As we enter a new year and a new chapter, let’s take a moment to look back on the past year here at the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund. We couldn’t have accomplished all that we have without a dedicated board, committed staff, and strong community partnerships.
This time last year we were hopeful and cautious. The promise of a vaccine in early 2021 had the CSF board and staff optimistic the world would start to return to normal and the fear and stress of the pandemic would ease. We knew, however, a highly effective vaccine would not erase the challenges of the past year. While we were excited to pick up our strategic projects that were postponed in 2020, we knew that we would have to continue to work with our partners to meet the growing needs of the community due to COVID-19.
As we closed out 2020, we turned our partners to assess the ongoing challenges related to the pandemic. In early 2021 we provided our second round of emergency funding, this time awarding an additional $1.4 million to 17 agencies. Funding went to support agencies addressing the rise in child abuse in neglect, teacher and student burnout, and the increased rise in depression and anxiety among children and youth.
We also initiated a partnership with St. Louis County Library to create the Community Resource Initiative. Libraries have long been a valuable resource in our community by connecting citizens to valuable resources and information. This initiative will place social workers in several library branches throughout St. Louis County to connect children and families with resources to meet their mental health and other needs. St. Louis County Library’s accessibility and relationship with the people they serve make them a great location to launch this pilot program.
In addition, to address the immediate needs of the community, we also recognized the exceptional circumstances produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in programmatic changes that altered historical data used to make allocation decisions. CSF decided to extend 2020-2022 Core contracts for one year. This contact extension provided one additional year for programs to stabilize and adapt before reapplying for Core funding in fall 2022.
In 2019, we assembled a Community Advisory Committee comprised of community leaders, grant makers, and other stakeholders designed to help inform CSF’s future funding priorities. The first initiative designed from this committee was the Grassroots Funding Program. The new funding cycle started with a budget of $1 million, which was quickly increased to $2 million due to the volume of quality proposals for high-impact services. The outreach for this funding cycle was particularly successful, with 80 letters of intent submitted. CSF awarded funding to 17 organizations for programs ranging from music and play therapy, to yoga and mindfulness, to initiatives to provide emotional support and counselors who reflect the community they service, as well as expressive arts therapy for refugee children. The two-year funding cycle began in October 2021.
CSF also continued to convene our school-based advisory committee, a service cohort developed in 2018. This committee engages school district representatives and school-based service providers to analyze and discuss trends in the field. The committee identified the need for additional training and support around suicide prevention. In September 2021, CSF hosted a virtual suicide prevention training program, which featured renowned author and specialist in school crisis Dr. Scott Poland and provided interactive break-out sessions with mental health specialists in the region. The training had over 200 attendants.
In late 2021, CSF established second service cohort. The psychiatric service cohort began meeting in late 2021. We expect to gain valuable insight into trends in this well-known gap area.
Behind the scenes, CSF completed the design and build-out of a new Salesforce grants management system. The new system will improve and greatly streamline a number of internal and external processes including billing, submitting and reviewing grant applications, and data and impact management. CSF will continue to introduce this system to our partners in 2022.
Also coming in 2022 will be the rollout of CSF’s rebranding initiative and work on the organization’s equity framework. We have worked over the last year to update our logo and tagline to better reflect the work that we do in the community. The rebranding initiative includes a new logo, tagline, and eventually a new website to enhance brand awareness. While we released our first request for proposals regarding our equity work in the fall of 2020, we reassessed the project and decided the intricate nature of the work might require multiple vendors with specialized skills. In late 2021, CSF staff began reviewing proposals for an equity project manager to assist our team in managing this important component of our work to ground equity in our grant making.
The sheer volume of work this year would not have been possible without the build-out of CSF’s internal infrastructure. This year we added four new positions and welcomed some truly incredible individuals to the team. Courtnie Scott-Cammarata started at CSF as a practicum student and was then hired as a part-time special programs officer. In 2021 her position became full-time. In addition, a key component of our strategic plan is to grow our capacity in communications and impact. In the spring, CSF hired a second data analyst, Clement Bayetti. Lastly, in the fall the communications’ department expanded, hiring Erin Korsmo as senior communication specialist and Shirlyn Myles as community outreach coordinator.
While adding additional staff has been vital, our work would not be possible without our partners. This year, we strengthened our bond with our Core partner agencies as we continued to find innovative ways to meet the needs of children and families in the area. But we are so excited to welcome our grassroots partner agencies to the family. These organizations have a wealth of knowledge and a passion that has reignited ours.
This year has been challenging. While it did not pose the same day-to-day challenges as 2020, we are still living through a pandemic. Last year we learned how to pivot. This year we took the flexibility and ingenuity we discovered last year and applied it to every challenge we came across.
The CSF board and staff cannot express enough of our gratitude for your support, partnership, and passion.