Women’s Christian Association and Gillis History
With a history spanning 140 years, Gillis is the oldest not-for-profit organization of its type in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Early in 1870, twenty women met in a Christian Church at the corner of 12th and Main with the objective of helping “the needy and distressed of this new and struggling city.” In 1877, the Women’s Christian Association incorporated to legalize the governing body of this service group. Gillis continued to operate under the jurisdiction of WCA until January 1997, when it formed an innovative alliance with Ozanam and Spofford, two other of Kansas City’s most respected care-giving agencies. The Gillis Ozanam Spofford consortium (GOS) united the three agencies, making each more adaptable to the changing needs of children and families. In September 1998, Marillac and Spofford Ozanam Services joined the alliance, which became Cornerstones of Care. Through streamlining of administrative functions, each agency is better able to focus on providing for the needs of clients.
During our 140 years, Gillis’ services have undergone many changes in adapting to “the needy and distressed” of Kansas City. Beginning as the “Working Woman’s Home,” we first provided respite for working women and their children with nowhere else to go following the Civil War. During the next stage of our evolution, we altered our focus to one of providing a home for orphaned children and infants. “The Children’s Home” was located on land donated by Thomas Swope. In 1900, we gained the Gillis name when Mary Gillis Troost bequeathed a portion of her estate to WCA under the condition that the home would be called “Gillis Home for Children.” In 1927, WCA purchased acreage on Wornall Road and built the present campus facilities.
Today, “Gillis Home for Children” has expanded to include family-centered, home-based services and has simplified its name to “Gillis Center, Inc”. Currently, Gillis serves children and families through campus-based and community-based services. Campus-based services include residential care and special needs education for emotionally and behaviorally-troubled boys and their families. Community Based Services include crisis intervention and reunification programs extended to families in their homes. Gillis works with families as they learn the effective parenting and life skills that will enable them to live together in healthy, nurturing and self-sufficient homes.
All Gillis programs on campus and in the community serve children and families from both Kansas and Missouri. For 140 years, Gillis has been responsive to the changing needs of the Kansas City community, and has upheld and strengthened the Women’s Christian Association’s original mission “to help the needy and distressed…”