St. Louis is blessed with many nonprofits dedicated to serving a broad range of needs. Below, we salute a number of local organizations that are celebrating milestone anniversaries.
Provident, 150 years
It’s said that being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful. Provident, a non-sectarian, multifaceted social service agency, has been doing good for 150 years. “Even back in 1860, we were offering innovative programs that helped individuals and families become productive members of the community,” says president Tom Mulhearn. “Today, we’re still helping adults in crisis and kids at risk. It’s crucial to have a neutral zone as a safety net during a crisis.” In its early years, the Provident Association of St. Louis, as it was then known, provided material relief, housing, nursing care, and work opportunities and training to people in need. Often, it was the first organization called upon by civic leaders to help in the aftermath of natural disasters and outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as cholera and smallpox.
The organization has long served as a social service incubator for St. Louis: In 1895, the Visiting Nurse Association was originally part of the Provident Association, with nurses arriving at the homes of indigent patients via horse and buggy. In the wake of the 1917 race riots in East St. Louis, Provident Association started the Urban League, which later became a free-standing agency. Legal Services of Eastern Missouri also is an offshoot of Provident.
After the Great Depression, the agency morphed into Family and Children’s Services of Greater St. Louis, and again changed its focus in response to community needs, concentrating on adoption and foster care services while also developing a family and individual counseling department. “Today, Provident views its role as a social service provider and innovator in serving families, underserved youth and impoverished neighborhoods throughout the region,” Mulhearn says. Programs include counseling in a broad range of areas, addiction treatment, a crisis hotline, and youth and neighborhood development programs. Provident’s Life Crisis Services 24/7 hotline takes more than 80 calls a day. Last year, the entire organization served more than 35,000 individuals in the St. Louis community.
Miriam Foundation, 100 years
The Miriam Foundation began 100 years ago as the local chapter of a national community service organization. “In the early years, service to the sick and infirm was a priority, and in 1954, Miriam Cancer Services was formed to provide financial assistance to patients for medical supplies not covered by insurance,” says executive director Andrew Thorp. But the foundation’s mission kept evolving. “Today, Miriam Foundation supports more than 350 children with learning disabilities and their families through the Miriam School and Miriam Learning Center,” he says.
Miriam School, established in 1956 for children with developmental delays, later changed its focus to multiple and complex learning disabilities. Today, the school serves prekindergarten to eighth-grade students, providing individualized educations plans and a ratio of 10 students per teacher. The Learning Center, established three years ago for learning-challenged kids from other schools, offers testing, assessments, tutoring and family counseling for ages 4 to 18. “Children with learning issues require a very specialized kind of help, and their families need support,” Thorp explains. “Our highly trained teachers understand these complex disorders and know how to help children fulfill their unique potential.”
Making education accessible to families who can’t afford it is a big focus of the foundation’s work, and Miriam School’s annual scholarship campaign provides needs-based assistance to families. The foundation also runs the Switching Post resale shop and Miriam Resale Services, which organizes household sales, ‘empty-outs’ and downsizing. Proceeds from both spin-offs benefit the Miriam Foundation. “Thanks to community support, the Miriam Foundation has seen amazing growth over the last year that will allow us to better serve our mission,” Thorp says. “Our Celestial Centennial Gala raised more than $260,000 for Miriam School Scholarships, and the new Mary Ann Lee Multi-Purpose addition is scheduled to open next year. We’ve been through a lot of changes over the last 100 years, but the goal of serving unmet needs in the community has remained the same.”
St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 100 years
Instead of cursing the darkness, the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired has been lighting candles since 1911. The society, originally known as the Missouri Association for the Blind, was founded by James Jones of the Missouri School for the Blind. Until then, very few resources were available for area adults who were visually impaired. “Among the organization’s original objectives, besides preventing blindness, was to promote employment for the blind,” says director David Ekin. “In those days, many visually impaired individuals were beggars on the streets, because they had no job training and couldn’t get work.”
Since then, the society’s mission has expanded to include enhancing the independence, empowerment and enrichment of people who are blind and visually impaired, while also providing support for their families. “Caring, qualified staff, many of whom hold state or national certification, provide specialized vision rehabilitation, adaptive education and assistive technology and support services,” Ekin says. “We strive to enhance our clients’ physical, psychological, developmental, educational and social rehabilitation.”
Today, the organization serves more than 1,500 individuals each year with a broad range of services, including home-based and agency services for an increasing number of older adults who are newly visually impaired or blind due to age-related conditions. It’s the only agency of its kind serving greater St. Louis, and the second-oldest of its kind west of the Mississippi River. “As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by the values of dignity for all, compassion, collaboration, dedication, optimism, and respect for each person and their unique goals,” Ekin says.
The Bach Society of Saint Louis, 70 years
No less a musical genius than Ludwig van Beethoven once called Johann Sebastian Bach the immortal god of harmony. “The Bach Society, now celebrating its 70th year, is here to entertain, educate, enrich and uplift people in the St. Louis region with Bach’s glorious music,” says music director Dennis Sparger, who is marking his 25th year as conductor. “Great music has the power to help listeners tune into themselves and understand others.”
The society, founded in 1941 by music educator William Heyne, is dedicated to performing the choral and choral-orchestral works of Bach and other classical composers. The society gives four public concerts a year, including its traditional Christmas candlelight concert at Powell Hall, which this year features internationally acclaimed soprano Christine Brewer.
“Another important part of our mission is turning young people on to music through education and outreach programs, including Giving Bach to St. Louis, which provides free concert tickets to underserved high school and college students,” Sparger explains. “We often invite university choruses to rehearse with us, as part of our Encore! program.” The society also sponsors a Young Artists Awards scholarship program for aspiring soloists under age 30. “One of our young artists performed at the Metropolitan Opera recently,” he says.
Though the core of its repertoire is the great choral works of the Western tradition, the society also performs modern music, occasionally commissioning and premiering new pieces from nationally renowned composers, including Rene Clausen and Stephen Paulus, as well as local composer Stephen Mager, the ensemble’s composer-in-residence, Sparger says. “We’re St. Louis’ oldest continuing choral society, and we hope to keep bringing this amazing music to audiences for many years to come.”
STAGES St. Louis, 25 years
There’s no business like show business, and STAGES St. Louis has been proving it to delighted local audiences for 25 years. Founded in 1987 by artistic director Michael Hamilton and executive producer Jack Lane, STAGES in dedicated to preserving, advancing and producing the indigenous American art form of musical theater; to employing and developing local actors, singers and dancers; and to offering Broadway-quality shows to local audiences. “Over the past quarter-century, the magic of STAGES has touched many lives,” Lane says. “Quality has always been at the core of our mission, and we’ve been recognized nationally in prestigious arts publications such as Live Design, Stage Directions and Entertainment Design.”
In the beginning, the organization had only seven actors, a budget of $50,000, 3,000 patrons and 200 subscribers. Today, STAGES has a core company of 52 actors, a budget of more than $3 million, more than 46,000 patrons and 9,000-plus subscribers. A full-time seasonal company is on tap May to October, presenting more than 120 performances in the 380-seat Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Civic Center. “Performers are auditioned both here and in New York, but STAGES is the top employer of local union actors and provides more annual workweeks than any other St. Louis theater company,” Lane says. “You can see a Broadway-quality play at STAGES for about one-third the price of a ticket in New York City.”
STAGES also serves the community by providing performing arts educational opportunities both at the STAGES St. Louis Performing Arts Academy in Chesterfield and through numerous outreach programs, Lane says. “Our 25th anniversary season will incorporate celebration and reflection, and include old favorites like A Chorus Line, and newer productions such as Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. There’s a lot to look forward to as we continue introducing new generations to this wonderful art form.” LN