Funders Forum gains insights from tour of Shady Dell and Isabel’s House

The information is heartbreaking, enlightening and eye-opening when members of the CFO Funders Forum tour Springfield nonprofits to see how public and private dollars are used to address both the causes and effects of vexing social problems.Tuesday was no exception when the Funders Forum toured Shady Dell Early Childhood Center, Isabel’s House Crisis Nursery and then heard an overview of the 2013 Community Focus Report and the new strategic direction for The Kitchen’s services.

Even after working at Isabel’s House day in and day out, Executive Director Andrea Vent can’t help but tear up when she talks about some of the kids who live there for anywhere from a day to a month while their parents try to resolve the family crisis situations that lead them to seek this temporary respite care for their children. Families who become homeless, or face health crises and mothers and fathers who fear they might hurt their children if they don’t use this safety valve to release the massive pressures they are under.

Isabel’s House provides this refuge for as many as 20 kids up to age 12 from around the Springfield region. They give them baths and meals and fresh clothes and a blanket they can take with them when they leave. They take the school-age kids to school each morning to maintain a sense of routine and read stories to them each night, often multiple stories because many of the kids have trouble falling asleep away from their parents.

At Shady Dell, Director Missy Riley talked about the various level of pre-kindergarten programming available in Springfield, from private pre-Ks to pre-K special education. Missouri, once a national leader when the state pioneered Parents as Teachers First, now lags toward the bottom because universal access to pre-K is not a statewide education priority, she said.

Still, Springfield has an active Parents as Teachers program that helps screen kids to enter the right level of pre-K for their developmental stage. And fortunately, Springfield is moving toward a goal of local universal access with the emphasis on the Every Child Promise initiative that recognizes the critical role education plays in the 90 percent of brain development that takes place by age 5.

After a lunch discussion summarizing the red flags and blue ribbons in the Community Focus Report, The Kitchen’s Rorie Orgeron described the agency’s new strategic plan, which will focus primarily on housing. He said the goal is to move from being a traditional homeless shelter to offering more options for families to move into apartments and other types of more permanent housing that will serve them better in the long run. Once operating more than a dozen types of services, The Kitchen has refined its mission to avoid duplication of effort with other service providers and focus on the key role of housing to better address chronic poverty.