For over a century, the Annie Malone Children and Family Services agency has brought thousands of community members together in the country’s second-largest African American parade: the Annie Malone May Day Parade.
Last Sunday’s procession marked its 109th celebration in downtown St. Louis. Parade viewers saw marching bands, local business owners on floats and peppy cheerleaders throughout Market Street near Union Station.
For the agency, the bash is a yearly celebration to let the public know they are still in the city and willing to serve the needs of a growing community. In recent years, the nonprofit has experienced a drastic change in the type of care families in the area need, said Patricia Washington, the agency’s vice president of development and external affairs.
“We see children presented to us with mental illness at such young ages,” Washington said. “Every day these children and families are experiencing levels of trauma, that is unnatural, and we have to serve that.”
To provide for that type of demand, the agency relies on both its residential and crisis centers, which sit on the corner of Page Avenue and Union Boulevard. The group assists children who are homeless, who may have behavioral issues or who have experienced violence or abuse.
The corporate support the centers enjoyed in the past is drying up, Washington said. Now, the May Day Parade is Annie Malone’s largest fundraiser.
Washington said there is a level of concern because the primary source of funding for programs comes from grants and fee for service with state and federal contracts. Both of these sources of revenue have strict rules around how the money can be spent.
“What the parade does is allow us to have discretionary revenue to support programs outside of some of those limited areas in the grant,” Washington said.
Both centers have specific grants and contracts that support its daily operations. But the agency’s CEO, Sara Lahman, said she is looking to complete some much-needed upgrades to both facilities with the funds from the parade.
The residential center is a long-term home that welcomes children age 6 to 20 who have extreme behaviorial problems. The crisis center is a temporary place where children under 18, who are experiencing homelessness or some form of neglect, can receive care.
Lahman said the agency is trying to prevent children from entering the foster care system, which is why it now offers such specialized services to the community.
The agency did not begin as a facility to house children with mental illnesses. In 1888, a group of St. Louis women opened the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home to keep black children off the street because they were not welcomed in any white orphanages in the city.
From 1919 to 1949, a woman named Annie Malone served as the president of the orphanage’s board of directors. And it was because of her charitable gifts throughout the years that the center changed its name to Annie Malone Children’s Home. And as the community’s needs continued to evolve, the center changed its name to Annie Malone Children and Family Services.
“Since I’ve been here, we are pushing family with a lot of our programs. We are focusing on keeping them together,” Lahman said. “Just bringing every child into foster care is not the answer.”
Lahman’s leadership with the center began in January 2018, and she believes that the agency is much more aligned with community needs these days than it has been in several years.
“Years ago, Annie Malone was kind of the go-to social service agency in the city. And most recently, we’ve shifted our focus a little bit to more fundraising.” Lahman said. “The industry overall has changed, and we are coming into more of where the community needs us.”
The agency also runs the Emerson Academy Therapeutic School, which is a K-12 school that provides for children who need therapy and additional assistance with education. It also provides parenting guidance.
“We take people at their lowest place and get them to a higher place, period,” Washington said.
Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.
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