QUINCY — The many needs facing some Quincy families might be surprising to some, but not to Ivetta Cooper.
As executive director of My Brothas My Sistas Keeper, she's walked into Quincy homes where families have no furniture, children sleep on the floor, and even basic hygiene items are out of reach financially.
"They're living off $300 a month or they've just lost a job because they couldn't get to work because of transportation or a child was sick and ended up getting fired," Cooper said. "We have some just getting their children back who have no parenting skills. They're trying, but they've never been a parent because of drug addiction."
The effort dating to 2011 helps meet social and emotional needs of at-risk youth through innovative mentoring, leadership training and service to the community. My Brothas My Sistas Keeper also provides a helping hand to struggling families with a hygiene pantry, a small food pantry and in navigating through the community to meet other needs from health care to a new coat for a child.
"Once we see a need within a family, we can help with that. Even though I may not have it, I may know someone who can get it," Cooper said.
"We've got an amazing community here. We've been blessed with so many resources that other communities do not have, and I just want to make sure people know about those resources. They don't have to go without. We have enough people that care in the community and different churches and different organizations where children shouldn't have to go without and families shouldn't have to go without in our community."
The organization grew out of what Cooper was doing in her own Quincy neighborhood with her four kids and their friends.
"There wasn't a lot in our neighborhood to do, so all the kids from the neighborhood would come over, I would feed them Sunday dinner, then we'd go to different activities," she said. "Friends started bringing friends, and it ended up where we wanted to start a youth group and work with them on a more positive basis. We started doing a Bible study every other week, life skills training with that, and that kind of expanded into helping the families more."
Grandview Church houses the food and hygiene pantries, and Cooper partners with Quincy Public Schools to find families in need.
Support for the program, which plans to move next month into office and meeting space in the Knapheide building at Sixth and State, comes through donations and grants.
A $2,000 grant last year from Ameren Illinois, through its Ameren Cares program, provided at-risk children with basic essentials "so that they can get to school with confidence – clean, fed and ready to learn," Cooper said.
The organization each year supplies about 140 families with basic needs, including hygiene backpacks stocked with items like toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, hairbrushes and combs and washcloths.
"We do 50 to the junior high and high school for families that may be struggling, kids that may be struggling throughout the year and not able to afford those hygiene items," Cooper said. "We give them to the schools so as children are coming and asking, we're able to meet those needs right at that time."
My Brothas My Sistas Keeper worked with the summer meals program last year and will again this year, supervising children as they're bussed to free meal sites.
It's a community ministry, Cooper said, that God placed on her heart.
"It's kind of who God created me to be, so any way that I can try to help, I try to. I can't do everything, but I try to do what I can," she said. "I don't like people to live in isolation and without hope."
Instead, she wants people to know that others care.
"We've got a caring community, and they're loved by God most of all," she said. "I may be a stranger to them, but I love them like a brother or a sister."