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Our History

The Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network (SSJNN) was established in January of 2000 by Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern PA to meet the needs of impoverished residents of Erie’s Little Italy, and work toward revitalization of that blighted neighborhood.

Sister Mary Herrmann, SSJ, and Sister Carol Wilcox, SSJ, accepted this work as their full-time ministry and set out to interview every neighbor and conduct a needs assessment. Programs were created accordingly, the very first being a weekly soup kitchen held in collaboration with St. Paul Church, and tutoring for children provided by generous volunteers.

Expanding in 2014 to address challenges and needs of the broader community, the SSJNN today serves neighborhoods across the core of Erie, bounded between East Avenue and Cranberry Streets, from 12th to 26th Streets. The area includes a number of neighborhoods, including Little Italy, Central City, the Eastside Multicultural Community and many smaller neighborhoods between.

SSJNN provides one-on-one advocacy for the residents, a weekly soup kitchen, emergency assistance with food and hygiene products, affordable housing, community gardens and seasonal farmers market, community bike programs, tutoring and a wide variety of enrichment programs for youth. In collaboration with the City of Erie and many other organizations, businesses, and individuals, SSJNN also works toward neighborhood revitalization and community and economic development.

Guided by a Board of Directors and led by an Executive Director, the SSJNN’s dedicated and highly-valued Staff – along with a small army of volunteers – provides a depth of experience to serve neighborhoods across Erie with creativity and compassion.

Learn about the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network by reading “20 Years in the Neighborhood”.

History Timeline

As you discover what’s new in our neighborhoods, please accompany us on our trip back in time to see how we got here.
Penn State University


With the discernment of the SSJ of NWPA as well as first partners such as Saint Vincent Hospital and St. Paul Church, the first two staff, Sr. Mary Herrmann and Sr. Carol Wilcox, are shown with the first “office” meeting neighbors door-to-door in Little Italy.


The first ministries are in full swing to address needs that neighbors identified, such as the soup kitchen to address food insecurity and programs for children such as reading tutoring. 


Additional programs are created such as Time Out For Moms and individualized assistance as well a host of other empowerment activities for residents.


With the help of many dedicated volunteers, SSJNN is growing and thriving, including its first community garden on W. 18th Street. 


SSJNN celebrates 10 years! Preceded by Sr. Mary Herrmann, Rose Graham comes on as Executive Director of SSJNN.


Physical revitalization efforts such as façade improvements, murals, new sidewalks and benches, are expanded after securing tax credit assistance and other partners.


SSJNN opens an eastside location, its boundaries now covering from 12th to 26th, Cranberry to East Ave. The Pedal Mettle bicycle program begins at the east side site in the former school of St. John the Baptist.


Heather Caspar becomes Executive Director of SSJNN.


Many initiatives are carried out under the mission to revitalize and empower the neighborhoods. Some of them include career education for hundreds of youth, completion of the Federal Byrne Criminal justice Grant, more housing opportunities, murals and facades, several thriving community gardens and a vibrant Little Italy Farmers Market.


SSJNN marks 20 years of serving neighbor to neighbor! However celebrations, gala fundraisers and more are cancelled, and all staff efforts address immediate needs of neighbors and program adaptations due to COVID-19.

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