After 35 years, Bill Kreeb is retiring as executive director of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House as the agency faces uncertain times because of a shortfall in state money.
Kreeb is revered by many in the community because of the help he provided to their families through the Neighborhood House.
“I have been involved in the mission of our church for over 40 years. We were originally called home missionaries. We were set up to serve European immigrants,” Kreeb said.
The Neighborhood House, located at 1200 N. 13th St., was at one time called the East St. Louis Settlement House. It started in 1909.
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Kreeb will turn over the leadership post to Christopher K. Coleman, a native East St. Louisan who has worked with the agency for 17 years. The 25-member board approved the appointment.
Coleman, 39, will be the first black man to head up the agency. Kreeb was the first executive director who was a social worker; his predecessors were all ministers. Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House is a United Way agency and is run by the United Methodist Church.
“The executive board is extremely excited knowing we are turning the reins over to someone who is very knowledgeable and has a commitment to children and families in the greater East st. Louis and St. Clair County communities,” Kreeb said.
But the change in leadership comes at an uneasy time for the agency.
Our goal is to try to bring hope to the community. We have to try to make a change. We have to make a change, have a good plan, education, employment and family support services. Our mission is to help move families out of poverty.
Bill Kreeb, retiring executive director of Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House
Lessie Bates plans to lay off 117 people on April 30 because of the state budget impasse, Kreeb announced earlier this month. The workers are involved in a variety of programs administered by the social services agency, including the Homeless Youth Services Program, the Community Youth Services Program, the Comprehensive Community-based Youth Services Program and the Illinois Healthy Families Program.
Kreeb has said that as of February, the state owes Lessie Bates more than $500,000 for the non-Medicaid clients. He said each month, the Neighborhood House is incurring more than $100,000 in expenses that the state is not reimbursing.
“The agency already has had to borrow more than $500,000 and would have to borrow more than $1million by June 30 to keep the In-Home Services Program operating, “ Kreeb said earlier this month, in announcing the layoffs.
While he feels bad about leaving the agency with all the programs that are closing because there is no state budget, Kreeb said he is confident the agency will remain open because it still has some federal money, too.
Currently, the agency services about 18,500 people in St. Clair and and Madison counties. Coleman said the number could possibly go as high as 25,000 in the future based on the closing of several agencies and the increasing needs of people. It runs programs at other sites, including the Mary Brown Center, the Consortium of Life Care Center/Paulyn House, the Family Development Center, Trinity Outreach Center and Home Away From Home Adult Day-care Center.
Coleman’s salary was not disclosed. Lessie Bates is a non-profit agency.
Coleman, the new director, said he is “excited and humble” to have grown up in East St. Louis in poverty and attend school in District 189, and now lead the agency that provided his family with hope when he was a young boy.
“I was raised by a single mother until I was 10 years old. My mother then got married, but not to my biological father, and we received services from the Neighborhood House. I remember Mr. Kreeb bringing food to our house. I didn’t know who he was then,” said Coleman, who is the father of two daughters and a son, ages 12, 7 and 5.
Preparing a new path for Lessie Bates
Earl McDowell, president of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House board, said, “Mr. Coleman brings several years of non-profit administrative experience to the proverbial table. It was critical for us to identify a professional who would focus on a defined process of moving our programs forward. More importantly, producing high-caliber results for our ministry. Chris fits the bill of achieving those specific objectives.”
A year ago, Kreeb planned to retire, but when the state didn’t pass a budget, he said the executive board asked him to stay on.
“We thought it would only be a few months. It’s now been 10 months,” Kreeb said.
Kreeb said his tenure since 1981 has been aided by a great staff “and everyone in the community has been supportive of the Neighborhood House. That’s how I was able to stay this long.”
Although he is retiring, Kreeb plans to continue to volunteer with the Neighborhood House, Catholic Urban Programs and St. Vincent DePaul Society.
“We want to rebuild the old Habitat for Humanity. Our goal is to try to bring hope to the community. We have to try to make a change. We have to make a change, have a good plan, education, employment and family support services. Our mission is to help move families out of poverty,” he said.
I was raised by a single mother until I was 10 years old. My mother then got married, but not to my biological father, and we received services from the Neighborhood House. I remember Mr. Kreeb bringing food to our house. I didn’t know who he was then.
Christopher K. Coleman, new executive director of Lessie Bates
Asked why he decided to retire, Kreeb said he felt it was time for new leadership. He will be 65 years old on May 1.
Coleman started working for Kreeb in 1999 through Americorps. He worked as a mentor and tutor in schools. He has worked many jobs at the Neighborhood House. Coleman is a former IT director. It was his job go oversee the agency’s digital programs.
“This allowed us to reach the community further,” he said. “We served the kids in after-school programs and we set up satellite centers all over the community. I was the assistant program director of Americorps programs where I supervised more than 40 Americorps members.
Asked what he will immediately focus on when he takes over, Coleman said, “Education and jobs. And we definitely want to support the seniors in our community.
Despite the cutbacks, Coleman wants the community to continue to reach out to the agency with their needs.
“We want to be their voices and make them heard to our local elected officials and state leaders,” he said.
At a glance
As a United Methodist Community Center, Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House strives to help all people in need, including the poor, the oppressed, and the homeless. It offers a variety of programs designed to help the thousands of children and families in the East St. Louis community who are suffering tremendous hardships and often have no one to turn to. The agency’s programs include:
EARLY CHILDHOOD PREVENTION AND EDUCATION
- Child care services
- Providing A Sure Start
- Healthy Families of Illinois
- Migrant Head Start
YOUTH EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT
- Teen REACH
- Family Educational Partnership Program
- Family Resource Center
EMPLOYMENT AND FAMILY SUPPORT SERVICES
- Comprehensive Emergency Services
- Mary E. Brown Community Center
- TANF Job Placement Program
- TANF Scholarship Program
SERVICES TO OLDER ADULTS
- Adult Day Care Services
- Homemaker Program
- Retired Senior & Volunteer Program