News

We Remember A Visionary Leader

Rich Patton photo
VCR Friends,
 
It is with great sadness and a very heavy heart that we share with you the news of Rich Patton’s passing. Mr. Patton passed away on Wednesday, March 16th, 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. Mr. Patton was a strategic thinker, and his strategy was always solidarity. Nothing sums up his approach better than the message written on the business card holder that he gave me when I took over as executive director. I opened the gift to find that Mr. Patton had engraved it with the phrase: “See with your mind; hear with your heart.” The proverb is a Kurdish one, and I remember being blown away by the research it must have taken for him to find me a piece of advice like this in my own language. All the time it must have taken, just to go the extra step of bringing me the joy I feel when someone reminds me of my home culture. 
 
Mr. Patton invested in his allies, and he made sure to go the extra step to be as inclusive and supportive as possible. In his mind, the nonprofit community of St. Louis was a family, and our successes and struggles were a collective experience. It was in this way that Mr. Patton showed us what a unified approach to child well-being at the systems level could look like. There have been hard times for many organizations like ours in the last few decades, when resources were scarce and it was a struggle to keep providing the kind of support we believe our communities deserve. When we found ourselves overextended, under-funded, and under-staffed, Mr. Patton changed our worldview with one simple, brilliant lesson: when you learn to prioritize the goal and not the role, there is always something we can do for our community. Mr. Patton has never once sought the credit he deserves for the support he has given to nonprofits all over the region in the decades he has devoted to this work.
 
No matter what he was dealing with, Mr. Patton was the first person to notice an ally in trouble. He developed the model of collaboration that is the core of VCR’s every move, just by following his instincts. When everyone was anxious, hesitant, and struggling, Mr. Patton would walk up to you with a smile and a plan to get you through it. This is the man who looked at the friendly, passively supportive atmosphere of nonprofits in our region and said we can do even better. We can be even stronger. If he didn’t have funding, he’d get you into a meeting with someone who did. If he didn’t have staff, he’d find you the space and the supplies to help you with your events. People came first, always, and money and resources were made for sharing among allies whenever possible. The man was everywhere, in perfect efficiency and perfect humility. He made all of us better, more fully-realized versions of the advocates we wanted to become.
 
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 here today who brought those ideas to the foreground before they gained traction. And Mr. Patton was the pioneer and the champion of those ideals. He was 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 us by following the advice he gave me years ago. We will see with our minds, following the vision that he set and adapting it for the challenges to come. And we will hear our allies – the families, organizations, and other partners with whom we work – with our hearts, knowing that we are each other’s best hopes for a brighter future.
 
 
Sincerely,
Sanaria Sulaiman
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.

Sanaria Sulaiman, MA
Executive Director
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.

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
Education Coordinator: Project LAUNCH
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. He collaborates with school and community partners to strengthen families, promote early childhood screening and education, and support educators in meeting the needs of families.

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 Support Partner: System of Care
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 Support Partner for the System of Care, 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.

Nathan Ivy, MA
Project LAUNCH Director
Biography

Nathan joined the VCR team in 2020 to lead Project LAUNCH, a federal initiative that promotes the well-being of young children in St. Louis City. His connections to VCR started many years prior to this. Nathan first engaged with VCR back in the 90’s when he served as a Social Services Manager. The strategies he used with students and their parents were developed from the Kids Count Data Book. Nathan also had the unique opportunity to have VCR’s former Executive Director and founder, Richard Patton, as his mentor in Graduate School.

Outside of VCR Nathan enjoys dining out, giving back through mentorship opportunities, relaxing, and worshipping God.