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Annual St. Joe’s Picnic Brings Fun to All and Hope to Children

Screenwriter / Grace Schäfer
Photograph provided

A little boy stands on the main steps of the Enfants Saint-Josephs Home, looking at the red brick and softly swept arch over the doorway, wondering if this could be a home. HeI didn’t know anything like it before. What he experienced was pain and trauma. Hes experienced a speech impediment and isolation from siblings. He does not havet experienced at home. But Saint Joes is a new chance – a beacon of hope in a young but difficult life.

This is the story of the hundreds of children who came to St. Joes. Every situation is different, every child’s pain is handled in a unique way, but what always remains the same is that Kentuckys children need love, care and a home. St. Joes provides all three.

It started in 1849 as an organization called St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society. A group of Catholic German-Americans worked to support the growing number of orphaned children left behind by a cholera outbreak and built the first of many St. Joe’ss locations in 1850. The current building became the companys house in 1885. Originally under the charge of the Notre Dame Sisters of Milwaukee, then the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, the companyThe s board now appoints individual trustees to serve the children. No longer operating as an orphanage, St. Joseph Childrens The home now welcomes victims of abuse and neglect. Yet despite the changes that come with more than 170 years of service, St. Joeits protection mission remains the same. The establishment has succeeded through the continuous work of groups and individuals, and more than 75,000 children have been blessed through the good works that began with the original society.

Today Saint Joes offers three main services – residential treatment, a foster and adoption program and child care services. Through the residential treatment program, 48 state-appointed children receive the highest level of care available while living on the St. Joethe campus. Each child stays there for about a year before moving to a safe and welcoming home. Through Therapeutic Foster Care and Adoption Service, St. Joes connects children and families, provides training for individuals or couples interested in foster care, and provides 24-hour support for those families. Plus, the St. Joes The Child Development Center acts as a kindergarten for all local families. With a program for every situation, St. Joes is ready to meet every child where they are.

Children come first, and their well-being,” says Suzy Hillebrand, St. Joes head of advancement. Yet without funds, the focus on children first is in jeopardy. Hillebrand Highlights Its Biggest Annual Fundraising Opportunity – St. Joes Picnic for children.

In 1850, the Sisters of St. Joes thought of a way to pay for the installations daily expenses. To raise the necessary funds, they held the first annual picnic in 1850. Then called St. Joseph Catholic Orphans Picnic and later changed to St. Joes Picnic for the Kids, the tradition has seen more years than the Kentucky Derby. It acts as the organization’s largest source of funding in addition to state funding, which accounts for nearly 77%, so even the smallest donations can make a big difference. Originally supported by Catholic parishes and church members, the picnic now finds sponsors from a range of community members and local businesses.

WeWe are fortunate to have these partnerships with businesses and corporations here in Louisville,” says Hillebrand.

Picnickers can look forward to two days of food, activities and prizes, plus live music from The Crashers. With over 50,000 attendees, there is no shortage of company. All are welcome, and thereis truly an attraction for everyone.

The picnic also has a lot of tradition. Many kiosks have been operated by the same family for years. The Hillebrand family, for example, has been at the cotton candy, slushy and popcorn stand for more than 50 years. The Allgeiers spent decades running the bingo tent. Rich and Joan Flaherty lead what could be the picnicthe most famous attraction – the cake stand. Each year picnickers drop coins, a wheel spins and the prize for the winning number is a cake provided by a local bakery.

The picnic is truly a family affair, from the cause it supports to the traditions passed down to the booth workers and attendees. “Everyone owns the picnic,” says Hillebrand. “When they walk through the door or up the aisle, they know exactly which booth they’re going to first.” ThisIt’s just as much about memories – sitting on lawn chairs under tall trees with a great-grandmother or winning a cake as a little boy. And every tradition, whether it’s 50 years old or five seconds old, is an integral part of the magic of those wonderful August days. ThisIt’s everything a summer celebration should be – food, family and camaraderie. ThisIt’s also a great way to start each generation on the path to community involvement. Hillebrand sees the picnic as a fond memory, an impactful opportunity and a fiery expectation.

St. JoeThis year will mark the picnics 173rd year. Yet the event kept pace with the changing times. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it provided a fun experience from the safety of home by going completely virtual. In 2021, the picnic entered a hybrid form –a small, mini, scaled-down version,” as Hillebrand calls it, featuring ticket sales at the door to manage crowds, in addition to an online component. This year, the August 12 and 13 festivities will be held entirely in person, although raffle tickets are available for purchase online. “WeI hope everyone will be on campus,” says Hillebrand.

Whether it’s buying raffle tickets, snacks or even a quilt made by the St. Joes Sewing Society, every picnicker can be sure that their funds will go directly to the children. The picnic is their biggest source of funding and goes towards the three care programs. Every participant will have an impact no matter what they can give.

The good thing about picnic is itIt’s really not about huge sums of money,” says Hillebrand. “Thisit’s about many, many people coming together and giving a little, or giving a little more, and when you add it all up, thatThat’s where this big fundraiser that supports kids comes from.

Although the last two picnics have been unusual, this year promises to bring some normality back. Beyond that, every dollar raised through the event goes towards bringing stability to the lives of children in need.

So when that little boy opens that comfortably heavy door atop those big St. Joe’ss steps, help and home he finds are truly extensions of every picnic goer. And every blessing he experiences – therapy and healing, learning, reuniting with his siblings – comes through their contribution. Hillebrand explains St. Joe’s impacts in one sentence.[The children are] far behind the starting line before they even leave the gate, and we’re just trying to help them catch up,” she says.

Whether you’re donating hundreds of dollars or just saving a dollar, participate in St. Joes Picnic for the Kids is a fun and meaningful way to shape the future of our most vulnerable population – one quilt, one cake, one picnic at a time.

For more information, visit sjkids.org.

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