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Nancy Meyers packed food and toiletries at Saint Louis Crisis Nursery in St. Louis on Aug. 19. The Saint Louis Crisis Nursery provides a short-term, safe haven for almost 5,000 children a year whose families face an emergency caused by various situations.
Nancy Meyers packed food and toiletries at Saint Louis Crisis Nursery in St. Louis on Aug. 19. The Saint Louis Crisis Nursery provides a short-term, safe haven for almost 5,000 children a year whose families face an emergency caused by various situations.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Crisis nursery thrives with a spirit of helping others

Catholics assist safe haven that counters child abuse, neglect

Nancy Meyers spent a recent Friday organizing backpacks and school supplies for children heading back to school.

“It’s quite a process,” said Meyers, an Ignatian Volunteer helping at the Saint Louis Crisis Nursery Outreach Center on the grounds of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church in St. Louis.

Meyers selected the Crisis Nursery as a volunteer site because of its mission of preventing child abuse and neglect and the follow-up with families. “It helps them establish goals and new ways of doing things so they don’t need to use the nursery, though it’s always there for them,” Meyers said. A parishioner of Holy Infant in Ballwin, she began work at the outreach center in September and completed her work in June but came back to help with the special project.

The Saint Louis Crisis Nursery provides a short-term, safe haven for almost 5,000 children a year, birth through age 12, whose families face an emergency caused by illness, homelessness, domestic violence or overwhelming parental stress. Among other things, it also provides resources, ongoing support and in-depth parent education and collaborates with several community groups, including Catholic parishes and agencies.

Providing food, diapers and other items keeps staff in touch with the families, Meyers said. “Working with the families, learning about their stories and helping them find things they need in the community, has been very rewarding,” she said.

A caring community

The outreach center helps people in a loving, safe environment, Meyers said. Her faith helps her connect with people on a caring and compassionate level and see Christ in each person. “It’s Christ walking through those doors, and you never know what He’s going to need that day. And they’re so faith-filled themselves and so grateful.”

Parishioners and staff of Sts. Teresa and Bridget “look out for us, and if there’s a need they’re right there for us. There’s a great relationship,” Meyers said. “It’s great to be on the grounds of the church, being part of a community caring for people.”

Dana Patton, senior family empowerment counselor at the Crisis Nursery, has worked at the North City Outreach Center for about 11 years. The relationship with the parish began in July 2006 after the chief executive officer of the Crisis Nursery drove through the neighborhoods of north St. Louis and knocked on the door of the parish office. The program began in the parish basement.

“The whole parish welcomed us, the parishioners helped us with making food for parenting groups, it was remarkable,” Patton said, especially citing then-pastor Father Tim Cook’s efforts and support. “There’s something special about being here at Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish. Everyone has such a giving spirit. The parishioners really want to be helpful and supportive of the community. We have really connected.”

Father Scott Jones, pastor of the parish, said that when he visited Sts. Teresa and Bridget for the first time, the former pastor, Father Tim Cook, introduced him to the Crisis Nursery staff. “It was wonderful to see all the amazing things they are doing to help families in serious need,” Father Jones said. “As the new pastor, I am proud to be in a parish that collaborates with such an important outreach. It is one more sign of how the Church in north St. Louis is alive and Spirit-filled.”

Social workers and counselors provide services to families with children in crisis from overwhelming stress, mental health crisis or a lack of food or funds for utility or housing expenses. “Families are continuing to come by during this pandemic in need of food, diapers and formula, bills and other needs,” Patton said.

“The spirit of helping other individuals in need and working with partners such as Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish is instilled in each of us,” Patton said. “This work is impactful.”

Serving Latino families

Sara Johnson-Cardona, Latinx Program director, began with the Saint Louis Crisis Nursery as a family empowerment counselor. She started the program for Latino families seven years ago. It serves about 600 families a year. One of the services is trauma therapy.

Johnson-Cardona explained that clients often left their home countries due to severe trauma, such as a woman who, at age 13, was sold to a man who abused her. The woman had two children with him and could not leave the fenced-in property, Johnson-Cardona said.

“The poverty in underdeveloped countries, particularly small towns, looks different. Access to water is limited, limited clothing and no shoes,” Johnson-Cardona said.

Her clients struggle today with the language, especially those with a native dialect and aren’t fluent in Spanish or English. COVID-19 hits the community hard, perhaps because they live and work in close quarters.

But the families receive help with translation, legal assistance and more thanks to Saint Louis Crisis Nursery and are doing much better today. For example, a staff member served as a translator at a hospital sharing in the moment and providing support when a woman delivered her baby.

Johnson-Cardona has partnered with Catholic parishes and agencies such as St. Francis Community Services, an agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis. The program is supported with a grant from the Marillac Mission Fund. The office is at SSM Health St. Mary’s.

Adaline, one of the clients of the Latinx Program, said the center helped with therapy for her and her daughter and helps with others in her community. A few years ago she didn’t have enough money to buy her daughter a Christmas present and the center surprised her with presents. “That made me really happy,” she said.

She cleans homes and is only working a fraction of the time because of the pandemic. Saint Louis Crisis Nursery is helping her with utility bills.

>> Saint Louis Crisis Nursery

The Saint Louis Crisis Nursery has a mission of child abuse and neglect prevention, offering immediate crisis intervention and intensive follow-up support to help high-risk families with children from birth to age 12. Programs provide emergency respite care, case management, care coordination and parenting support for struggling families.

Beginning with just one location, the Saint Louis Crisis Nursery has since grown to include five crisis nurseries and 10 community-based outreach centers across the Greater St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson County Region. The first outreach center was established at Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in St. Louis. Some of the others are at SSM Health St. Mary’s, SSM Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Mercy Hospital Jefferson and Mercy South, and the two Catholic health systems are among the supporters of the program.

In 2018, a grant of $42,794 from the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis (now the Marillac Mission Fund) assisted the Crisis Nursery’s Latino Outreach Program, located in SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital, to provide individuals with counseling sessions, therapy groups and individual crisis intervention. Currently, a grant of $35,000 from the Marillac Mission Fund provides trauma therapy, case management, and parenting education in Spanish to Latino families struggling with poverty, domestic violence, and mental health issues.

For information on ways to help the Saint Louis Crisis Nursery, call (314) 292-5770 or visit www.crisisnurserykids.org.

>> The Ignatian Volunteer Corps

The Ignatian Volunteer Corps offers semi-retired and retired women and men an opportunity to serve others, to pray and reflect together as a small community and to grow spiritually. Volunteers commit to serve one or two days a week at organizations that serve people who are poor or disadvantaged.

Volunteers meet monthly as a community for prayer, conversation and reflection in the tradition of Ignatian spirituality. Each volunteer also meets monthly with a spiritual reflector to talk about their service experiences in light of their faith.

For information, contact Sister Amy Diesen, OSF, at (314) 361-7765, ext. 147 or [email protected].

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