SSG began during World War II as a result of the Los Angeles “zoot suit riots.” American sailors had attacked Mexican American youth on the streets of Los Angeles causing a national outrage. To address the issue, the Community Chest (now known as the United Way) formed a ‘special services unit’ to attend to the youth’s recreational and social needs. In 1952, after eight years of operating programs for teenagers, Special Service for Groups incorporated. SSG’s first years offered outreach services to many minority gangs in Los Angeles, operating the most intensive gang counseling program in the United States at the time.
During the 1960’s, SSG began to expand to address other social problems through programs in areas such as job training and placement, education, housing, and political action and advocacy.
Many of SSG’s current priorities and programs were first established in the 1970’s and 1980’s in response to the continued impact of poverty on LA communities, as well as to the multifaceted and growing needs of diverse racial and ethnic populations. This era also saw the mounting impact of homelessness on LA and the serious challenge of HIV/AIDS. SSG’s programs thus reflected an emphasis on cultural and linguistic competence with a number of projects targeting Latinos, African Americans and Asian Pacific immigrants and refugees. SSG programs created during this time included ‘safety net’ programs (e.g. food distribution projects), youth development programs, homeless services, mental health and substance abuse services and HIV/AIDS prevention and intervention.
Beginning in the mid-1990’s SSG began a series of efforts to collaborate and build strategic partnerships with other community based organizations and groups. In an era of uncertain resources and economic instability, SSG-led community collaborative projects have become a well-known and respected agency trademark.
The period since 2000 has thankfully been one of continued growth for SSG, particularly in the area of behavioral health services. SSG programs continue to evolve to keep up with advancements in social service practice and to effectively address the growing and continually changing needs of LA’s at risk and disenfranchised communities. SSG also initiated a number of new specialized programs such as older adult services and services targeted to individuals involved with the criminal justice system.