Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House celebrates 104th anniversary

News-DemocratNovember 10, 2013 

There were testimonies from people who started with Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East St. Louis in daycare and are now attending college. Others spoke about how they were able to have a warm place to study and get help with their homework. And others talked about the help they received from the organization with utility bills, clothes and food.

It was all part of the dinner celebrating the 104th anniversary of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House on Saturday.

For their work in the community, three individuals were recognized. They were Javier Duren, who started with the organization in day care and is now a student at Yale University; Richard Bonner, a retired educator; and Martin Wolske, a professor at the University of Illinois.

Joe Hubbard, former executive director of Catholic Urban Programs, was the keynote speaker for the dinner held at the Gateway Center in Collinsville

Hubbard said Lessie Bates Neighborhood House helped to get the MetroLink station in Emerson Park.

"They took bus loads of community people to the agency to let their voices be heard. MetroLink is a great service for our community. It helps people get to their jobs in St. Louis or at Scott Air Force Base," Hubbard said.

Working together with Catholic Urban Programs, Lessie Bates has helped many families get weatherization for their homes, covers for their heaters, plastic for their windows and lots of other things.

For 38 years, the organization has helped to make Christmas all that it is supposed to be for families -- food, toys and the message about God's love, Hubbard said.

In fighting for the general assistance program to stay in place, Hubbard told the crowd that a younger, much younger Bill Kreeb, who is now the executive director of Lessie Bates, walked to Springfield to let lawmakers know that would be a catastrophe for many, many families.

The mission work for Lessie Bates began in the early 1900s when a large Bohemian Slavic population came to America to start a new life around the National Stockyards in East St. Louis.

Through the 1920s and 30s, under the direction of Deaconess Carrie Johnson, Methodist pastors and missionaries, the ministry of the Settlement House continued to grow and in 1939 it was apparent that a new facility was needed. Mrs. Frank Davis (Lessie Bates) took an interest in the project and raised $125,000 throughout the Southern Illinois Conference and the United States to build the current location at 13th Street and Winstanley Avenue. In 1940, in honor of Lessie Bates' love, hard work and support, the building was dedicated the Lessie Bates Neighborhood House.

Lessie Bates operates 15 programs, including Early Childhood Education and Prevention Programs, Providing a Sure Start, Healthy Families of Illinois, Child Care Services, Migrant Head Start Program, Teen Reach Program and Service to Older Adults.

Asked why it is important for corporations or individuals to support Lessie Bates, Tamika Cole, sales representative for Homefield Energy, said, "We are part of a company that supplies energy to many people across Illinois. These are the people we serve. We consider donating taking care of our family."

Nicholas Brown, assistant manager of Parkway Lakeside Apartment Homes, said he watched one of Lessie Bates Neighborhood House's staff members at work from the window of his office. And daily he could see her bringing countless people in to talk to about the things Lessie Bates Neighborhood House does. Donating to help them was a simple choice.

"I was so inspired. I wanted to donate," he said.

A big part of the evening was the 224 baskets that were donated by churches, agencies and businesses. Some contained candies, clothes, knitted items, stuffed animals, food, water, Christmas ornaments, Harry Potter books, a card shuffler and cards, ear muff headphones, picture books and a variety of toys. They were there as part of the silent auction that the organization does every year to raise money.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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