Mission & History

We're on a Mission

To empower generations of Chinese-American individuals and their families to fully participate in and contribute positively toward a healthy society. We put our Christian faith into action to help people learn, heal, and thrive.

Founded in 1874, Cameron House has a unique place in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, where we have served the changing needs of individuals and families in the community for generations.

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Our Roots are Deep

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1874 - Occidental Mission Home for Girls

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Founded in 1874 by the Presbyterian Church as the Occidental Mission Home for Girls, the home’s initial purpose was to intervene on behalf of vulnerable young Asian immigrants. Forbidden from legally entering the United States by the Chinese Exclusion Act, these girls and women were smuggled into the country and sold as commodities in what came to be known as the “Yellow Slave Trade”.

Sold into slavery, often by their own families, and trapped into bogus “contracts” that made it impossible to buy their freedom, many thousands of immigrant women died as prostitutes and domestic servants in San Francisco.

The Occidental Mission Home for Girls, the “Home” as it was known then, rescued these girls and taught them skills and faith.

1895 - Donaldina Cameron

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At the tender age of 23, Donaldina arrived at the Occidental Mission Home for Girls as a sewing teacher. Two years later, without any prior experience, she became the superintendent. Little did she realize that the next forty years would find her dashing through alleys and across rooftops to save thousands of Chinese girls from indentured servitude and human trafficking. Although her life was threatened by those whose profits were hampered by her success, she continued rescuing and educating the girls victimized by violence and abuse.

A great challenge for the Home came on April 18th, 1906, when the great San Francisco earthquake and fire woke the girls in the early morning. Although the Home withstood the initial shaking, it was ultimately destroyed by dynamite as the city attempted to stop the fire from spreading. Donaldina and all the girls found safety in the East Bay while the Home was rebuilt in the same location at 920 Sacramento Street, where it still stands today.

Donaldina retired from the Home in 1934, and in 1942 it was renamed the Donaldina Cameron House. By the time of her death in 1968, Donaldina had become a “national icon” and is credited with helping 3,000 girls escape brutal enslavement.

1940's - Chinatown Families

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With the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943 and the falling numbers of girls being rescued throughout the late 1930s, the needs of the Chinatown community were changing. In response to the growing number of families needing support and a safe place away from the racism of greater San Francisco, Cameron House began expanding its services to offer faith-based programs for youth in addition to social services for women.

Continuing Mission - Adapting to the needs of Chinese American Families

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The mission of Cameron House services has evolved over the years resulting in the comprehensive family service organization it is today. Cameron House serves the needs of low-income and immigrant Asian youth and families in San Francisco. . Thanks to thousands of faithful volunteers, devoted staff, committed Board members, and enthusiastic supporters like you, Cameron House provides a wide variety of programs to Asian youth and families. As part of Donaldina’s heritage, we are proud to offer services like: counseling; domestic violence intervention; food distribution; adult ESL and computer classes; support groups; youth afterschool and summer programs; sports, arts, and camping experiences; leadership development; and volunteer opportunities.  Today we serve over 1,000 low-income immigrant children and families.

Faith Statement

Rooted in the Christian faith and our Presbyterian heritage, we believe that God calls us to be an empowering presence in the community. We provide a safe place, are a trusted friend and advocate, meet people where they are, and walk with them as they fulfill their lives. We are a resource for people to explore faith and spirituality, and we believe and share Christian principles:

  • Our work is a manifestation of God’s love–we demonstrate God’s loving kindness through our service and stewardship.
  • All people are welcomed. Every person is worthy of love and respect and will be treated as such.
  • We promote justice for all.

Values Statement

Our values guide our behavior toward each other and the people we serve. They embrace our demonstration of God’s love through acts of kindness and sensitivity in all that we do and say:

  • Community. We value our shared legacy with the Chinese immigrant community, with the Cameron House community, and our partnerships in the greater community.
  • Authenticity. We are honest and genuine; we respectfully speak the truth with compassion and loving kindness that affirms and enriches each individual and our community as a whole.
  • Servant leadership. Our leadership approach is geared to advancing the common good. In order to lead, we must also follow, contribute as peers, and serve in our communities.
  • Accountability. We hold ourselves and each other accountable in the work we do and the communities we serve. We evaluate, learn and apply the knowledge gained to strengthen our impact and advance our mission.
Sunday, November 19th at 2pm

Light the Night!

We’d love to have you join us for Light the Night; find out more here! Please RSVP if you plan on attending. Or, if you’d like to help by donating, please type “Light the Night” in the “Additional Notes” section.