Celebrating 185 Years – Channel 5
December 1, 2014
It’s a very exciting year for us! 185 years of serving the children and families in our community.
A special thanks goes out to WLWT Channel 5 for covering this notable moment in our history and to Shoshanna for sharing her story of time spent with SJO.
Watch it here
185 Years of History
Committed to serving over 1,300 youth daily, St. Joseph Orphanage is the oldest and largest mental health agency in the Cincinnati and neighboring communities. With over 160 years of dedication to the wellbeing of children and families, St. Joseph Orphanage strives to expand their reach into all areas of need. From physical and emotional care of orphanages in the 1800’s to the education and treatment of children with mental illness today, St. Joseph Orphanage has been a vital part of change and advocacy for those less fortunate in society.
From its beginning as an orphanage 175 years ago to its present as Southwest Ohio’s largest child serving agency, the mission of Saint Joseph Orphanage (SJO) has been to serve society’s most needy and disenfranchised children. Founded in 1829 by the Sisters of Charity, SJO began as a school and home for destitute female orphans. Through the years, as needs swelled due to cholera epidemics, The Great Depression, and the influx of Irish and German immigrants to the area, SJO continued to grow in both size and scope. By 1902, over 500 children were being cared for by the orphanage. In the 1970’s SJO began shifting its focus from simply providing a home, care and education to its children, to providing needed mental health treatment as well. Today, SJO provides a comprehensive continuum of treatment services to over 1200 abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed children in three Ohio Counties and Northern Kentucky.
Upon taking up permanent residency in Green Township in 1962, over 100 boys and girls promptly moved into this new facility after the dedication by Archbishop Alter. From there the Villa campus became a springboard for diversification and alternative programming for struggling children and families. Through the next 50 years, the heart and mission of St. Joseph Orphanage spread through the Hamilton County region and beyond.
In 1990, St. Joseph Orphanage became certified as a Mental Health Center under the leadership of Robert J. Wehr, PhD, acting as the first lay executive director of the agency. Specialized residential treatment expanded both within the Villa campus and the later acquired Altercrest campus in Anderson Township. Community case management and foster care programs were among the first important movements taking services to the community and into homes.
The needs of the youth in our care called for a strong look into educational services. With the correlation between higher educational and quality of life, pairing specialized education with mental health services seemed a necessity. In 1995, St. Joseph Orphanage opened a private charter school weaving the two together. By focusing on individualized education and mental health treatment services to children struggling to thrive in regular school or home environments, St. Joseph Orphanage furthered the likelihood of future success.
The Altercrest Campus Expansion
In 1976 Archbishop Joseph Bernardin assisted in the expansion of St. Joseph Orphanage by assuming operation of Woodmar Farm in Anderson, now the Altercrest Campus. As you travel up the hill to the main grounds, it’s easy to imagine him knowing immediately this was going to be a place of great hope and healing. Overlooking the Ohio River and nestled within 45 nature-filled acres, the Anderson Campus has continued to secure this vision and mission for over 38 years.
Throughout these years, St. Joseph Orphanage worked to expand their reach into the community when and wherever the need presented itself. Starting with a 24 bed treatment facility for boys with emotional and behavior concerns, the facility expanded to providing special education and group therapy for over 50 community children struggling to succeed in a regular school environment. Outpatient individual therapy for children and families assisted in reaching families struggling while living in the community. With that, the campus has a long history of specialized counseling for children victimized by sexual abuse and those struggling with unhealthy sexual thought and behaviors.
Around 2005, a reoccurring concern led to identifying another underlying need the community and its children presented. A longstanding gap existed in supportive services geared towards guiding/preparing residential and at-risk youth for entry into adulthood. This can be a vulnerable and exciting time in every child’s life, even those with strong family support and guidance. Yet the complexity grows greatly for the children in care suffering from mental illness while working to recover from past trauma, abuse and neglect. The last 10 years, St. Joseph Orphanage has dedicated and grown a team of people to focus on these moments in a young adult’s life. Starting with a new 8 bed residential program focusing on life skills and community integration, the goal to support children during this transitional phase grew from there. An intensive community-based case management program (Transition to Independence Process- TIP) allowed this transition-age focus to extend its reach straight into neighborhoods and communities. A team of care coordinators and therapists work with over 120 young adults in southwestern Ohio, all struggling to secure or maintain this new independence as they ready themselves to walk into adulthood – often with a combination of mental illness, limited employment experience and educational gaps.
The most recent addition to this continuum of support and care is an Independent Living Services program, currently housing 12 young adults (16-21 years old) in their own apartments. An on-site life coach and care coordinator work closely together to help these individuals navigate their path into adulthood and their future. As referrals continue to come in day after day, there is the realization that need still exists in this area. St. Joseph’s plan is to expand this program so other youth in the community are given the opportunity and support necessary to transition to adulthood with success.