It’s no easy task for a nonprofit to make it 10 years, let alone 100! We salute these local organizations, and all those that have stood the test of time with the goal of making our region a better place to live.
ST. LOUIS SOCIETY FOR THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED, 100 years
In 1911, the group then known as Missouri Association for the Blind was founded with the mission of enhancing the independence and enriching the lives of those who are blind or visually impaired. Today, St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired president David Ekin says the nonprofit still serves that mission, but has evolved over time to meet the changing challenges.
“We provide a lot of work for people with low vision and people who are newly visionimpaired due to an accident or age-related eye condition, and we also serve a lot of children,” Ekin says. The services provided range from teaching social skills, such as learning to look someone in the eye when you’re talking to them, to maintaining health and safety for older adults dealing with vision impairment. “For older adults, it makes the difference to keep them in their home instead of assisted living,” he says.
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As part of the 100-year anniversary, the organization re-named its low vision clinic in honor of Drs. Leslie Drews and Robert Drews, both ophthalmologists, a father and son who have supported the Society for a combined 60 years.
CHESTERFIELD DAY SCHOOL, 50 years
Head of School Matt Virgil attributes the school’s continued success to the personalized attention given to each child, combined with deep partnerships with the families the school serves. “We combine Montessori education in preschool through the third grade program with a traditional approach to learning in the fourth through sixth grades,” he says. “This combination ensures a child is academically, socially and ethically prepared for secondary school and beyond. We have a committed faculty who provide that now and have done it for the last 50 years.”
Virgil says the small class sizes allow teachers to give more personalized attention to each student. The first Montessori school in the region, Chesterfield Day School teaches the values of good character and citizenship, as well as service to others. “We have a deep and long history that we’re excited to share with anyone.”
ST. ANDREW’S RESOURCES FOR SENIORS SYSTEM, 50 years
Founded in 1961 with the vision of creating “A society where all elders are respected, productive, secure and fulfilled,” St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System has grown into one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of affordable housing for seniors. The organization has grown from serving about 300 people in its early years to more than 7,000 today, says CEO Mary Alice Ryan. “We believe we’ve got to care for people through the entire continuum, from those who just need a place to live all the way through hospice care,” she says. “That’s important because 90 percent of seniors never end up in a nursing home—they live at the place they consider home, and that’s where they want to be. So we ask, Where do you want to be, and how can we get you the services?”
Apart from directly serving seniors and providing housing, assisted living and skilled care, St. Andrew’s also provides support for caregivers. Ryan adds that the group’s Charitable Foundation is seeing a growing number of calls for help. “In today’s economy, it’s gotten to be even harder to give the services, and you have to be more innovative.”
FORSYTH SCHOOL, 50 years
Mary Dunbar founded Forsyth School in 1961, in a house across the street from Washington University, with the idea that a child’s positive self-image is key to learning. Today, the school still sits in the same spot, although it has expanded to accommodate its 400 current students.
Head of school Michael Vachow says the school’s success is due largely to the challenging curriculum and a belief in children’s capacity to learn. “The most significant factor is the faith that the teachers have in their students,” he says. “The accomplishments of Forsyth students, which often exceed age or grade-level norms, stem from this inherent belief in children’s abilities to successfully meet challenge with adult support. In fact, the children are often surprised at their achievements.”
THE ASTHMA & ALLERGY FOUNDATION, ST. LOUIS CHAPTER, 30 years
Nationwide, about one in 15 kids suffer from asthma or allergies, but in St. Louis, that number drops to one in five, says Joy Krieger, executive director of The Asthma & Allergy Foundation, St. Louis Chapter. Many of the causes are uncontrollable, such as the fact that our region sits between the intersections of three rivers, and that many people are allergic to the indigenous trees during the change of seasons. But some causes— like mold or smoking in the house—can be prevented, she says. “There is a lack of education, resources are thin and the costs for treating asthma are really high because there are no generic drugs available for asthma,” Krieger says.
The Foundation is working closely with area hospitals, but also aims to make comprehensive policy changes to help asthma and allergy sufferers, Krieger says. “Insurance companies need to recognize you can’t just tell people to take their drugs; they really need a comprehensive approach and education similar to being diagnosed with diabetes.” She adds that the group supports a bill being introduced into the Missouri House of Representatives in the next session, which would require schools to have access to albuterol, an asthma rescue drug.
GIRLS INC., 30 years
Through its history, Girls Inc. has stayed flexible to provide the best possible support to girls ages 4 to 18. “We offer a little bit of everything to address all the areas a girl will find that she needs, to develop certain skills and be able to take care of herself,” says executive director Vickey Nelson. “We try to reach out to those girls of lesser opportunity who are not otherwise going to be able to participate in dance classes or go to the Science Center, and provide opportunities for them to broaden their horizons.”
Providing those opportunities means that the focus of after-school and summer programs has shifted, depending on what partnering schools and parents see as most essential, she says. In years past, programs have focused on cultural arts, but current efforts also include standardized testing preparation as well as science, math and technology. “It’s not one-size-fits-all,” Nelson says. “We make sure the opportunities are those that will give girls the abilities to pursue whatever their heart’s desire is. There’s the opportunity to share, develop relationships, and it’s really a comfortable place—a nurturing environment that gives them the chance to try different lifestyles on.” As a capstone to its success, the nonprofit purchased its first permanent home in 2009.
GRAND CENTER INC., 30 years
When we think of Grand Center, we think of the Fox Theatre, Powell Symphony Hall, The Kranzberg Arts Center and the many other businesses and venues that are an asset—not only to the neighborhood, but to the entire region. But they might not exist if not for a move by former Saint Louis University president Fr. Paul Reinert. Though the university was offered land in the county, Reinert turned it down and committed to revitalizing the neighborhood. His work with the City of St. Louis resulted in the nonprofit now known as Grand Center Inc.
Since then, almost 20 historic buildings have been renovated, but president Vincent Schoemehl Jr. says the work is far from finished. “Some of the big projects right now are the St. Louis Public Radio building, which is being built right next to the Nine Network, and in between those two buildings, we’re going to build the Public Media Commons, which will be a spectacular destination public space in and of itself.” He adds that work is underway on a building at Grand Boulevard and Olive Street, which he calls a “transformative project” that will contain 70 units of housing designated for artists. “Right now, Grand Center is a place where people come to, and then they leave; and one reason is, there’s no street life,” he says. “Having working artists there is so coherent to the mission of Grand Center as an arts center.”
RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE CHARITIES OF METRO ST. LOUIS, 30 years
This year, the number 3 is especially important to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Metro St. Louis: Not only is this the nonprofit’s 30th anniversary, they also opened their third House locally, which was the 300th nationwide. The Houses serve as a place of respite—provided at little to no cost— for families who travel to the area to be near their seriously ill children being treated at local hospitals. The goal is to allow families to focus entirely on their child, without having to worry about where they will stay or the additional cost of a hotel.
“Pediatric facilities in St. Louis have made incredible advances over the past 30 years, which is why our organization has expanded to include three Ronald McDonald Houses, eight long-term apartments and three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms,” says president Dan Harbaugh. “When it was built in 1981, our first House had eight bedrooms. Now, we are able to provide a ‘home away from home’ for up to 59 families every night and an additional 80 families find care and comfort in our Family Rooms every day.”
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY ST. LOUIS, 25 years
When Habitat for Humanity St. Louis was founded in 1986, it was two years before the first two houses were completed. Today, the group is consistently ranked as one of the top 30 Habitat affiliates in the country, having built more than 300 homes using volunteer labor to provide affordable housing for the working poor. “It started like most Habitat for Humanity affiliates, very mom-andpop,” says CEO Kimberly McKinney. “It was all volunteer with a couple of houses being built a year, and we made the decision in the mid- to late-’90s that the need for quality, affordable housing was great and we needed to serve more families.”
The homes Habitat St. Louis has built to date are mainly centered within 11 neighborhoods, McKinney notes. “When a community is on the brink, if we build enough, we can tip it back into being a quality area—that strategy has been successful for us,” she says. With that success, the group is now expanding its reach into other, scattered sites throughout the city. “It’s always evaluating how you do things and trying to be as efficient as possible,” she says.
NURSES FOR NEWBORNS, 20 years
Asked what contributes to the success of Nurses for Newborns, development director Claire Devoto responds simply, “It’s easy: We work with angels. Our nurses are angels.” The organization, founded in 1991 by Sharon Rohrbach, RN, and Robin Kinney, provides inhome services to families with newborn babies who are deemed to be at-risk. The nurses provide a medical assessment, as well as education and vital supplies that many of the mothers cannot afford.
Devoto says with the rising cost of healthcare and shortened hospital stays for mothers, follow-up care is increasingly important. Devoto adds that nurses command a level of trust that opens the doors of those who might be afraid to ask for help. “People do respect them and do listen to them. That’s how they make a difference,” she says. “They trust the nurses walking up with a scale and a stethoscope. These are people who are afraid to open their doors because they’re afraid someone might take their baby—who they love—if they don’t have a proper crib or blankets. The nurse gets in there and makes the difference because she brings those things.”
THE KIRK OF THE HILLS DAY SCHOOL, 20 years
Providing a Biblically based education was of a primary goal when Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church founded the school 20 years ago. In addition to teaching all of the standard subjects such as math, science and English, a Christian outlook was key, says Mary Guthrie, director of advancement and admissions. “Faith turns into action, and we have many opportunities for service both in and out of the school,” she says.
This plays out in three ways: “We are reaching our students through head (with academics), heart (growing in their faith and relationships with others), and hands (providing opportunities for loving and serving others),” Guthrie says. In addition to a moral foundation, the school also provides a strong co-curricular program, she notes. “When there are budget cuts in public schools, the arts are among the first things to go. We call them co-curricular classes, because they carry equal weight.” Those subjects include art, music, Spanish, physical education and library. “We’re excited about what the Lord has done in the past 20 years and we’re looking forward to the next 20 years and even beyond that,” she says.
A number of other nonprofit organizations celebrated milestone anniversaries this year, including:
ST. LOUIS CHRISTMAS CAROLS ASSOCIATION, 100 years
CHRISTIAN CARE HOME, 100 years
LUCKY LANE PRESCHOOL, 60 years
AMERICAN PARKINSON DISEASE ASSOCIATION, 50 years
THE ENDANGERED WOLF CENTER, 40 years
TOUCHPOINT AUTISM SERVICES, 40 years
MODERN AMERICAN DANCE COMPANY, 35 years
OPERATION FOOD SEARCH, 30 years
VISION FOR CHILDREN AT RISK, 20 years
THE DIVERSITY AWARENESS PARTNERSHIP, 10 years
THE U.S. GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL-MISSOURI GATEWAY CHAPTER, 10 years
KIDSMART, 10 years
GIVE KIDS A SMILE, 10 years