GRAND RAPIDS — Within the next 20 years, the need for the types of services provided by D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s is projected to double.
The nonprofit’s leaders are bracing for those changes via the “Together for Kids” capital campaign, a $10 million fundraising effort in its final stages that would consolidate the organization’s current locations to a new facility at its Knapp Street campus in Grand Rapids.
The consolidation is expected to save $2 million in operational expenses over the next two decades while also making it easier for families to access services in one location at 2355 Knapp St. NE, said Jim Paparella, president and CEO of D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s.
The majority of clients served by D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s are considered low-income and do not pay for services provided by the organization. Paparella said the organization sees a “huge” common denominator with poverty and families with children in foster care and children with behavioral issues or on the autism spectrum.
The economic struggles that many of these families experience is a major factor in driving demand for the organization’s services, said Jim Visser, chief advancement officer for D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s. He said two-thirds of the families where abuse and neglect are happening also involve substance abuse issues.
“We’re dealing with the worst-of-the-worst situations,” Visser said.
D.A Blodgett-St. John’s currently offers foster care and adoption services, counseling for abused children, as well as residential services, which it currently manages across three locations.
The organization has a waiting list of people who have children with intellectual disabilities, and it is in constant need of foster families. Many times, families who foster a child form deep attachments to that child so that when the parental rights are terminated they will adopt the child, thereby decreasing the number of individuals offering foster homes.
“About half of our kids who come into foster care go into forever homes,” Paparella said. “We don’t want a child to grow up in foster care. The average time a child spends in a foster care home is 2.4 years.
“There are 950 kids in the Kent County foster care system and it’s tight now. The incidences of abuse and neglect have risen as well. We want to do more family-strengthening work.”
In addition to improving service delivery to children and families, Paparella said the consolidation also aims to improve the integration of services and offer a more team-based approach in one location.
“We’ve got families who go to three different locations for services,” he said. “We want them to be able to come to one place for their service needs.”
Paparella calls the current physical setup “inconvenient” for clients and visitors who have sometimes shown up at the wrong location.
The organization operates a residential program at Knapp Street, has a facility on Leonard Street and rents office space in northern Grand Rapids.
According to Kent County property records, D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s owns more than 33 acres of property at the Knapp Street campus.
“We’re getting out of our rental agreement, vacating the Leonard Street property and moving all staff and programs into that new center,” he said.
D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s expects to close its other locations by 2021 and move into the consolidated campus space after construction is complete.
Founded in 1887, D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s provides services to 9,000 children and families. With that number projected to double, the nonprofit’s board of directors made the decision to go for an expansion, Paparella said.
So far, D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s has raised $7 million of the total campaign goal in its quiet phase, which began in August 2018. Mill Steel Co. President and CEO David Samrick provided the $1 million lead gift to the Together for Kids campaign, according to a statement.
The public phase was announced on May 28, with a $100,000 donation coming from the Allegan-based Perrigo Co. plc on May 30. It will continue through the end of the year.
“The heavier lift is in your public phase,” Paparella said. “It’s really reaching out and getting word out to community.”
The annual operating budget for D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s is $20 million, with the majority of that funding coming through public contracts with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. About 360 employees work out of the organization’s three locations in the Grand Rapids area.
While the organization has no immediate plans to hire additional staff, Paparella said he anticipates the need for more employees as the demand for services increases.
As well, the relocation and consolidation of current employees will provide opportunities to work toward a more unified culture, Visser said.
Because employees work at one of three locations, “we have three mini-cultures,” Visser said. “We believe by doing this consolidation, we will have more synergy from a cultural standpoint.”
The new facility also will allow for additional physical expansion if it becomes necessary, Paparella added.
The facility will include a multipurpose gymnasium available for use by all clients. The organization also can use the gym to hold community events. As well, the campus will feature new classrooms for residential students, and a place where parents can go for counseling and parent support classes.
“There will be very few walls, which will allow us to do true collaboration and provide us with an agile work environment,” Paparella said. “We like to say that the whole office is your office. All of the people involved are teaming together to wrap services around that child.”
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