Cuts in state funding for programs for children and the poor have forced Grace Hill Settlement House to close its program in St. Charles County. The action was effective Dec. 31 and means the loss of services to approximately 1,500 persons (or "neighbors") and their families. The office, located in St. Charles, was opened in 1984.
Grace Hill Health Services continues to serve the county.
"We were deeply saddened to close the office," says Dr. Theresa Mayberry-Dunn, director of Grace Hill. "We have had an issue of sustainable funding for a number of years and with the loss of funds overall for providing services to families, we made the best decision possible."
Budget constraints had forced Grace Hill to close a Wentzville branch office in 2002. The St. Charles County program had a 2003 budget of $55,000. State funding accounted for $25,000 of that amount. The balance of $30,000 came from the United Way.
The biggest blow to the program was the loss of a state grant from the Missouri Department of Social Services to provide services to impoverished children and their families. Cuts by the General Assembly in the department's funding forced it to eliminate the grant program.
Grace Hill provided self-help classes in parenting, health, and job training as well as a youth program that provided summer programs for children in government-subsidized housing.
The St. Charles County office also coordinated efforts by area churches to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for families and school supplies for children living below the poverty level.
It also made referrals to area food pantries, clothing banks, and furniture warehouses and operated a program where "neighbors" could earn credits earned for doing volunteer work at Grace Hill. The credits, or "time-dollars," could be exchanged for household goods at a store operated by Grace Hill.
"All of that is now gone," says Helen Plouder, the site coordinator in St. Charles. "People here can go to St. Louis for those services, but because of the transportation problem, they probably won't."
Plouder says some of the services, like food vouchers, will be provided by other social service agencies in the county, such as Catholic Charities, but many of the services were unique to Grace Hill.
Plouder and Annie Roland, the site's outreach coordinator, were the only paid employees. Both were laid off.
"People may be surprised to hear that Grace Hill was even in St. Charles County," says Plouder. "The poor knew. They relied upon us. But even my next-door neighbor in O'Fallon didn't know."
She thinks greater community awareness might have saved the program.
"We continue to believe that services to St. Charles are a critical need," says Mayberry-Dunn, adding that Grace Hill may return to St. Charles County in the future.
"It is the hope of the board and staff to find resources over the next 12 months to enable us to deliver services to this community again. We will be back."