Supporting an Early Childhood Development Center to Get Out of the Basement
Reprinted with permission from the newsletter of the Cornerstone Fund.
Some 50 years ago, Uni-Pres Kindercottage was founded to support working families with preschool and pre-adolescent age children in East St. Louis, a suburb of St. Louis, Mo. Once a hub for industry, this town was immediately affected by the deindustrialization of the region. Having once been one of the state’s largest cities, the “City of Champions” as it is known, now faces rising levels of unemployment and subsequent poverty. Today, East St. Louis continues to endure the economic fallout, with its total population now being just above half of what its volume was at the end of the Progressive Era (1877-1917). Of that population, more than one-third of its residents are surviving below the poverty line. Despite those statistics, Uni-Pres Kindercottage continues to support the East St. Louis community with early learning programs for preschool and school aged children, while attending to the physical, social, and psychological needs of the collective. Although the story of Kindercottage is one of victory, the organization has definitely endured its share of mountains and valleys.
Kindercottage was housed in the basement of a century-old building. When it rained outside, it rained inside. When it was cold outside, it was cold inside, and when temperatures soared, it steamed inside.Amidst those conditions, Kindercottage pressed forward to fulfill its mission of “providing an environment where all children have opportunities for learning through educational, social, and developmental programs.” Through diligence, faith, and sheer determination, Kindercottage has successfully run an operation that serves 100 children with the aid of 10 staff, and continues to defy the odds.
Bringing Together All of the Pieces
In 1980, Brenda Crisp assumed the role of executive director of Kindercottage. She witnessed firsthand the growth in capacity that has occurred as a result of the funding received from the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund. Crisp recounts her dream of building a building that could support the mission, and the vision of Kindercottage within the East St. Louis community. As a member of the United Church of Christ Council for Health and Human Services (CHHSM), a colleague suggested that she be in touch with the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund. “I gained knowledge of the fund during a time when the chances of small nonprofits being approved for loans by traditional financial institutions were slim,” she says.
Crisp describes her sentiments about what happened afterwards with these words: “It seemed as if after that, God began to bring all of the pieces together and everything was set in place.” The fellowship and connection of the United Church of Christ is one that is steadfast in the belief held dear by its members, “Drawn together by the Holy Spirit, we are a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church, joining faith and action.” That “faith and action” are exactly what Brenda Crisp describes as the impetus that brought her dream into reality. After receiving funding from the Cornerstone Fund, the state of Illinois Comptroller’s office granted a second loan to Kindercottage to further support the project under the administration of Madam Loleta Didrickson, and construction began in 1998.
The construction of the new Kindercottage is nothing short of what Crisp calls a “faith walk.” Initially not having any knowledge of a funding source to support this project, the financial support from the Cornerstone Fund gave Kindercottage the “running start” to bring the dream of a new facility for the community. Crisp says that representing a small organization, there were obstacles that prevented her from securing funding from traditional sources, such as “lack of collateral” and other things. In the wake of what seemed like denial, she remained encouraged. When asked about that experience, Crisp says, “God saw what we were trying to do for our community, and … gave the increase.”
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