Susan Reeves is regional director of advancement for Great Circle, also known as Boys & Girls Town. The organization is focused on improving the lives of children and youth who have serious emotional, learning and behavioral challenges or have been the victims of neglect, abandonment or physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.
Saturday afternoons mean going to the movies for a lot of kids. But when there’s a crisis in the family that leads to an out-of-home placement, the movies aren’t a routine activity. Care for most children living in residential, foster or group homes is provided by funding from the state or referral agencies, though reimbursement typically runs about 70 cents on the dollar. And this only covers the cost of housing and food. Clothing allowances are $250 a year. Tell that to your teenager! For these kids, there is no money for extras. That leaves organizations like Great Circle, aka Boys & Girls Town of Missouri, to look for help from local businesses, foundations and individuals to make sure each child feels special and has the possibility to overcome difficult circumstances.
Many young people face challenges that are too much for them or their families to overcome, without help. The problems are often complex. Some children have serious struggles with the basics, like learning, emotions and behavior. Others are overcoming trauma or family instability. Some have autism or developmental disorders. Most have a combination of needs. Left unaided, the problems worsen, which can have devastating consequences for all of us.
At any given time, there are 50 kids ranging in age from 6 to 18 living in cottages on the Columbia campus of Great Circle, located on Bearfield Road. They come from a variety of backgrounds. They go to school, like most kids, but they also are in intensive individual, group and family treatment to overcome major behavioral, emotional and psychological issues. As of January, the onsite elementary, junior high and high school classes are being taught by special education teachers on the Great Circle staff, who are not only trained to help kids academically but are equipped to effectively address these problems. Another 18 youth from ages 16 to 21 live in group homes or in scattered sites around town, supervised by professional caseworkers who assist them to successfully transition to independent living.
On April 20 all these young people got to go to the movies. And not just the movies but Ragtag Cinema, which champions independent film and the arts in downtown Columbia. For a two hour window, they got to be like other kids, munch on pizzas from Uprise Bakery, hang out and see the recently released, high-def version of the classic"Back to the Future." A feel-good movie and the freshly baked cookies went over well. But they also got a lesson in life, thanks to local businessman, Beau Aero, owner of Columbia Safety and Industrial Supply, and his life partner, Alfredo Mubarah, CEO of Nasopure.
Alfredo serves on Great Circle’s regional advisory board and is the committee chair of Diamond Night, one of two major fundraisers the organization relies upon for financial support. After hearing how the kids pulled together during the three-day power outage in February, which forced them to bunk down in sleeping bags in the dining hall, Beau and Alfredo wanted to do something to recognize their spirit of cooperation in a time of uncertainty and hardship. “The movies have always been special to me,” said Alfredo. “When the lights dim, I’m still excited every time I get to see a film on a big screen.”
To ensure that the kids didn’t get the idea someone was taking pity or giving a handout, Alfredo asked the staff if they could bring handmade cards with words of encouragement for patients at the MU Children’s Hospital. Before the screening, he told them, “These cards are gonna make a difference to the kids in the hospital, especially because you’re showing them that no matter what troubles any of us are facing, there is always something we can do to think of someone else.” After the movie was over, one of the young men came up and told Alfredo, “Thank you for giving me a place to live and a chance for a better life.” Support from generous people, such as Beau and Alfredo, ensures Great Circle can help children to heal and become better people. It also enables the organization to adapt to changing needs of kids.
Each year, Great Circle touches the lives of thousands of kids who need a helping hand. Whatever the challenges, professionals work with children and families in their homes and community to help keep them together. They also provide case management for children in foster care; train, license and oversee foster homes; provide parenting education; and work with older youth as they transition out of foster care to independent living. When more intensive assistance is needed, therapeutic care is provided for kids in residence on campuses in Columbia, St. Louis, Springfield and St. James. By providing a full range of treatment and services, problems can be resolved and kids can go back to being kids. This allows them to grow and learn and become the best people they can be, which is a benefit to everyone.
Great Circle is now one of the largest providers of children’s behavioral healthcare in Missouri. For more information about volunteer opportunities, funding needs or ways you can help, please contact Susan Reeves, regional director of advancement at 573-442-8331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(If you can't see the slideshow embedded above, view it on Flickr here.)