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Sharon Loughridge


KidsFirst Emergency Shelter

2355 Knapp Street NE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505
As executive director of Grand Rapid’s D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s, the largest child welfare agency in west Michigan, Sharon Loughridge, believes that many of the barriers facing vulnerable children can be torn down by a human hand. D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s 22 programs work to keep families in tact, but when children can no longer stay in their homes it also provides shelter, foster care, and adoption services. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s Executive Director Sharon Loughridge: I once heard one of our foster mothers say she that she was a “voice for the voiceless.” This is what being the leader of the largest child welfare agency in west Michigan means to me. I will never forget that foster mother’s words as she discussed her difficulties advocating for her dying foster children. A child welfare leader must always remember those words. We are voices for the voiceless.
It is my job, as a leader, to listen to my staff, to the community, and to our partners to be able to advocate for the children and families we serve. Most importantly, it is my job to listen to the children. To listen to what their dreams and aspirations are. Only by listening to them can I be their voice.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for the children we serve is the same dream I have for my granddaughter; a happy and fulfilled life. As I hold my innocent baby granddaughter, I think of the children I serve. The whole world is ahead for my granddaughter. She can be whatever she wants. She does not face the tough road many of the children we serve do, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
As noble as it is for us to focus on the success of children in our communities, it is impossible to imagine an effective approach to child welfare that does not also focus on the families of vulnerable children.
She is not part of the 54 percent of children in Michigan who will not attend preschool. She is not one of the thousands of children suffering from the trauma of abuse and neglect.
My dream for children is that we protect them, break down the barriers facing them, and allow them to reach their fullest potential.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
As noble as it is for us to focus on the success of children in our communities, it is impossible to imagine an effective approach to child welfare that does not also focus on the families of vulnerable children. In order for children to thrive, we must dedicate our work to the success of the entire family.
D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s (DABSJ) has 22 different programs, so we are in a unique position in the social sector. We provide preventative programming to maintain families through Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring, counseling support, and school support services.
Unfortunately, children often must be removed from their homes, at least temporarily, but there is truly no wrong door for the children and families we serve. We never lose sight of the family. Our staff is dedicated to the best interest of the child because we find that when the focus of our agency is on the success of a family, the child will thrive.
How do you know you’re making progress?
D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s has a 125-year-old history of protecting children from abuse and neglect. Our agency’s progress has taken many different faces: 125 years ago, it was our goal to provide a home for orphaned children, but today’s progress is quite different.  
There is no shortage of children who need our services, but progress, to me, means providing not only services to our
Ironically, the social programs of our time have had the unintended consequence of distancing us from the most vulnerable among us.
community’s most vulnerable, but, most importantly, it means providing them with the love and support that they need to help them achieve a fulfilling and productive life.
Our agency has several positive measureable outcomes. For instance, 88 percent of children who participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters through DABSJ program improve academically, and 92 percent of children receiving foster care services graduate high school. In 2012, 73 percent of those children went on to college.
This is a stark contrast to the national average. Statistics show that only 13 percent of foster care children receive post-secondary schooling, and we are enormously proud of these statistics.
However, the way I know we are making progress is by looking out my office window. My office is located in front of our visitor parking spots. From my vantage, I see interactions between children and their parents. When they enter our doors, both the children and adults are scared, nervous and hesitant. When they exit, they are hopeful. They are hopeful for a bright future that they believe they can achieve due to our services. This is true progress to me.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the unique philosophy we continue after 125 years of service. We love these children like they are our own. We believe the real way to change a person’s life is by providing love and a human touch. I am so proud to continue this 125-year-old legacy of love.
In 1910, one of our founders, Mr. Delos A. Blodgett, said, “We have a school and even a small hospital inside our orphanage. Our children sleep in clean beds and eat good food. They have everything they need, except a family.” So, in the early 1900s, D.A. Blodgett began one of the first foster care programs in the nation.
We do things a little bit differently here. We are proud to not only provide a home and essential services to children, but to provide so much more. We take our children to the symphony and we send eight youth on a life-changing trip to a Montana ranch every summer. To say I am proud to continue over a century’s work of loving children is an understatement.
What perceptions, messages, or historical influences create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
Ironically, the social programs of our time have had the unintended consequence of distancing us from the most vulnerable among us. We don’t visit the poor; we pay taxes. We do not feed the hungry; we provide food stamps.
We do these things with the best intentions. However, the result is that we have taken much of the heart out of our efforts to help the most vulnerable. Many of the barriers facing vulnerable children can be torn down by a human hand.
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Program Profile


  • D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s
    D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s mission is to help children and empower families by providing them with safety, advocacy and support – to transform the lives of children in need through the loving connections of Big Brothers Big Sisters, ...


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