At the turn of the 20th century, thousands of Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe to Pittsburgh. Responding to the growing needs of this population, the Council of Jewish Women founded the Columbian School and Settlement. It opened in 1895 in Pittsburgh's Hill District, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood at the time. The Settlement had a summer play school, a reading room, free baths, and classes in English and citizenship. In 1909, the Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kaufmann donated a building, equipment and money, as a memorial to their daughter, Irene, and the agency then became known as the Irene Kaufmann Settlement.

IKS, as it was called, helped immigrants adjust to their lives in America. The staff trained them to work and helped them to find jobs. Children and families benefited from new playgrounds, a "Milk Well" program to purchase affordable milk, a "Better Baby" healthcare clinic, and a place to "escape" during the summers called Emma Farm, now known as Emma Kaufmann Camp. The IKS also created the Pittsburgh Visiting Nurses Association so that immigrants could have medical care at the Settlement. Immigrants also enjoyed venues for recreational pursuits, including a gymnasium, swimming pool, library, club room, and a school of music, theater and art.

In 1910, several men created the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA), and women soon followed, forming a Young Women's Hebrew Association. The two groups merged, forming the YM & WHA, known as the Y. These organizations offered book clubs, art classes, dances, music appreciation groups, sports teams, and family support.

In 1939, the Settlement wrote a mission statement called "The Special Purpose of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement," which included as its primary objective the advancement of "the civic, intellectual, and social welfare of the surrounding community. [The Settlement] aims to do this, first, by guiding native and foreign-born to American ideals; second, by encouraging self-improvement; third, by stimulating healthy pleasures; fourth, by broadening civic interests; fifth, by creating ideals of conduct."

IKS continued to grow. Over time, it became clear that an overlap of programming at the agencies was a burden on the community's resources. At the close of 1960, the Young Men and Women's Hebrew Association, the Irene Kaufmann Settlement, and Emma Farm Association merged to create the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association-Irene Kaufmann Centers, commonly referred to as the Y-IKC, lovingly known as the "Ikes."

While our name has changed, those core goals and values still exist at today's Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. We continue to welcome everyone, offering arts and culture, English as a second language, preschool, summer camps, sports and athletics, programming for older adults, and many other programs for all ages and interests. The JCC continues to foster the same growth and advancement of its members as it did more than 110 years ago.