The youth served by Epworth Children and Family Services were tired of sitting in educational limbo each time they had to transfer high schools. For those in foster care, moves from one home and school district to another are not uncommon, but they meant waiting several weeks—and falling farther behind in classwork—while records were transferred. Those students decided to fight for a change, and with the help of Missouri State Representatives (and Epworth board members) Rick Stream and Jeanne Kirkton, Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 1577 into law, expediting the transfer of high school records for foster care children. The moment, several years in the making, took place at Epworth, and its importance did not go unnoticed by CEO Kevin Drollinger. “One of the things we can do is empower youth and show them that they do have control of their environment and can have brighter futures. If they work within the system the right way and follow the path, they can move mountains.”
The idea of empowerment is key to Epworth’s philosophy, starting with its tagline, Where kids find strength. The nonprofit organization has deep roots in the St. Louis community, as it was established in 1864 as Wesleyan Orphan Asylum to help children affected by the Civil War and the cholera epidemic. Today, Epworth serves 5,000 children and families each year, providing a range of services from residential treatment to emergency shelter to independent living programs for those affected by behavioral, emotional or psychological issues, or who face homelessness. More than eight out of every 10 children have suffered some form of abuse, and many come from single parent homes, Drollinger says. “We don’t ever go in with a cookie-cutter approach. Our goal is to put together services that are exactly tailored to help that child and family so they can function as successfully as possible in the community.”
In early 2012, the Family Support Network organization was brought under the Epworth umbrella, and the move has been a success, with the prevention and early intervention services helping families from the onset.
From fighting for legislation to graduating from college and finding successful employment, Epworth has made a difference in many St. Louisans’ lives. The annual Pillar of Strength Award Dinner honors a member of the community who has gone above and beyond to support those efforts. On Feb. 1 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, that honor will go to Susan and Danny Ludeman and Wells Fargo Advisors for their extensive and enthusiastic involvement with Epworth, ranging from volunteer work and board memberships to sponsorships and financial support. Impressed by both the metrics of the organization’s results, as well as the first-hand encounters with personal success stories, Danny Ludeman, president and CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors, is deeply committed to Epworth’s mission. “These kids are dealing with so many issues, and they know exactly what their weaknesses are, but they very seldom hear or understand what their strengths are,” Ludeman says. “Epworth’s approach is to dig deep and make sure these children approach each day with an open heart and help them discover their strengths and possibilities. It’s so different than any other organization I’ve ever encountered.”
While the Pillar of Strength Award Dinner will recognize the Ludemans’ and Wells Fargo’s efforts, the Old West-themed evening also is Epworth’s biggest fundraiser, and Ludeman prefers to focus on that. The honorees get a chance to designate where the funds will go, and although Ludeman has an affinity for the residential treatment program, he wants to make sure the organization receives attention for the entirety of its services. “We want to raise awareness about what these kids have overcome and how Epworth truly is making an impact.”