By Mark Thomas
In January 2017, five service agencies for children and families that had worked together for 20 years unified as one organization: Cornerstones of Care. The new organization, which brought together Gillis, Healthy Families, Marillac, Ozanam and Spofford, helps more than 10,000 clients per year in the Kansas City area.
Denise Cross, president and CEO, says: “The common thread for the families and children that we see is that they have all experienced some kind of trauma … as defined by an adverse childhood experience. Trauma may mean a child who has been exposed to violence in the community [or] a family who may have a member that is missing due to incarceration or death. It could be abuse or neglect. Sometimes it’s just children living in poverty, worried about where their next meal is going to come from or whether they will get to sleep in their own bed tonight. The children and families we work with have all had some kind of experience of that sort, which then can manifest itself sometimes [into] kind of behavioral or mental health issues.”
The goal of the merger, Cross said, was “to have a greater impact in the communities in which we work. We provide prevention, treatment and support services to children and their families in the KC area and beyond. We wanted a greater impact for children that are really struggling.”
The services provided by Cornerstones of Care include several clusters of programs.
Education services are provided on the Gillis and Ozanam campuses and in Blue Springs. The organization also works within other schools.
Cross says that mental and behavioral health services are offered on the campuses to help manage and deal with trauma that families face. “This is also offered in homes as a community-based service,” she says.
The agency provides foster care and adoption services, including the recruitment of foster homes, in Kansas City and a 30-county area of Northwest Missouri, Cross says.
“We’re always looking for foster and adoptive homes, resource homes for our children,” she says. “The area is a pretty broad reach for us. This is a critical need for kids that are coming into our care who have experienced abuse or neglect situations.”
For older youth who may be homeless or aging out of the foster care system, Cornerstones offers transitional living programs in Kansas and Missouri that provide a structured living environment and “a little bit of independence, helping them transition to adulthood,” Cross says. “We’re always looking for mentors and tutors and life coaches.”
To support parents or parents-to-be, Cross says, Cornerstones provides relationship education and home visitation programs.
The agency also assists other service organizations and partners with training and consultation, including a program with the state of Missouri on human trafficking.
Cornerstones is a member of the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Cross says. “We see our membership in MAGLCC as an opportunity to broaden our engagement with the business community. We very much believe that diversity makes our organization stronger and helps serve the needs of our families, who are also very diverse.”
As Cross concluded the interview, she emphasized the need for adults who will adopt children and provide foster homes.
“Children need to be in families and in homes,” she says. “I can’t say to you enough: We need help with that. We need foster homes. We need folks who are interested in adopting. We need individuals and families, regardless of whether they are single or married or gay or straight, to help us provide that option for our kids.”