P.O. Box 2185
E. Saint Louis, IL 62202
(618) 489-5021
director@griffincenter-esl.org

This is our story...

Sr. Julia Huiskamp MSW,  a Daughter of Charity, founded Griffin Center in 1986 after her order moved her from Chicago, where she directed Marillac House, to E. St. Louis.

Observing the lack of opportunities available to the residents of E.St.Louis public housing, she approached the Housing Authority with a request to use a boarded up, dilapidated community building at the Villa Griffin development.  With the help of volunteers the building was made habitable and the “Griffin Center” became a reality.

Originally intended to be called Harrington House after Fr.Peter Harrington, a priest of the Society of African Missioners who lovingly served the African-American Catholic community of E. St. Louis, the location of that first center became the name everyone used and hence, the name of the agency which is a part of Catholic Urban Programs.

The first program for children was a summer camp with just Sr. Julia and a soccer playing Nigerian who as a Vincentian CM student volunteered to help out.  The relationships with residents were forged through programming for the children and Sr. Julia’s presence in the development each day.  She helped with daily problems, supported residents in a tenant council and empowered them to tackle big problems like the sewage lake and back ups into their apartments with great success as well as opening the doors of the center to the children after school for free play social recreation and each summer for day camp.  In subsequent years, she was joined by a young JTPA worker, Tony Reid, who became the cornerstone of the children’s programs as well as doing the maintenance work that needed to be done.  Many, now grown, Griffin youth fondly remember the nicknames given them by Tony in an endearing way.  He was joined by Griffin resident Clif Davis and in 1990 by Diane Sonneman.

As an educator, Diane saw the need for helping the children with the homework they brought into the center after-school.  Parishioners from St. Joseph parish in Lebanon, IL agreed to make individual study stations for the small office but before they could be installed, unit 10-C, right across the street from the center was busted as a crack cocaine lab.  The  Housing Authority graciously allowed us to transform it from drug lab to Learning Lab and our model of educational support with social skills development and recreation was born.

Residents from other public housing developments began requesting the same programs for their children and as a group of interested and concerned parents would commit to help staff the programs, we expanded to include sites at the John DeShields, Orr Weathers, Roosevelt, Norman Owens and John Robinson developments.  During this time HUD had a generous drug elimination line item in their budget and the ESLHA chose to make a significant financial contribution to our programs , on top of the private-public partnership that gives us the space and utilities in exchange for free programming for the residents.  When that funding ended, we combined the DeShields-Robinson site and the Weathers-Owens site into newly remodeled buildings allowing us to serve the same number of children at just four sites.