Helping abused and neglected children reclaim their childhood—that’s what the Sisters of the Good Shepherd set out to do when they established Marygrove in St. Louis more than 165 years ago.
“In the city of St. Louis at the time, a lot of kids who were traumatized and had issues related to abuse, neglect, poverty and mental illness were not getting the help they needed,” noted Kathryn Feldt, chief development officer for Marygrove.
In the mid-‘60s, the sisters moved to North County on a 43-acre campus overlooking the Missouri River, providing “a much more restorative environment,” for the children, according to Feldt. And while Marygrove initially focused on helping teenage girls, its mission evolved over time to respond to the community’s changing needs.
“We still get calls from young ladies who spent their formative years here to tell us about how they appreciate the impact those sisters had,” Feldt said. “But in the ‘80s, as the sisters began to age, they realized that the mission wasn’t sustainable.”
That was when current CEO Sr. Helen Negri began to grow the organization into one that serves children from birth to 21 years old with five main programs: therapeutic residential treatment, therapeutic foster care, transitional living, independent living and crisis services. Combined, the programs reach more than 1,300 children and families a year.
“We have over 200 children who are receiving residential treatment—these children are living with us so that they can be positioned for a healthy, self-sufficient future by learning basic life skills, financial literacy and how to get a part-time job, as well as helping them through high school and college.” Feldt explained.
One of the crucial roles that Marygrove plays in the children’s lives is giving them a sense of family. Feldt recalled the story of Nick, who came to Marygrove as a teenager.
“Nick was in foster care and had been in three different foster systems when he came to us. He was here for four years and was in the transitional living program. He excelled in high school, and did well academically and with extra-curricular activities. He got a scholarship to Mizzou to study engineering,” she said, adding that the team at Marygrove did whatever they could to support him. “Nick learned how to drive in a staff person’s car…and when he was applying for housing at Mizzou, one of the staffers was leaning over his shoulder to help. He’s in his 20s now, and he still comes back. We make room for him. We are his family.”
Feldt noted that Nick is just one example of the many children profoundly impacted by their time at Marygrove.
“These are children who’ve survived things, who have been through significant trauma and have complex histories of abuse and neglect,” she said. “For a child who’s been diminished and whose trust has been betrayed, Marygrove helps bring out their unique gifts and abilities. There’s a lot of heavy lifting that happens here, but it’s worthwhile—to see these young people have faith in the people at Marygrove, and then ultimately, in themselves.”
To provide quality mental health services to severely disturbed children, young adults and their families who are economically disadvantaged.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Marygrove’s signature fundraiser, Bloom, takes place March 2 at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis. This year’s honorees are the Tersigni Family Foundation and Sr. Helen Negri. For tickets or more information, call (314) 830-6201 or visit marygrovechildren.org