Of Louisville’s many important philanthropic organizations, St. Joseph’s Children’s Home is known throughout as one of the greatest among them. First formed by a collection of 12 local German Catholic parishes in response to the ongoing cholera epidemic in 1832, “St. Joe’s,” as many in the community have come to call it, has served over 75,000 children who have suffered from wide-ranging instances of neglect and abuse over the last 170 years.
Though initially established as an orphanage, St. Joe’s has evolved over the many years into a multiple faceted, child caring facility. Today, the institution, which lies in the heart of the Crescent Hill neighborhood on Frankfort Avenue, offers a Residential Treatment program, a Therapeutic Foster Care and Adoption program, and a Child Development Center. At any one point in time, approximately 250 children are utilizing these resources.
“When our kids get here, they are feeling both helpless about their situation and hopeless about their future,” said St. Joseph’s Communications and Development Coordinator Christina Miller, who has worked at the area nonprofit in various capacities for the past five years. “Many of them also feel a sense of shame and will say, ‘I’m here because I’m a bad kid.’”
Following construction of four new cottages in 2015, St. Joe’s housing capacity increased to 48 as a part of its Residential Treatment program. Children, ages 6 to 16 years old, enter this program and on average, have lived in 12 different places before arriving (i.e., hospitals, foster homes, etc.). Because all of the children have come from abusive and neglectful situations, St. Joe’s offers intensive therapy and individual treatment plans in order to initiate the healing process.
“A lot of kids will say, ‘For the first time, I feel safe,’” said Miller, who noted that recovery is just one part of the process. “We are not only tasked with helping these 48 children recover, but also with finding them a home.”
On average, children live at St. Joe’s for approximately one year. Between 90-95 percent of all those who enter the doors are ultimately successfully placed with families. The state placement rate average, in contrast, is closer to 60 percent, according to Miller.
“Because we are smaller (than some other state agencies), we are able to provide more emotional and physical support to our families,” she said.
That support comes in many forms. Upon entering St. Joe’s for the first time, each child is given a ‘Rights Book’ on their very first day. The book informs the child of his or her rights as a resident member of the St. Joe’s community. First and foremost, the book says, each member has a right to be safe. A sense of safety is the primary assurance the staff offer, said Miller. Support also comes in the form of establishing a routine – something many kids have not had in their lives prior to coming to St. Joe’s. Finally, the support comes through a staff that is both trained to deescalate precarious situations, as well as offer a whole lot of love.
“At St. Joe’s, making the children feel safe and loved is our top priority,” said Miller.
Through its Therapeutic Foster Care and Adoption program, St. Joe’s works to find a home for an ever-increasing number of children in the state foster care system. Since 2014, the number of children entering care has risen 249% with nearly 10,000 children in need of a safe and loving home. Kentucky has the second-highest rate of any state for cases of child abuse and neglect, largely in part to the ongoing opioid epidemic.
At St. Joe’s, the staff recruit and train community members to become foster or adoptive parents, while at the same time providing ongoing support for families who decide to foster a child. The organization offers training and year-round assistance in the form of needed items for the family (such as school supplies, clothing, etc.), support groups, CEU’s (continued education units), therapy, and more.
Perhaps the biggest ongoing operation at St. Joe’s, though, is its Child Development Center (CDC), which provides quality childcare for approximately 150 little ones, ages six weeks to pre-K. In addition to lots of hands-on learning, the CDC includes weekly enrichment classes ranging across all subject matters– from music to science to art.
As we enter December, we realize that the holidays can be a tough time for many. While some of us cherish the loved ones who are near, others sadly lament those who have gone away. For the children at St. Joe’s, reality is the latter. Yet as the holiday season unfolds, the staff will do its best to make this month a happy one.
“The holidays can be a struggle for many of our kids because they are reminded that they don’t have family,” said Miller. “We surround them with people they know and trust, and plan lots of fun and memorable activities.”
In past years, Miller and St. Joe’s volunteers have played Santa, delivering gifts to the different cottages after the children had fallen asleep. The staff celebrated Hanukah with a Jewish boy last year as well. They try to take all of the kids out into the community over the holidays, traveling to an arcade or play center in hopes of keeping their minds at ease.
“What makes (St. Joe’s) stand out the most is how our staff go above and beyond for our kids – across all of the different departments,”
said Miller. “From Development to Human Resources, our staff really do care.”
Miller recalled how she herself has sat in bedroom doorways until well past midnight on previous occasions, off the clock, to provide comfort to a child because he or she had difficulty falling asleep due to their trauma. Other staff members have attended school events like Father/Daughter dances, and many continue to remain in contact with children after they leave the home, she said.
St. Joe’s receives limited funds from the state government each year to take care of the children they serve. Approximately 23-26 percent of its annual $7.5 million budget comes from donations and fundraising, according to Miller. Many in town associate St. Joe’s with its annual picnic, which takes place on the grounds each August, and is largely seen as a community effort. The event draws tens of thousands annually, and is the only fundraising event the institution holds each calendar year. The funding raised from Picnic and monetary gifts are always the most important as they help St. Joe’s continue to operate as an organization, said Miller.
While St. Joe’s will gladly accept monetary gifts and contributions of all sorts this holiday season (those specifically requested are listed below), the nonprofit organization also simply asks for general VISA gift cards. These gift cards enable staff members to purchase exactly what the children need during that moment in time; For example, articles of clothing that kids specifically want and fit them well, in turn offering them a new sense of individuality and way of expressing themselves that perhaps they have not experienced before.
Anyone interested in donating to St. Joseph’s Children’s Home this month can stop by and drop off a general VISA gift card or any of the items listed below in the box placed in the Stone Legal Group, PLLC lobby. We will be delivering the donations towards the end of this month.
Though from the street, St. Joe’s appears to be just another brick and mortar that has lined Louisville’s Frankfort Avenue for many years, what goes on inside its doors is anything but ordinary.
“Above all,” said Miller, “St. Joe’s gives these children a place where they are safe, and a place where they are loved.”
To learn more about St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, you can visit online at sjkids.org.
Body Wash (really low…)
Body wash (sensitive skin)
Shampoo (both Caucasian and African American products)
Hair Moisturizer-Coconut Oil
Deodorant – male
Deodorant – female
Travel toothbrush holders
Feminine Hygiene products
Hair Brush and combs (both bristle brush and cushion brushes)
Pony Tail Holders, Headbands, and Scarf Head Wrap
Body lotion for sensitive skin
Band-aids (all sizes)
Washcloths – all colors
Bathroom floor mats
Plastic Shower curtains
Small area rugs (5x7 or 4x6 for the kiddos rooms)
Small plastic bins
Large area rugs (8x10)
Anti bacterial wipes
Bean bag chairs