In November of 1998, Glenn Poshard had just completed an unsuccessful bid for governor.
“After putting our hearts and soul into that campaign, we were definitely in a transition period,” Jo Poshard said.
One day, the couple was sitting in their living room processing things. “So, what are we going to do now?” Jo Poshard asked her husband.
“The only think I can think of that really matters to me right now is helping children,” Glenn Poshard replied.
Glenn Poshard knew the crushing effects of poverty on children. He saw it as a GI in the Song Jook orphanage after the Korean War, mentoring some of the region’s poorest children as a student at SIU, and as a teacher in rural school districts.
“We didn’t start with abuse, we started trying to address poverty. It really bothered Jo and me, so we formed Southern Illinois Coats for Kids,” Glenn Poshard said.
What the couple learned in those years is that many of those children had suffered some sort of adverse childhood experience, such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; loss of a parent; a household member with substance abuse or mental health issues; domestic violence against the mother; or having a family member in prison. They also learned that many of the risk factors for abuse were more prevalent in Southern Illinois than in other areas of the state.
“Southern Illinois Trades Labor Council took over Coats for Kids. In the past 20 years, they have provided $600,000 in coats and shoes for 11,000 children,” Glenn Poshard said.
In 1999, they formed The Poshard Foundation for Abused Children to address the problems of abuse and neglect. For the past 20 years, they have worked tirelessly for children.
The foundation operates entirely on donations. They take no government grants.
“We have been able to spend 97 to 98 percent on direct services to children,” Jo Poshard said. “When they can’t find traditional funding, they call us.”
One of those needs, they discovered, was a need for beds. Children who are placed with a relative because of abuse in the home often sleep on the floor. The Poshards began a program to provide beds for those children.
“For over 20 years, we have tried to meet every need for abused, neglected and abandoned children that has been brought to us,” Glenn Poshard said.
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In May, Betti Mucha, executive director of Perry-Jackson Child Advocacy Center, talked about some of the extra things the Poshard Foundation does to make a child’s life more normal. Whether a child needs a bicycle or to go to cheerleading camp, the Poshards come through. The foundation even repaired a car, so a child could get to counseling appointments.
Another priority for the Poshard Foundation has been training. Each year, they partner with Prevent Child Abuse Illinois to hold annual trainings at John A. Logan College. They have trained more than 2,000 caseworkers and community members. Training is offered at no cost to participants, so everyone can attend.
After Ginger Meyer, director of Children’s Medical and Mental Health Resource Network in Anna and part of SIU School of Medicine, found the number of mental health providers certified in evidence-based interventions was not adequate to provide services for traumatized children, she called The Poshard Foundation.
So, they set a goal that a child in any Southern Illinois county would have access to clinicians certified in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The Poshard Foundation joined SIU School of Medicine to provide training. The region now leads the state with 64 master’s level trauma counselors.
Most recently, the Poshard Foundation has teamed up with Harvard University and Mary Jane Morris of Illinois Education Association on the Illinois Resiliency Project. Abused or poverty stricken children often struggle to succeed in the classroom. The Resiliency Project is helping students in more than 15 school districts become successful in their classrooms.
As part of this initiative, The Poshard Foundation has established a scholarship at SIU to help those students graduate from college.
Another priority is to make sure adequate space with appropriate caretakers is available for children. The foundation has raised and spent nearly $2 million for shelters in Cairo, Mount Vernon, West Frankfort, Carbondale and other places, with the belief that every child deserves a safe place, a safe person and a safe community.
“We’ve really expanded our services in 20 years,” Glenn Poshard said.
Jo Poshard say they only can provide those services because of the foundation’s volunteers and donors. No one gets a salary. Besides the Poshards, the foundation has two volunteers that regularly work in the office, Phyllis McCowan and Betty Davis. John A. Logan College donates space on its campus for the foundation offices.
“When the Poshard Foundation started out, they wanted to be a true safety net for abused and neglected children. They wanted to cover things that might not normally be covered by state money, and they wanted to cover things quickly without the red tape,” Bonnie Wheeler said.
She added that the foundation really shows how much collaboration can exist in Southern Illinois when nobody cares if their names get mentioned or not. It’s all these people working together, which Wheeler thinks is pretty common in rural areas.
When she attends meeting in Chicago, she says people are astounded by what The Poshard Foundation does and astounded by the volunteers at the organization.