East Side Heart & Home Family Center
Creating connections and offering opportunities
East Side Heart & Home Family Center has been an active presence in East St. Louis, Illinois, since its founding in the fall of 1993. Founding director, Sparkill Dominican Sister Carol Lehmkuhl, explains that the Center was created to address the needs of an East St. Louis neighborhood where most of the low-income, single-parent households in the nearby sub-standard housing complex were headed by women.
With the support of the Diocese of Belleville, the Catholic Urban Programs Office, the Marianist Brothers, and the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, the Center began its mission to invite individuals from varied backgrounds to be catalysts for change by providing them with opportunities to work side-by-side with each other on programs and projects that cultivate positive changes in their lives and their communities.
The Center has two key programs:
The Family Program is the heart of the Center and seeks to empower women to use their talents to create positive changes in their families, their city, and their world. It includes a women’s circle, a senior program, and educational assistance programs.
The Women's Circle gathers once a month to learn about and share thoughts on issues that affect their lives and the lives of the people around them. The Senior Program provides quality social opportunities for seniors who live independently, offering fun and stimulating interactions, activities, and outings. The Center offers educational assistance in two ways: an after-school program and an alternative education program. The after-school program offers tutoring and homework assistance two days a week; students can also get help from staff members on additional days. The alternative education program provides opportunities such job training, GED assistance, and tuition support.
The Housing Program seeks to improve the quality of life for low-income families in East St. Louis by constructing quality, affordable homes, by providing free homeownership education (credit counseling, budgeting, home maintenance, minor home repairs, etc.), and by partnering with residents to build their credit, secure a home loan, and ultimately become homeowners.
Through the Housing Program, residents cultivate positive changes for their families. The program works to revitalize, stabilize, and sustain a neighborhood community that had previously been devastated by deindustrialization, population decline, poverty, and crime. Over the past 20 years, the Olivette Park neighborhood has been transformed as block after block has been cleared of debris; new homes are now being built in the newly-named Resurrection Park neighborhood.
Each year the Center accomplishes much of its work by collaborating with other local non-profit groups and volunteers from the local community. The home construction is done by professional contractors, carpenters, and painters who volunteer their time. Parishioners and members of the Knights of Columbus join Center participants and Sparkill Dominican Sisters and Associates as part of the voluntary labor force. Our Associates prepare and serve lunches to the volunteers during construction. The East Side Heart & Home Family Center has completed its 22nd home in the Resurrection Park neighborhood.
In tandem with the construction of quality, affordable homes, the Center provides free homeownership education and partners with families to build their credit, secure home loans, and ultimately become homeowners. Shaped by the residents of the community, the Housing Program seek to improve quality of life for low-income families by bringing together people of diverse racial, social, and economic backgrounds in ways that build lasting relationships, challenge preconceived ideas and prejudicial attitudes, and cultivate both individual transformations and systemic changes in East St. Louis.
At East Side Heart & Home Family Center, the focus has always been, and continues to be, on people. The Center fosters an environment where people can come together and use their individual gifts for the betterment of the community. The Family Center brings together staff members and volunteers to work alongside East St. Louis residents to build a better community. Through the Center’s programs, participants are empowered to become agents of social change in their own lives and in their communities.
Sister Mary Ann Buhr, the Center’s Assistant Director, joined the staff in 1999. Both Sister Carol and Sister Mary Ann continue to work zealously to provide opportunities for people to improve their lives. Many Sparkill Sisters and Associates participate in the work of East Side Heart & Home Family Center as part time-staff, as volunteers, or as donors.
Learn more about the work of the Family Center and how you can get involved as a volunteer or donor here.