. It is this very foundation that enables children to become successful adults.’ This vision continues to impact the foundation of each Village.

The First SOS Children’s Village in Austria

As a child welfare worker, Gmeiner saw how children orphaned as a result of World War II suffered. He was committed to helping them by building loving families and supportive communities. With just 600 Austrian Schillings (approx. 40 US Dollars) in his pocket, Hermann Gmeiner established the SOS Children’s Villages Association in 1949, and in the same year the foundation stone was laid for the first SOS Children’s Village in Imst, a village in the Tyrolean region of Austria.

The Meaning of “SOS”

Upon its inception, SOS Children’s Villages International was originally called “Societas Socialis”. Societas Socialis, which is Latin for a “Socially Responsible Society”, or literally translated as “Social Society”, reflected the poor economic and social situation in Tyrol after the Second World War. During this time, child protection services and welfare agencies were being fully utilized to accommodate to the high needs of children and sibling groups who lost their parents.

Hermann Gmeiner understood that in order for true change to take place in the world, individuals would have to be socially responsible. Gmeiner was a perfect example of one man acting on principles for the betterment of society. His actions are responsible for having started a worldwide movement that is still living and breathing today – 70 years later. From this original name – “Societas Socialis” – the “SOS” in our modern name was born.

Those meeting SOS Children’s Villages across the world for the first time often think our name holds other origins. New friends assume our “SOS” is Morse Code, “save our ship”, “save our souls”, “send out succor”, or “service over self.” It is important for us to share the historical information about our name, as it reinforces our mission and identity as we continue to serve children and families of greatest need through Villages and community-based programs.

SOS Children’s Villages Illinois Joins the SOS Children’s Villages Family

SOS Illinois, founded over 25 years ago, is an individual 501(c)3 child welfare agency that serves over 500 at-risk youth and children and families of Illinois each year by providing a stable home in a supportive, community environment designed to help children in need grow into caring, productive, and self-reliant adults.

Following Hermann Gmeiner’s vision, SOS Illinois emphasizes uniting siblings in foster care who then receive care and support from a full-time, professionally trained Foster Parent, grow up in one of our private, single-family homes, and are supported by the Village, designed as an intentional community of care. At SOS Illinois, we also include our family strengthening services as a cornerstone to the important work we do with regards to reunifying families.

SOS Illinois is proud to be a part of an organization that stands for the rights and dignity of each child. We, as an organization, will continue to ensure that as long as a child is in need of safety, security, and community, SOS Illinois will encourage them on their journey toward healing and reaching their fullest potential. We will work to make a difference because see each child as our responsibility, as did Hermann Gmeiner: “All the children of the world are our children.” Here is to the first 70 years, may there be many more.

Support the SOS Children’s Villages Legacy

Consider making a contribution to ensuring the programs and services at SOS Illinois continue to strengthen families and transform lives for the next 70 years as well. Click to make a one-time donation of $70, or enlist the help of six friends and yourself to each give $10. Remember, one small action can start a worldwide movement.