Friday, August 19, 2016

An Olympic Size Send Off...

Our teachers always go above and beyond to make sure the educational experiences at Crittenton Centers’ Child Development Center are both fun and meaningful.  This week proved again how much our teachers care about each child.

Tuesday was the last day of summer for our preschoolers before they went off to kindergarten.   Since most of the children have been with us since they were babies, the preschool teachers planned an Olympic size send off!  For the past two weeks the children have been training for their very own Summer Olympics.  The children trained their bodies to “compete” in gymnastics, bobsledding, javelin throw, an obstacle course, and more!  The teachers used this as an opportunity to train their minds in colors, geography, and counting. 

At 10am, the children wearing specially made uniforms chanting “U.S.A” marched to their very own Summer Olympics.  Each child was able to try each sport with a crowd of parents, teachers, and friends cheering them all the way.

Today, one of our preschool teachers took her lunch break to meet up with a student at his new school because the transition from her preschool classroom to his new kindergarten classroom was hard on him.  She met with his teacher and went over what worked best for him in her classroom.  Then she sat with him and told him she would come back and check on him in 10 days to see how much he loved his new classroom. 

Our teachers live out our mission of protecting and nurturing children and families each day in our classrooms.  We are so grateful for our teachers who go the extra mile to make sure the children know they are loved. 

Sandy Garza
Development and Marketing Director

Friday, July 29, 2016

How did Kids' Day get started?

How did Kids' Day get started?

Despite the excessive heat warning, the 10th annual Kids' Day was a great success again this year. We are often asked, "Where do these events come from?"  Kids' Day started as an idea from a local group of community entrepreneurs called, Active Community Entrepreneurs (ACE). ACE members wanted to use their business connections to give back to their community.  As business people, they were consistently asked to support local charities. They decided to answer the call with a resounding, yes!

They decided to host an event called Kids' Day at the Grand Prairie mall in the summer of 2006 with all proceeds benefiting Crittenton Centers. The event would have entertainment for the whole family while raising money for local families in our community.  Using the connections made in the business world, ACE members were able to bring Mayor Jim Ardis on board for commercials, and he even sat in the Dunk Tank to raise money. Next, they asked local business contacts to sponsor booths at the event where they could showcase their business. This was so much more than a "vendor" fair; it was a way for businesses to reach new people while giving back to the local community.

Since the first year, this idea turned into an event raising over $275,000 for Crittenton Centers programs. On average over 2000 people participate in the event each year. Every year the event has grown and changed the lives of children and families in the Peoria and surrounding areas. After the event was established, the ACE members handed it over to Crittenton Centers to facilitate.

Crittenton Centers is truly grateful for all the support given to us by the city, the local business owners, and volunteers who help us keep our mission of protecting and nurturing children and families alive.  Due to your steadfast support, we are able to prevent child abuse and neglect while strengthening families.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Where Does Food Come From?

If you ask a child, ”Where does food come from?”… you might get an answer of, “From the store”.  Children at Crittenton Centers look out their classroom window knowing food does not magically appear at the store.  It takes seeds, sun, water and hard work from dedicated volunteers.

Crittenton Centers’ Community Garden not only is a source of healthy foods for our family and community; it is about education.  Nearly 10 years ago, the garden started with just that in mind… a place to educate children and families about healthy eating.  It has grown to a beautiful fenced garden growing many types of produce including:  squash, corn, green beans, lettuce, kale, radishes, collard greens, green peppers, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.  Each spring, classrooms plant seeds and grow them into seedlings to transplant into the garden.  Last week, a classroom got to pick a green pepper grown from THEIR seeds.  They have learned about the growing process from seed to table.

A garden can absolutely not grow alone!  With a dedicated group of volunteers from Salem Lutheran Church and Bethel United Methodist Church, the garden is a beautiful learning environment.  On any given day, you may see Bill Ligon and a group of Salem Lutheran Church volunteers weeding the garden; Dean Doughty with a tiller working the soil; or Ed Funches and Jim Tyler with a hose watering the garden.  We could not support such a beautiful garden without the countless hours spent by this wonderful group of volunteers!  

On July 13th, Crittenton Centers held the 5th Annual Garden Celebration.  Although the weather did not cooperate, community member and Crittenton Centers’ families ate together inside.  Families were also educated about the garden and the benefits of eating healthy, fresh food. 

Many of our families find it challenging to offer their children a healthy alternative to chips for breakfast.  With education, we are able to bring awareness to parents about how important nutritious meals are for the development of our children.  Many times, with all the challenge faced by our families, putting fresh fruits and vegetables on the table is not a priority.  Getting to the bus stop on time to get to work is the priority over making scrambled eggs for breakfast.  By offering education and free, fresh garden produce available, we are working to instill the importance of a nutritious meal.  We hope one of our little people will find out kale chips are better than potato chips.  

Donna Ashley
Program Services Director

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Burning Question

The Burning Question . . . 

Doing business in Illinois as a not for profit has been difficult for many years due to the annual budget debacle, which has created chaos and challenges in a variety of ways. I participated in an interview for local media recently, and the burning question was in regards to what will you . . . Crittenton Centers do if there is no budget on July 1st? In order to answer that question I want to put a few things into perspective.

First of all, while there was a stopgap budget passed late on June 30th it only goes through the end of the calendar year and not the fiscal year which means only a six month budget. Imagine if you will, that you were told through your job that they were only going guarantee paying you for the next 6 months but were hoping you would continue doing your job for the next year. Then, to further complicate the matter, they told you that you were going to be paid consistently 2-3, sometimes 4 or more months late for your work.  So, while a stopgap budget provides some level of hope, it once again is putting a band aid on a very serious matter.

Secondly, there are a few things that I know in regards to the services that we provide. I know that there are hundreds of children and families every year whose lives are better because of our involvement. Last year alone, there were well over 5,000 admissions to the Crisis Nursery. There were thousands of hours of counseling, skill building, parental training, and support provided to teen moms, first time moms, and at risk parents.  Based on research, the types of services we provide lead to a decrease in abuse and neglect. And because of the decrease in abuse and neglect, there are countless lives changed for the better because of the positive long term impact.    
And finally, we are grateful for a caring community that supports our efforts to address the needs of at risk children and families. This past year, we have had over 2,200 individuals volunteer, providing approximately 16,000 hours of service. Our volunteers give of their time by cleaning classrooms or doing yard work or supporting special events or rocking babies to mention a few. Our volunteers are an invaluable asset to the Agency! Then there are times that we need formula or diapers or other supplies to help meet the needs of the children in our care. These kinds of donations make our funds go further while ensuring that the need is met. In addition to this support, there are individuals that donate funds to us on a regular basis and many have been doing this for years. There are also individuals that give when they learn about a specific need as well as, there are individuals and businesses that support our special events and fundraisers.    
So, my answer to the burning question by the media recently; what will Crittenton Centers do on July 1st if there is no budget? The same thing that we did last year and the same thing that we have done for nearly 125 years . . . continue providing quality services for children and families.  We are grateful for the opportunity to serve our community by protecting and nurturing children and families. We could not do what we do without all of the people that support our mission through giving their time, resources, funds and of themselves.
Please consider how you can help Crittenton Centers. Call us at 674-0105 or visit our website at to learn more about how you can volunteer, donate or take a tour.

Jeff Gress

President & CEO

Friday, June 3, 2016

Every child has their own story . . . 

Since my arrival at Crittenton Centers a little over a year ago, I have been asked many questions about the work that takes place here. Some questions have been very specific while others have been general in nature. Oftentimes the response by those asking is similar . . . WOW! I never realized there was that kind of need or that there were those kinds of challenges for families in the Peoria area. One of the questions that I have been asked the most is about the work we do in the Crisis Nursery. What are some of the reasons that someone needs to use the Crisis Nursery?

There is no short answer to this question, as there are numerous reasons that someone may need the Crisis Nursery. There are some very obvious reasons like: child care fell through at the last minute, an unexpected situation came up, or the mother has become very frustrated and really needs a break. Then there are also some that are a little more unusual like: a mother of triplets that needed to clean their apartment and do laundry but couldn’t with the demands of the triplets, the mother that had to have surgery but didn’t have anyone to take care of her children, or the mom that was living in a shelter and had a job interview. Each of these scenarios has a common thread of people trying to manage their lives, and because of the circumstances there is potential for it to turn into an abusive or neglectful situation for the children involved.  

One night a few months ago, the worker in the Crisis Nursery received a phone call from the Peoria Police Department regarding a situation they were dealing with. The worker asked some basic questions in order to determine how best to help. The Police had just arrested a man and woman in downtown Peoria for public intoxication / disorderly conduct amongst other things. While the Police were going through the process of the arrest, they learned that they had a 6 week old baby with them. The matter was further complicated by the fact that these individuals were not from Peoria, but were actually from out of state. The Police would learn later that these individuals actually had several outstanding arrest warrants from other states. This is a difficult situation to say the least, and further complicated because an innocent 6 week old baby was caught up in all of this by no choice of their own. This is a sad reality that happens all too often, and then we wonder why some individuals struggle as they reach the teen years and become adults.   

Within an hour or so of the phone call there were two Police Officers pushing a stroller into the building with this little baby. Once things were settled with the Officers, the staff proceeded to make sure that all of the immediate basic needs were met. The baby was bathed, had their diaper changed, and provided with new clothing. The staff then fed, spent time rocking, and loving the baby. Most of the items were available to provide because of the generosity of our donors. We could not do what we do without them and are grateful of their ongoing support. The baby ended up spending a few days with us while the authorities sorted through all of the details in order to do what was best for the baby.     
There have been over 5,800 admissions to the Crisis Nursery in the last year and this this is just one of the many stories that make the Crisis Nursery such a valuable asset to community as we strive to protect and nurture the children and families in our care.  

Jeff Gress, 
President & CEO

Friday, May 27, 2016

Graduation Day!

With a standing room only crowd this week, we watched 16 preschoolers graduate from Crittenton Centers.  Dressed in caps and gowns, the children grinned from ear to ear as they walked to their seats.  Each child received an award for their unique contribution to the classroom and a backpack full of school supplies to start their school career.  We even had a special visitor – “Pete the Cat”! 

As the years go by, we watch children grow and learn, and the teachers in our Child Development Center work to prepare children for their graduation day.  As you travel through the halls, you see children playing.  But do you think, “Look at them working?”  When children are playing, they are “working”.  When children are in the Block Center, can you think of all the skills they are learning?  They are learning the concept of shape, size and length to create and repeat patterns; to use their imagination; to express their ideas; to cooperate with others; and to solve problems - just to name a few. 
This graduation day brings to mind what it takes to help a child succeed.  It takes parents being actively involved in the child’s education.   It takes staff in the Child Development Center teaching and playing…or should we call it working?  It takes a community that graciously supports our work with two generations providing education to the children and support of parents as teachers. 
This fall our graduates will be off to kindergarten ready to learn!  We are sad to see them go, as some of them have been with us since they were infants. How exciting it will be to learn how successful they become!  As we say goodbye to our preschoolers, we hope will be a successful educational journey.  Maybe the play, or work, that started in the Block Center is the beginning of a brilliant architect.  And our wish for each one of them is that…this be the first of many graduations to come. 

Donna Ashley

Program Services Director

Friday, May 20, 2016

I was born at Crittenton Centers.

This past Friday the 13th was not scary but it was a once in a lifetime moment for me!

As the Development and Marketing Director at Crittenton Centers; I have given the tour at least 100 times telling our visitors, "Crittenton Centers opened in 1892 as a home for unwed mothers and we adopted out over 4000 babies."  Pointing to the picture on the wall, I say "Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys is are most famous baby born at Crittenton Centers."

Last Friday the 13th at 4:00 p.m. the office was really quiet and my secretary asked down the hall if someone could help Mr. Johnston up front with some information about our history.  

He wanted to know if he could see the place he was born.  I told him the building was still standing on Heading Ave about a 10 minute drive from here. He walked over from his hotel, so I offered to drive him in my car which has my son's car seat and his mess.  He smiled and said "I have four children, don't worry."

Upon arrival, we took a picture of him in front of the building.(shown above)  Then we proceeded to look for the room he was born. We searched several rooms and hallways with no person in sight.   Almost ready to leave, we heard voices coming from the other side of the building.  One woman was still working, we asked if she knew the history of the building and she pointed us towards a plaque on the wall. Bruce looked at her and said I was born in this building. Before he could say anything more, she said you must have been born in my room.  She lead us to the birthing room of the original Crittenton Centers.  It is still a sound proof room with 4" thick steal doors because they didn't have epidurals for the mothers giving birth at that time in history.

He was gracious and let us take a picture. When we left, I told him it was a GOD moment because the one person still working in the building was renting the birthing room and could let us in to see it. He agreed and as we drove back to his hotel, he sang the Grammy Award winning song that he wrote for Barry Manilow called, I Write the Songs.  

Sandy Garza, Development and Marketing Director