Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis – Empowering Youth in a Residential Academic Program

When Jim Berges saw the tremendous value of the Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis (BHGHSTL) program and how it empowers youth through high-quality education, shared spirituality, and love and care in a family setting, he was passionate about helping the organization further its mission. The Berges Family Foundation (BFF) became a grantor of the St. Louis location, and for many years, has helped BHGHSTL support more children.

St. Louis Youth Achieve a Brighter Future Through Education

Boys Hope Girls Hope serves 20 scholars in two homes on the St. Louis campus. The residential program emphasizes academic excellence and post-secondary education for bright, motivated children ages 10–24, who live onsite in a family-like setting until they go to college, and sometimes thereafter. The organization takes great strides to recognize the enormity of what the parents and caregivers go through to entrust BHGHSTL to holistically care for and prepare their youth for a brighter future. It is this priceless partnership between the families and BHGHSTL, which allows each child to thrive.

One of the pillars of the BFF is serving the St. Louis community by depth, rather than breadth, which is exactly what BHGHSTL accomplishes. This organization changes each young person’s life beyond measure and gives them real hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and/or violence for the first time in their lives. The outcome of BHGHSTL’s depth of care is that these youth become successful, loving adults who add value and hope to the communities in which they live, work, and play.

“Each child who has a chance at an education is one more child who can do great things with his or her future and positively impact  family, classrooms, peer groups, and even his or her zip code – which leads to empowering the entire community.” – Elizabeth Mannen Berges 

What Makes Boys Hope Girls Hope Unique?

What is truly unique about the program is that the resident scholars and the BHGHSTL team go about their days as a family unit. The kids get ready for and go to nearby schools together. They attend after-school programs, sit down to dinner together, play games, and partake in exploratory learning. Scholars also learn character development and life skills and are encouraged to talk about and work through mental health issues, with the assistance of an onsite counselor.

“Our scholars get the opportunity for a level playing field. They go to good schools, learn life skills, overcome incredible obstacles, and receive basic care that the rest of us take for granted, such as dentistry and eye care – all things that wrap around each other to create a happy, healthy child and a positive outlook,” said Jan Wacker, ­­­­Development Director.

Meet a Few BHGHSTL Scholars & Find Out Where They Are Today

Maddy Heikkila

Maddy earned her business degree from Webster University in three years. She is an Associate SR Human Resources Manager at HOK. Maddy previously served as the BHGHSTL Associate Board president and tutored scholars rising in the program. She is a volunteer who continues to give back to her community, spending time with the Young Leaders Initiative at the YMCA, a program that impacted her as a child at Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis. Just this year, 2021, Maddy has been nominated for St. Louis Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award.

Kevin Rucker

As a child, Kevin’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While his other siblings went to live with various members of his extended family, Kevin came to BHGHSTL. Before becoming an officer in the Air Force, Kevin completed his degree at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he was active in campus ministry. He now works at Scott Air Force Base as a civilian transportation engineer. He and his wife have three children. “I came to Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis my eighth-grade year. It really helped expand my worldview, as well as my personal vision for myself. I knew education was something I had to do so that I would not be poor. I soon realized the limits I had set for myself were no more. There were no limits. I began to see that I could do anything. I am so grateful that the Boys Hope program was here to help me become who I am today.”

Brijhette Farmer

Brijhette was raised by an elderly and loving aunt before coming to Girls Hope in sixth grade. Together, as a family unit, they decided that BHGHSTL would offer life-changing opportunities and therefore worth the sacrifice of living apart. As her aunt’s health failed, the staff and volunteers at BHGHSTL continued to surround them both as a network of love and support. Brijhette worked hard to grow academically, spiritually, and emotionally. She thrived! After graduating with honors from Nerinx Hall High School, she went on to Webster University. Within the span of three years, she completed a double bachelor’s in pre-architecture and German. In May of 2014, Brijhette obtained her master’s degree in architecture and planning. She is now a Design Manager at Adobe in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brijhette is an outspoken advocate for the program and an active mentor. She aspires to return to St. Louis and engage in urban renewal in her home community.

Be sure to watch the video Brijhette telling her story in this video.

Details of the Boys Hope Girls Hope STL Program: A Winning Approach

Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis nurtures and advances disadvantaged young people physically, emotionally, and academically to prepare them for post-secondary education and a productive life. The residential, academy, and collegiate programs are open to youth:

  • From age 10 through college graduation (10–14 at admission).
  • Capable of rigorous, academic, college-preparatory work.
  • In need of a long-term, value-centered, nurturing setting.
  • Who voluntarily participate in the program and understand and accept the expectations.
  • Who can relate positively to others.
  • From a family or guardian supportive of the program.

The organization strives to raise scholars who reach their full potential and become healthy, productive life-long learners who adapt to an ever-changing world, thrive in the face of obstacles, and generate a positive ripple effect in their families, workplaces, and communities. To accomplish this, BHGHSTL focuses on:

  1. Academics with strengths-based, positive youth development approaches.
  2. A family-like setting in a loving community that meets youth where they are but sets high expectations. A feeling of “being home,” with residential care as needed.
  3. Faith-based values that center on those most in need of our services, while fostering spirituality and an active faith-life as essential elements of healthy personal development.
  4. Service and community engagement to develop character through service-learning activities related to social justice and civic responsibility.

Since 1991, 99% of scholars graduating high school in their program have gone on to college.

BHGHSTL Non-residential After-School Program

In addition to the residential program, BHGHSTL has an after-school program, Monday–Thursday, 3:30–8:00 pm, during school breaks, and on weekends. This non-residential program offers the same loving care and nurturing and includes learning, tutoring, mentoring, group activities, dinner together, spiritual centering, counseling services, and more.

“Without the Berges Family Foundation, many of our programs and the construction of our current campus where the boys’ home, girls’ home, and the administration offices are together, would not have been possible. Thanks to their generous funding and years of support, the capital campaign, and the community’s assistance, we can help twice as many children and their families have a better future,” commented Cassandra Sissom, LPC, Executive Director.

How You Can Help BHGHSTL

“At Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis, we work hard to honor how difficult it is for parents to let us partner in raising their kids. We acknowledge their trust and sacrifice and strive to give our kids one-hundred percent, all the time. We could not do what we do without our partners – the families, schools, corporations, donors, volunteers, mentors, tutors, board members, other nonprofits, and everyone in the community who plays a part in seeing our youth succeed,” said Cassandra.

You can help by becoming a partner, increasing grants, helping with educational needs and special health care, and with overall support for these scholars. BHGHSTL is always in need of donations, emergency college funds, volunteers, and diverse mentors and academic tutors – especially in math, science, foreign language, religion/theology.

The Berges family encourages you to get involved with BHGHSTL in any capacity you can. Every bit of effort makes a huge difference to these scholars and our communities.