Head Start is the single largest program for both the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and Grace Hill Settlement House, and the message of the two agencies’ merger is that they will grow together as one. So it made sense that, along with the merger, Urban League President and CEO Michael P. McMillan also announced an expanded five-year federal contract of $38 million for the merged Head Start program. It will serve nearly 1,000 children.
The historic merger and Head Start contract were announced at what has been Grace Hill’s Water Tower Campus on Wednesday, July 22.
McMillan described a superpower of a new social service agency, with a staff of 7,200 working at 720 locations, 229 years of past service, nearly 50 programs and a Board of Directors with 75 people — which, he predicted, is the largest board an Urban League affiliate will ever see. St. Louis had the largest and highest-rated affiliate before the merger, which has been in the works for two years.
With the announcement coming at the far north end of Grand Boulevard, North St. Louis shared the spotlight with the new, expanded Urban League. McMillan was joined by the 3rd Ward committeewoman and 21st Ward alderman in vowing to leverage the expanded agency to spur development in the North City neighborhoods it serves.
The North County neighborhoods it serves were discussed in McMillan’s introduction of Alex Silversmith of U.S. Bank CDC, the Grace Hill board chair who helped to complete the merger. (Past and interim Grace Hill presidents Laura Kozak and Delores Hardwick also worked on the merger.) McMillan credited Silversmith with critical help financing the Urban League’s Ferguson Empowerment Center and new developments underway in the West Florissant corridor.
Grace Hill’s roots in the Episcopal Diocese were honored by the presence of Bishop Deon Johnson. He provided a Kenyan proverb to support the overarching theme that the merger is a victory for both agencies. “To go fast, travel alone,” he said. “To go far, travel together.” Bishop Johnson has joined the Urban League board, McMillan said, so he will be there to help with the journey.
In a region that is badly fragmented in every sector of life, private and public, several speakers, including McMillan, said the merger should be taken as a model to be followed. “This is a collaboration,” McMillan said, “not a competition.”