Friday, September 23, 2016

September is one of my favorite months at Crittenton Centers.  For all of the reasons you might expect like cooler fall temperatures, the “back to school” feel that permeates the Child Development Center, and the bustle surrounding preparation for our holiday events.  But, there is one annual event in September that really gets me excited and gives me the “feels” -- Day of Caring!! 

What is Day of Caring, you ask?  Well, the name really captures the essence of the event.  The Day of Caring is an annual event hosted by the Heart of Illinois United Way.  Hundreds of volunteers from the for-profit sector, flood the streets of Peoria to make a difference, to share their time and talents, and show United Way Agencies that they care!  It is such a special day and one I look forward to every year.

This year’s Day of Caring did not disappoint.  We had over 30 volunteers here from CAT and PNC who came prepared to roll their sleeves up and get dirty.  The CAT volunteers even brought in the heavy machinery necessary to do some much needed landscaping and yard maintenance.   You see, we strive to be an oasis in our neighborhood and community.  We want to demonstrate our Agency values of respect and integrity by properly maintaining our property and the beautiful building we have been entrusted with.  This is so challenging with a maintenance department of one, so that is why the groups that volunteer to do this work are so special to us.  We value tremendously their willingness to sacrifice their time to help us, and show how much they care.  And, let’s just say, they had some fun along the way!

We had a second group from PNC who volunteered their time to work with children in the classrooms.  The children really are the heartbeat of Crittenton Centers’ mission and work, so volunteers taking time to care for them really gets us excited.  The children listened to the reading of a story and then created cards for children who are at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois.  This gave the children the chance to give back in their own way and encourage other children who are struggling. 

You see why I get so excited for Day of Caring?  It really brings everything together and completes the circle of community.  Volunteers helping non-profit organizations, non-profit organizations helping children and families, and children giving back to help other children!  Wow...what a circle to be a part of. 

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  Well, it takes an entire community of caring partners to support an organization like ours.  We really can’t say enough how grateful we are for every single one of you who supports our work in some way.  Your caring is appreciated and your impact is immeasurable!

Keri Hattan
Vice President & COO

“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”  Ronald Reagan

Friday, August 26, 2016

It takes time….

The generational effect of helping one person in Crisis…

Years ago as a Crisis Nursery Coordinator, I met a mother that would change the way I think about “if you can help just one person.”  Every day, Crisis Nursery helps so many families in their time of crisis and sometimes we don’t know the effects for years to come.
Pictured here  in 2016 with Board Emeritus of Crittenton Centers, Joan Janssen 

Our journey began with the mother, pictured above in 2001.  She was a 17 year old mother of two who called the Crisis Nursery from her hospital bed.  The hospital staff told her about how our Crisis Nursery could help her as she found her way out of the abusive relationship that started her seizure disorder.  She used our Crisis Nursery as one of the resources to successfully leave the abusive relationship. 

As the Crisis Nursery Coordinator, I noticed she still needed our services on a regular basis for various reasons including: hospital visits due to seizures, parental stress, job interviews, and appointments. In the Nursery, we support families with the ultimate goal of them no longer needing our services.  Therefore, I sat down and had a meaningful conversation with her about her challenges, hopes, and dreams. This mother and I looked at how we could make her life better for her and the children.  I, in a sense, became the “mom” she was missing in her life.

As we looked at her goals, we started with small achievable goals and moved on to greater goals.  First, she needed to stop having sleep deprivation and stress which triggered her seizures. In our heart to heart conversations, I learned that she now had all five of her children sleeping in her bed.  I knew she needed to have the children in their own beds in order to have restorative sleep.  I taught her how to have a bedtime routine chart that ended with each child sleeping in their own bed.  She loved it but said she didn’t have any books for a bedtime story.  Through the many donations at Crittenton Centers we were able to provide her with books for each child.   She called me very excited on the first day she had a full night’s sleep.

The second goal was to become a CNA.   Once she enrolled in school, her children were enrolled in the Child Development Center for daycare. She learned more about becoming a better mom through our Family Services parenting groups and parenting classes.  Recently, even though her youngest child is 9, she called to tell me she had met her ultimate goal of being employed at a hospital full-time.  She is now excelling in her position, raising five children who are doing very well in school and is now married. How wonderful it is to see where she has been and what she has become! 

At Crittenton Centers, we have the unique opportunity to catch someone in crisis and support them out of crisis by changing their life and their children's' for the better. Two generations being served at the same time with the same goal of strengthening the family.  With a belief that strong families build strong communities, Crittenton Centers focuses on making sustainable changes for families.  Many of our families face ups and downs in their lives.  They know we are there to continue to support them even when they take a few steps backward.  We are fortunate that some of our families still contact us after they can no longer need our services and thank us for the impact we had on their lives.  We do not do it alone; the support from the community to our agency is incredible.  We know that eventually the help we give to families every day will have long term effects on the community… it just takes time. 

Donna Ashley, Program Services Director 

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