Neighbor, Partner, Guardian Angel

Of all the things lost over the last year, the human spirit is not among them, attests Jessica Brandon, President and CEO of Guardian Angel Settlement Association. “I don’t know how I would keep going in the face of obstacles our families must overcome in good times, and yet, even with these challenges compounded by the pandemic, I see incredible strength of spirit in each of them,” she says.

Now in its 162nd year serving the St. Louis community, Guardian Angel is facing its own trials with a reduction in its childcare services due to COVID. In 2020, the organization received funds from the YouthBridge Nonprofit Recovery and Resilience Fund, which Brandon says will help shrink the deficit in this area. “Under CDC guidelines, we’ve had to reduce hours and our capacity to 50% in our early childhood education program, while at the same time, work with more families to ease tuition costs. It’s been a significant financial hit, and we’re grateful to YouthBridge for helping us close the gap.”

Brandon says Guardian Angel has a kinship with YouthBridge in that both organizations have a very long history in St. Louis, beginning as orphanages and eventually reinventing their service model as the needs of the community changed. By 1911, Guardian Angel had become one of the first Catholic settlement houses in the United States, defined as an institution located within the community to which it provides assistance. Governance then transferred to a lay board of directors.

Today, core services are provided from two main locations, a Child Development Center located just north of Saint Louis University campuses, and a Social Services building on S. Jefferson serving residents of South St. Louis City. The child center offers programs for children from six weeks to five years of age to low-income families, with the cost of care based on each family’s ability to pay. It’s literally described as a saving grace for many families, says Brandon, but also a place where children receive a proper and personalized start to their education.

For Darrionna, a single mom, Guardian Angel was a beacon at the end of a long and exhausting search for quality childcare, and what she found was so much more, she says. “Before we came to Guardian Angel, my daughter Ariel wouldn’t use her words and they had to teach me patience while we worked toward a goal to improve her speech,” says Darrionna. Ariel’s teacher began working on her communication in her daily interactions, practicing word association in certain situations so she could express herself verbally rather than by crying, along with word pronunciation through various speech exercises. “My daughter is so fluent now and at four-years-old is good to go!”

“Our emphasis is on assessing individual needs and getting at the root of the problem,” says Brandon. Through its social services program, Guardian Angel partners with individuals and families living in poverty that are seeking a way out through self-sufficiency and independence. While providing food and other emergency assistance, the Guardian Angel team also partners with recipients on financial literacy and budgeting, navigating education and employment programs, and accessing community resources such as mental healthcare. Brandon says Guardian Angel refers to these relationships as partnerships, as a means of equalizing power between service provider and recipient.

“We look at it as walking alongside our neighbors in need,” she says, “and especially during these times, we all need a good neighbor.”

If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.