For more than 108 years the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East Saint Louis has provided a safe haven for youth and those in need throughout St. Clair and Madison Counties. The organization is a comprehensive social service agency providing care to low income families as well as support to move them out of poverty.

Now in the face of a two year budget impasse, the organization has been forced to drastically decrease its services.

Chris Coleman, President and CEO of Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood Housing stated that while the organization is able to keep its doors open, it has been forced to drastically reduce many of its services.

One program in particular is Teen REACH, a state funded program that provides a safe and protective environment during after school hours.

“Our teens are faced with tough choices and the inability to continue the Teen REACH program puts them at risk,” said Coleman.

Through the program, youth can receive homework help, tutoring and mentoring and education on reducing risky behavior like substance abuse, criminal activities, violence and sexual activity. In addition to this, REACH organizes recreational activities, sports, cultural and art activities and service learning projects.

“We have 600 teens enrolled in our program. The lack of funding to keep this program going is a real concern. Rather than taking these teens on field trips and providing them with nutritious meals, we are now faced with getting parents in touch with the police because the kids have gotten into some kind of trouble,” Coleman added.

In his budget address in February, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed further cuts to the Teen REACH program.

“We will also be forced to end our Community Youth Employment Program at the end of June if a budget is not passed,” Coleman added.

Currently the organization’s CYEP program serves 150 youth ages 16-24. The program provides young people with important skills that transfer into the work place.

State Senator James F. Clayborne (D-Belleville), who represents the region Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House serves, voiced his concerns about cuts being made to these programs, as well as the need to end the budget impasse.

“We cannot continue to let these programs fall to the wayside,” Clayborne said. “Organizations like the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House provide a critical and vital service to our area. The kids, the families and the communities it serves are the faces of this impasse. We must put people’s livelihoods above politics and pass a budget.”

The organization also runs a food pantry that services 18,000 people in the area. Now with cuts, it is unable to sustain the staff to keep it running at full capacity.

“It’s not like there are social service agencies on every corner to offer a helping hand to those in need,” said Coleman. “We need funds to be able to sustain these programs and continue to be a valuable resource to people throughout our community.”

Currently, the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood housing is one of few organizations that provide such comprehensive services to communities throughout the Metro East region.


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