In Loving Memory

Richard H. Patton Jr. (1947-2022)

Mr. Patton served as VCR’s Executive Director for over 25 years. He was an exceptional leader, a visionary, and the kind of person who you only get to meet once in a lifetime. On top of being an incredibly generous, kind-hearted, and thoughtful person, Rich Patton was a true innovator. He has single-handedly changed the way we all think about child well-being. His legacy will shape the future of our community as we go onward and upward towards our vision – that all children receive the support they need to reach their full potential, regardless of what zip code they live in.

Mr. Patton revolutionized the work of the non-profit community in St. Louis with his commitment to the daily practice of kindness and allyship. It is easy to overlook the points of connection in all our work, and the way that each organization depends on its peers to withstand financial and political hardships. We can get caught up in the microcosm of our own internal affairs, day-to-day challenges, and pieces of the visionary puzzle for our region. Not Mr. Patton, he was a strategic thinker, and his strategy was always solidarity.

There is a lot of good work being done today on the issues of intersectionality and collaboration in advocacy. That is something we should all celebrate. But there are people who brought those ideas to the foreground before they gained traction, and Mr. Patton was a pioneer and champion of those ideals. He was and will remain the source of our strength and the foundation upon which all of VCR’s work will continue. We will do our best to live up to the standard he has set for.

Together We Remember

“Rich had an innate sense of justice that was beautifully complemented by his care for each individual. That combination, along with a great sense of humor and a readiness to bring people together in common effort, made him an exceptionally innovative leader. And it helped VCR become an effective voice for children on the margins. For so many, Rich was an inspiration -- and the dearest of friends.”

"Rich took a shortcut home from elementary school, over vacant property and across River DesPeres. That route today would bring him through my yard. I celebrate the 25 years I have known Rich while also reflecting on the years I did not know him. What if our paths intersected on that vacant lot those many years ago and I discovered a new friend? We share with friends. We learn from friends. How do you accomplish so much and remain so humble?  How do you set goals on behalf of others, not self? How do you foster understanding, not division? How does one with dedication, focus and passion make a real and lasting difference? Thank you Rich for the years we shared, the wisdom, the humor, the stories, the insights, the friendship." 

Rich Patton was [a] capable and reliable captain of the VCR ship at the right time. His steady hands navigated us to calmer waters where the purpose of our journey could become clearer. I think Rich will always have one hand on the steer.

I first met Rich Patton through a mutual friend almost 20 years ago. That introduction led to me handling the insurance for VCR for many years. After a few years of working together, there was an opportunity to join the board. Rich was very upfront about the financial situation at the time as we were in the midst of a deep recession. However, Rich always worked with tenacity and an optimism that inspired those around him. I never saw him waiver from the mission of serving our region's children and never thought the task too daunting. VCR is a strong, vibrant, and impactful organization today because of Rich's leadership through those tough times. That's when heroes are made. 

I first met Rich Patton when I was a board member for the Teen Pregnancy & Prevention Partnership (TPPP). We were but a small coalition then and we had to beg or borrow meeting space from our partner organizations, which meant that each month, we were in a different location all over the city and county. Enter Rich and VCR! Rich gave TPPP monthly use of the VCR meeting room AND he gave us office space for our staff. That was his tangible contribution...but the less tangibles matter even more. His insight, his humor, his kindness, his wit, his spirit of collaboration (and so many more descriptors) were always on display in the most genuine of ways. They were a beacon for me, showing me how to do this work without losing my soul or my resolve. I love Ruth Ehresman's memorial for Rich - I too will be telling the story of Rich Patton as I carry on with advocacy and education, as will the countless children and families in our region who have healthier outcomes because of the work that he championed.

I have admired Rich from the day I met him. His passion for the welfare of others, particularly the children of our region was matchless. His work helped to bring focus to our efforts at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis.

Rich had a way of seeing the potential in people, not just their achievements. He could meet an individual and meter out what future they might attain, and grant them the resources to work toward their highest good. Rich was adept at dealing with people, from board members and community leaders to the kids who would play on the playground outside of the old VCR Offices on North Grand. As the Director of VCR he attended to all manner of duties, from welcoming high-level community leaders, to planting lovely hanging flower baskets and potted potato plants to skirt the door of the building. He dealt with recessions, legislative advocacy, doing dishes after a lunch meeting, hiring the next generation of child advocates, organizational reimagination... there was nothing Rich didn't do. He will always be a local hero and child advocate in my mind.

Thoughtful. Kind. Funny. Passionate. Dedicated. Considerate. Child-Loving. Hard-Working. Politically Astute. Appreciative. Opinionated. Easy-Going. These are some of the qualities that stand out for me when I think of Rich. I have always viewed him as a treasure professionally, and enjoyable personally. There was never a meeting at VCR that he didn't put on the coffee, bring in treats-- including healthy ones- and have the refrigerator full of cool drinks. He was a welcoming host, for sure, which was just one of his strengths as a convener. I was fortunate to be a part of so many of Rich's projects over the years. Rich loved St. Louis, and the kids of St. Louis. He invested in creating a better future and invited other human service providers to join him. He did not need the limelight, but always showed up, spoke when he had something to say, and was more than willing to engage in conversation when invited. Rich was an accomplished professional who left a legacy of programs, agencies, initiatives, and projects that have changed the landscape of our community for the better. And yet, for me, what I will miss most is who he was as a person. I could count on warm greetings, his wicked humor, stories that demonstrated his love and appreciation for life as we know it (Bragging about the crop of two strawberries he harvested and was going to enjoy and share with others or displaying the art of the two little neighbor girls in his house are just a couple that come to mind.), his concern and consideration for others. Rich's thoughtfulness showed up for me one time when we moved our offices into a proper building from the walk up converted apartment where we started. He knew (and cared) that I drink decaffeinated coffee, so he bought very nice little metal table tents to indicate which coffee was decaffeinated and put them in a Tiffany's box. I can't help but smile even now when I think of that, and it was 2011 when that happened. I still have the table tents AND the Tiffany's box! In losing Rich, we loss a bonified leader, a champion of children, a kind and compassionate human being. Rest well, my friend.

Mr. Patton has left a lasting impact on our community, that continues to become more and more clear to me. Personally, he has taught be thoughtful, bold, and to never give up. I know I am continuing, and will continue, to learn from his leadership and wisdom. I really enjoyed being part of the VCR team at the North Grand location, where the space felt welcoming and inviting because of his attention to detail and hospitality. Through all of this, he kept us all focused on the mission for children. I have also seen how he set VCR up for ongoing growth as he shifted into retirement, prepared for the transition of leadership, and as we moved locations. His vision and inspiration continues to live on in our work today.

I will always think of Mr. Patton when I read the children's book "Click, Clack, MOO Cows That Type" by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. He and Mrs. Patton gave this to my first born, and I love the message he passed on through this of advocating for change. There's an ask, some compromise, and in the end--the cows, chickens, and ducks all work together to get their requests met. My kids love it, and it will forever bring a smile to my face as I read it--a reminder to stand up for change.

Shortly after I learned of Rich’s death, I saw The Fox’s production of Hamilton. Toward the end, Eliza sings “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Some of the lyrics are: 

"Let me tell you what I wish I’d known; When I was young and dreamed of glory. You have no control. Who live, who dies, who tells your story? …And when you are gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?"

I immediately thought of Rich and his story/legacy. No one was kinder than Rich. He was also smart, hilarious, and completely dedicated to improving the lives of children who suffer because of racial and economic disparities. He improved our world by inspiring us, respecting us, caring for us, prodding us, and sometimes dogging us.

As we continue to work to improve the lives of children, let us remember that we are telling his story. We are telling the story of Rich Patton when we put the work to be done above our desire to be recognized, when we support one another in ways large and small, and when we strive to understand complex issues and address the root causes of injustice and inequity. We are keeping the flame alive, remembering his name, telling his story.

Carmenlita (Carmen) Montgomery
Family Support Partner: System of Care
Biography

Carmenlita joined VCR is 2022 as a Family Support Partner (FSP) for the System of Care (SOC). She is passionate about empowering others and giving back to her community, helping families and children navigate their everyday life. She brings her own lived experience, work experience, and educational experience to her role as an FSP where she compassionately walks alongside families, providing peer support as they connect to and navigate mental health services.

Outside of VCR Carmenlita enjoys mentoring and tutoring children, being a mother and a nana. She also enjoys decorating, cooking, and traveling with family and friends.

Sam Blue
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL
Biography

Sam joined VCR in 2013 as a MO Project LAUNCH team member and is now serving as a Family Engagement Specialist with Parents & Children Together St. Louis (PACT-STL). He helps connect families to resources and opportunities, and to think strategically about how they can strengthen their family. Sam leads the Parent Cafes and is a certified trainer.

Outside of VCR Sam enjoys being in nature, gardening, building connections with others, and spending time with his family.

Jawana Hammonds, MSW​
System of Care Project Director
Biography

Jawana first connected with VCR through the Project LAUNCH initiative as a council member and joined the staff team in 2020. As the System of Care Project Director, she oversees the collaborative network of organizations, agencies, and families committed to a family-driven and youth-guided approach to providing care for children and youth with mental health challenges. The System of Care is working to ensure children and youth can thrive by getting the total support they need to become physically and emotionally healthy at home, in school, and in their communities. 

Outside of VCR Jawana enjoys listening to music and fashion design. 

Anita Blagajcevic, MSW
Compliance Coordinator
Biography

Anita first connected with VCR by utilizing the CMSL Data Book, finding the data impactful and helpful. Anita later joined the VCR team in 2018 to focus on improving access to and coordination of early childhood screenings. She now serves as VCR’s Compliance Coordinator, helping manage the applications, data, and reporting for our federal and local grants.

Outside of VCR Anita enjoys spending time with her husband and family. If she’s not doing that, you can find her watching reality TV and pretending she’s viewing it through an anthropological lens.

Alicia D. Hall, M. Ed., LPC, NCC
Behavioral Health Coordinator: Project LAUNCH
Biography

Alicia joined VCR’s team in 2020, already familiar with and connected to VCR’s collaborative efforts and MO Project LAUNCH (2012). As the Project LAUNCH Behavioral Health Coordinator, Alicia drives our work integrating behavioral health into primary care health and early care and education. She works to increase and integrate the use of screening tools and mental health consultation for children’s well-being.

Outside of VCR Alicia enjoys anything outdoors in the sun with a special appreciation for the Caribbean. She loves eating and trying new restaurants, travel, sand in her feet, water, and blue skies. Alicia also enjoys spending time with family and her grandchildren that keep her young.

Liz Hoester
Data & Research Coordinator
Biography

Liz, a VCR team member since 2007, coordinates the overall data and research functions for the agency. This includes production of the Children of Metropolitan St. Louis Data Book (CMSL) as well as community assessments and special reports on key policy issues for community organizations and collaborative groups. She also provides customized child well-being focused data to various entities including local foundations, legislators, and numerous community initiatives and organizations. These data are used in everything from securing grants to informing funding and policy decisions. 

Outside of VCR Liz enjoys exploring her neighborhood by foot and the city by bike.

Isaac McBride, MS
Project LAUNCH Director
Biography

Isaac connected with VCR because of our prevention work with children and families. Having worked on the intervention side previously, he truly sees the importance and impact of prevention and early intervention. Isaac joined the team in 2020 as our Education Coordinator with Project LAUNCH and now serves as the Project LAUNCH Director.

Outside of VCR Isaac enjoys being outside with his significant other and dog, jiu jitsu, reading, and playing games with his brother. Isaac also loves to cook and bake and has some pretty great skills thanks to his mother. He is notorious for modifying the recipe every time.

Breann (Bree) Schubert, MSW
Communications Coordinator
Biography

Bree joined VCR in 2015 as the Project LAUNCH Activities Coordinator. Since that time, Bree’s role has shifted, but she remains dedicated and motivated by the mission of VCR. She now serves as VCR’s Communication Coordinator and loves being able to help share the story of VCR (alongside all of our awesome partners and families) working toward child well-being.

Outside of VCR Bree and her family can be found playing ultimate frisbee, hiking, and learning and advocating alongside their church family.

Ruth Ehresman, MSW
Interim PACT-STL Director
Biography

Ruth was a VCR Board member before fully joining the VCR family in 2013. She started out coordinating the Family and Community Partnership (now known as St. Louis Child Abuse and Neglect Network), served as the VCR Advocacy Coordinator for many years, served as the Interim PACT-STL Director, and now continues to support VCR as a consultant.

Outside of VCR Ruth enjoys reading, playing the piano and flute, playing tennis, and spoiling her dog.

Mia Daugherty
Family Engagement Specialist: Project LAUNCH
Biography

Mia was first introduced to VCR when a friend invited her to a Community Café. She had heard the cafés were impactful and looks back now to say that it truly was life changing! She sees a real opportunity for positive change by the way these cafés center the conversations of change around community voice.

At the end of 2019 Mia joined the VCR family. She now serves as a Family Engagement Specialist with PACT-STL, bringing life experience, a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, energy, and passion to supporting families navigating behavioral health needs.

Outside of VCR you might find Mia and her daughter roller skating and also embracing all the wonderful and exciting events in the St. Louis area.

Alexis Williams
Family Support Partner: System of Care
Biography

Alexis first joined the VCR family in 2022 as a practicum student. She enjoyed working with the team, serving families, and believed in the mission so deeply that she joined the team afterwards. Alexis serves as a Family Support Partner (FSP) for the System of Care (SOC), walking alongside families that have a child or children with a Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED), mental health concern, or behavioral health concern.

Outside of VCR Alexis enjoys cooking/baking, hiking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

Katina (Tina) Johnson
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL​
Biography

Katina joined VCR in 2019 excited and motivated to help families, parents, and children by sharing her life experiences, prior work experience, and her education. She serves as a Family Engagement Specialist through PACT-STL, which involves connecting with families throughout the community to reduce entry into foster care. She helps connect families to the resources that can help families be their best version of themselves.

Outside of VCR Katina enjoys spending time with her four boys, expressing their spiritual beliefs, and networking and meeting new people from all walks of life.

Connie Rigas
Family Support Partner: System of Care
Biography

Connie joined VCR in 2020 as a Family Support Partner for the System of Care (SOC). She brings professional training to her work, as well as personal experiences from raising her daughter. She walks alongside families in their journey navigating behavioral health and social emotional supports for their child(ren).

Outside of VCR Connie enjoys reading, planting flowers and herbs, and spending time with her family and friends.

Shelnise Ellis, MSW
Project Coordinator: System of Care
Biography

Shelnise joined the VCR family in 2020 and serves as the Project Coordinator/Lead Family Coordinator for the System of Care. She has spent most of her career working with children and adolescents around mental health and is passionate about serving her community, empowering others to live better lives. She works alongside organizations, families and caregivers, and the community committed to strengthening the systems of support. Shelnise also supports the Family Support Partners walking alongside families who are connecting to and navigating mental health services.

Outside of VCR Shelnise enjoys spending time with her family and friends traveling and exploring new journeys.

Yolanda West, MM
PACT-STL Director
Biography

Yolanda first engaged with VCR as a board member of COCAN (now STLCANN) in 2012. She went on to serve as the Board Co-Chair of STLCANN before joining the VCR team in 2021 as the PACT-STL Director. Yolanda now oversees the work of Parents and Children Together St. Louis (PACT-STL), a federally funded initiative through the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). She is leading this initiative focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating strategies that prevent child maltreatment, reduce entry into the public child welfare system, and enhance overall well-being outcomes of children and families.  

Outside of VCR Yolanda enjoys spending time with her family and God, reading, listening to music, and watching TV.  

Integrated Family Treatment

Integrated Family Treatment is a multi-generational approach to mental health care. The client is the family unit, not only the child or adult separately. The goal is to improve family relationships, functioning, and well-being. Evidence-based mental health services and trauma focused treatment will be provided by Places for People and Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis.

Family Support Partners

Family Support Partners (FSPs) provide peer support to families as they connect to and navigate mental health services. The FSPs have lived experience as a parent or family member of a child with a serious emotional disorder, as well as a deep connection to the communities in the St. Louis Promise Zone. FSPs are certified by the Missouri Dept. of Mental Health and employed by Vision for Children at Risk.

A person with a Serious Emotional Disorder (SED)

An individual with a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that interferes with or limits daily functioning.

Tyree Thomas
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL
Biography

Tyree originally connected with VCR in 2015 when he attended his first Parent Café. He stayed connected and officially joined the VCR family in 2022 as a Family Engagement Specialist for PACT-STL. He serves as a family mentor and assists families with understanding their rights and helping them navigate the child serving systems. He works alongside families that have either been hot-lined already or are at risk of being hot-lined.

Outside of VCR Tyree enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, and listening to music.

Jamila Valentine
Family Engagement Specialist: Project LAUNCH
Biography

Jamila first engaged with VCR when she attended a Parent Café Training Institute. After this experience she went on to become an active Project LAUNCH parent leader and gained experience hosting Parent Cafés at Clay Academy of Exploration and Civics. She officially joined the VCR family in 2022 as a Family Engagement Specialist for Project LAUNCH, walking alongside parents and caregivers, connecting them to helpful resources and supporting them as they strengthen their family.

Outside of VCR Jamila enjoys attending family friendly events with her children, along with all the adventures, laughter, and joy that comes with being a parent of multiple children under age 8.

Sanaria Sulaiman, MA
Chief Executive Officer
Biography

Sanaria became Executive Director of Vision for Children at Risk in 2018, leading VCR’s efforts to promote the well-being of children, youth, and families. She joined Vision for Children at Risk in 2013 as director of Project LAUNCH, a federally funded program to improve young child wellness in north St. Louis. The success of Project LAUNCH allowed VCR to secure three new federal grants, all aimed at supporting families. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of VCR and overseeing the federal grants, Sanaria also serves on the board of Kids Win Missouri.

Outside of work at VCR, Sanaria loves to travel around the world with her two beautiful children to learn about different cultures, learn different languages, and try new food.