Metro-East News

St. John Bosco renovating, expanding children’s residential center

Tour of Belleville nursing home turned into children's home

St. John Bosco Children’s Center residential director Terence Pleasant talks about the center’s amenities in Belleville. The former nursing home sat vacant for years until it was renovated into a bright, colorful refuge for abused and neglected ch
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St. John Bosco Children’s Center residential director Terence Pleasant talks about the center’s amenities in Belleville. The former nursing home sat vacant for years until it was renovated into a bright, colorful refuge for abused and neglected ch

A wing of a former nursing home that sat vacant for years in West Belleville has been transformed into a bright, colorful space for children at St. John Bosco Center to live.

The renovated space is designed to look like a neighborhood, said Gary Huelsman, CEO of Caritas Family Solutions, which operates the St. John Bosco Children’s Center — a residential treatment center serving abused and neglected children, ages 6-13, throughout Southern Illinois.

Each of the 10 rooms for boys has a different color door with a nearby window frame. The inside of the frame has been painted with chalkboard paint so each boy can decorate the window for his room. The floor even mimics sidewalks and grass with gray and green-colored tile.

“The idea is this is a street, and each boy has his own home” said Dennis Jenkins, chief operating officer for Caritas.

The hallway was widened to accommodate space for the boys to play games together in the hallway and do other indoor activities.

Volunteers painted murals on the walls depicting a park-like setting with trees, a sunny sky, dogs playing with a ball and a swing set.

“We are very fortunate the community likes to support us and our kids,” said Terence Pleasant, residential director at St. John Bosco.

Jenkins said they didn’t want the renovated space to have an institutional feel. The space also includes a common area where the boys can watch TV together or play video games, a dining room area, a large bathroom facility, a laundry room area, an office for the overnight staff member and a phone room where the boys can make private calls.

Caritas purchased the building at 900 Royal Heights Road last year.

“We bought the building to improve the environment of the children of St. John Bosco,” Huelsman said.

Teen parents, like all young people, must be supported and encouraged to see and reach their full potential.

Chris Cox, president and CEO of Hoyleton Ministries

Caritas had previously leased space in the building for the St. John Bosco Children’s Center, which provides housing for boys 6-13 who are wards of the state.

However, Huelsman said the center needed to expand to accommodate more children. “There isn’t enough residential treatment in the southern part of the state,” he said. “Many of the children in Southern Illinois have to be shipped to northern Illinois to get treatment.”

Caritas estimates the total cost of purchasing the building, renovating it, landscaping the outside and resurfacing the parking lot at between $3.5 million and $3.6 million, according to Huelsman.

He estimated it cost between $150,000 and $200,000 to renovate each of eight wings, which is about 5,500 square feet. “Each wing itself can be its own unit,” he explained. “We can mix and match kids based on their individual needs” like age, gender and life experience.

The building also has a front office space, which can be one or two wings depending on need.

The average cost to renovate the building is $5 a square foot, which Huelsman said is “inexpensive” compared to a brand new building. “We have been extraordinarily cost effective per square foot,” he said.

The contractor on the project is Kenrick Design Construction Services and the architect is Naismith-Allen Inc. in St. Louis.

While the first phase of renovations is complete, phase two is just beginning. Phase two will involve upgrading space for St. John Bosco staff and programming, and a wing for abused and neglected juveniles, ages 13-16. In addition, renovations will take place to house the Belleville Regional offices of Caritas, including foster care and counseling services. Phase two is expected to be complete in March or April.

St. John Bosco Children’s Center currently serves about 14 boys aged 6 to 13. Once the future renovations are complete, the center will be able to serve girls as well as older children who are 13 to 15-years-old. Overall, the center’s capacity will increase from 18 or 19 children to 30.

St. John Bosco currently serves about 14 boys ages 6 to 13. Once the future renovations are complete, Huelsman said the center will be able to serve girls as well as older children who are 13 to 15 years old. Overall, the center’s capacity will increase from 18 or 19 children to 30.

St. John Bosco will be housed in three residential wings with 10 children in each and offices for support staff will be in an administrative wing.

Huelsman said the third phase — if Caritas’ $200,000 goal is raised — is renovating the south wing, which is where the boys at the St. John Bosco currently reside.

So far, half the money for the renovation has been raised. “We don’t want some kids feeling like they have an inferior wing,” Huelsman said.

To fund the current renovations, Caritas secured a 20-year-loan from the Bank of Belleville with assistance from IFF, which is a non-profit lender.

Pleasant estimated boys living at St. John Bosco will move into the renovated wing the first week of January.

Home for pregnant teens, new mothers

Caritas is leasing a portion of the newly renovated building to Hoyleton Ministries, which will use the space for its new Pregnant and Parenting Teen Transitional Living Program.

“Teen parents, like all young people, must be supported and encouraged to see and reach their full potential,” said Chris Cox, president and CEO of Hoyleton Ministries. “The prosperity of families and communities depends on our ability to create pathways. From day one, teen mothers should have a roadmap on how to succeed.”

The program will serve adolescent mothers, between the ages of 17 and 20, who, with their children, are under the guardianship of the Department of Children and Family Services.

“We know there are a lot of other unmet needs in the community,” Huelsman said. “There’s no facility for pregnant and parenting wards of the state.”

The program has an overall goal of providing housing to these young mothers that allows them to live with and care for their children while developing the knowledge and skills to enable the teen to transition to independence prior to her 21st birthday.

Teen parents, like all young people, must be supported and encouraged to see and reach their full potential.

Chris Cox, president and CEO of Hoyleton Ministries

“We are trying to really prepare them for life,” said Craig Steiner, director of philanthropy at Hoyleton. He explained mothers in the program will learn life skills like money management as well as encouragement to pursue education.

The renovated wing includes eight rooms, which will be furnished with a bed for the teen mother, a crib for her baby, a youth bed for her second child if needed and a dresser. Each room shares a half bathroom with the room next door, similar to a college dormitory.

The bedroom furniture varies with each room to give the teen mothers a unique space to reside. “We didn’t want to go with institutional furniture,” Steiner said. “We really want the mothers to feel at home.”

The rooms will also have a refrigerator and microwave. A full kitchen/dining area is available for the mothers to use. Steiner said staff will be available to assist the teen mothers in meal preparation.

“We encourage the mothers to eat together,” he said. “We try to stress community.”

Two full bathrooms are housed on the wing for the mothers to share as well as on-site laundry and a common area, which will include a TV, couches and a play area for children.

Steiner didn’t have an exact cost to launch the Transitional Living Program. However, he said private donors donated $28,000 to help furnish the rooms for the teen mothers.

Steiner anticipates the program will start in February as Hoyleton is still working with DCFS to finalize the details.

More space available

The renovation plans include creating a nonprofit collaborative center where local nonprofits can share resources and services.

“We can communicate more effectively with other nonprofits to solve community problems and engage families in a therapeutic way,” Huelsman said. “We invite other non-for-profits in the community to explore having an office there or partnering with us or others.”

Space is currently available to rent at the center and can be subdivided as small as 150 sq. ft. or as large as 15,000 sq. ft. For more information, call 618-213-8705.

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Want to go?

  • What: Ribbon cutting and open house
  • When: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday
  • Where: 900 Royal Heights Road in Belleville
  • Details: Tour the renovated space for 10 boys at St. John Bosco Children’s Center and rooms available for adolescent mothers, 17 to 20 years old, who are under the guardianship of the Department of Children and Family Services.
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