An Ellisville-based nonprofit run solely by volunteers is celebrating 35 years of providing clothing, shoes, books and other outreach services to children and adults in the St. Louis community.
Founded on Oct. 5, 1987, the Assistance League of St. Louis will continue to be inspired by the past as it focuses on its future.
“We’ve learned a lot from our past,” said president Pam Bogosian. “We all want to help.”
The Assistance League is a national nonprofit organization with 120 chapters. Each chapter exists to serve the unique needs and challenges of its community. The national organization supports, trains and monitors chapters to ensure they are adhering to the best standards of nonprofit governance.
“This is a great organization because you do so many good things and you really get to know and admire the women that you’re volunteering with,” said Lynne Turley, vice president of marketing and communications for the St. Louis chapter.
The St. Louis chapter has roughly 500 members, mostly women. They have fun and collaborate well.
“We’re not worried about politics, religion,” said Bogosian, who assumed the president role on June 1. “We’re here for the common good of helping all people.”
The Assistance League of St. Louis currently operates five philanthropic programs based on community needs. They are Operation School Bell, which provides new school uniforms and accouterments to students in elementary and middle schools; Steps to Success, which provides public school students with new athletic shoes and socks; Books from Friends, which provides books to aspiring readers; Project ROSE (Raise Our Self Esteem), which provides clothing and personal items to women and children living in secure shelters; and Unmet Needs, which helps families after a disaster, such as a house fire, or people getting housing for the first time.
“All chapters have some program that does clothing for children, whether it be uniform clothing or street clothing,” Bogosian said. “From there, your chapter can look at the needs of the community and make programs.”
The St. Louis chapter has a research and development team that works to determine those needs. Volunteers watch the news, talk with community leaders, and visit administrators and counselors at local schools to ask how they can help.
It was through research that the league discovered a need for certain items in middle schools (select clothing and hygiene products), which it started providing in 2020. It’s continuing to expand services based on what middle schools are requesting.
“Last year we did provide books to the middle schools,” Bogosian said.
Research also led to the discontinuation of the league’s activity kits program, My Own Fun Stuff. Bogosian said requests for those kits dropped dramatically because of COVID-19, and the league felt the money being used for that program could be better spent elsewhere.
“We are constantly evaluating our programs to change with the times,” Bogosian said.
The league relies on corporate grants, individual donors and proceeds from its Creve Coeur resale shop, Fantastic Finds, to fund its programs. Its operating budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year was roughly $1.2 million.
That same year, the league provided 35,476 items, including clothes and accessories, to students in 26 elementary schools and eight middle schools through Operation School Bell, delivered 3,582 new athletic shoes to students in six school districts through Steps to Success, served 1,229 women and children in shelters through Project ROSE, provided 20,752 books to aspiring readers through Books From Friends, and met the critical needs of 4,604 individuals from 45 agencies and schools through Unmet Needs.
“We’re not a mom and pop operation anymore,” Turley said.
A former grade school teacher for Parkway, Bogosian is passionate about literacy. The league is trying to figure out what else it can do to help children improve their reading skills (as opposed to just giving them books).
“I would like … to see … if we could do more … philanthropic work versus charity work,” Bogosian said. “Charity is where you’re giving the items, which is fine, but philanthropic is actually making a change.”
“If we could get into a school … to actually read and do activities with the kids, that’s philanthropic, trying to make a difference.”