Monday, February 15, 2016

Science Gillis Style

By Eva Hall, Gillis Supporter

In the Gillis art room students are crowded around microscopes, eagerly taking turns peering into the viewers and passing between them microscope slides like rare trading cards. Under the lenses they are studying cross sections of plant stems and insects, above them on a projector screen tiny organisms swim in a water droplet; a swirl of eating, dividing, and growing. Yesterday they looked at the intricacies within a drop of blood.

By the microscopes lay sketch pads and pencils for the students to use to capture shapes and patterns they like. Drawing pages lay everywhere covered in circles and squiggly lines. As other students draw a girl sits on a back stool staring intensely at the projector as a protozoa snakes around clusters of algae. Later these students will present paintings inspired by what they saw with a written paragraph on their experience and observations. This is the kind of ambitious and exciting programming that a kind donation from Opus and Time Warner Cable have made possible at Gillis.
Beyond this project students have explored weather, energy, and astrology while making plans for a huge expansion of the Gillis outdoor learning center Growth Grove. This expansion consists of a series of learning stations devoted to the earth sciences. Outdoor learning stations like the soon to be finished Ecology Station.

The Ecology Station is especially exciting to Outdoor Education Manager, Theo Bunch. “It wasn’t that long ago that 40% of Kansas City was prairie with hundreds of varieties of grasses, wild flowers, and prairie specific insects and birds. We thought what better way to bring ecology alive then to involve our students in the creating of a mesic prairie: the now most at-risk of the three main prairie ecosystems.” Create they did, planting Indian Grass, Marshmallow flower and dozens of other varieties of plants along a pathway that has become the entrance to the Gillis Growth Grove.

The Growth Grove Ecology Station starts the journey through a total of 8 currently planned and under construction spaces covering everything from dendrology to entomology.  “I think where art, science, and play begin to meet is where things get interesting. We have to help our students fall in love with the subjects we are asking them to learn, not just have them memorize data for tests. With the help of our supporters we are building a space for students to become inspired learners.” The image of the Gillis art room, where students viewed and drew their world on a microscopic level comes to mind. Theo gestures to the developing and established learning stations and rows of plants swaying in front of a back drop of brick school buildings and orchard trees. “That is what this is all about.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Score One for the Underdogs!

Artwork created by students in the Gillis Day Treatment School.
Imagine what it feels like to be written off as a lost cause.

No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to catch a break. One mistake leads to another, or you’re never in the right place at the right time – whatever the circumstances, it feels like nothing ever works out in your favor.

If life were a game, it would feel like you were on a losing streak.

And, yet, something inside you tells you never to give up, to face whatever life throws at you and knock it out of the park. If you can just keep your head down and stay focused, you know that you’ll hit a homerun one of these days.  

Being a child at Gillis can feel a lot like that – like you’re always the underdog waiting for a chance to hit it big.

Most of the kids in our treatment programs have experienced intense distress and rejection in their short lives. Many have suffered personal trauma that is hard for us to imagine. They’ve grappled with debilitating emotional and behavioral impairments.

But all of these adversities have helped our kids forge an indispensable character trait in the process, something we work hard to reinforce and grow . . . Resilience.  

Gillis kids are the epitome of resilience, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of our staff. Like coaches, our caregivers help the youth develop problem-solving, coping and social skills so they’re able to overcome personal challenges and build relationships. Individual and group therapies help them recover from trauma, while our psychiatric and nursing teams ensure that a winning medical strategy is in place to help the youth come out on top.

We were reminded of just how important resilience is when the Kansas City Royals won this year’s World Series. After 30 years as baseball’s perennial underdogs, the Royals rallied to victory and earned the respect and adoration of baseball fans everywhere, including several of the boys and girls here at Gillis.

Through grit, determination and a tenacious short game, the Boys in Blue – many of whom grew up with their own childhood adversities – showed the world what it means come back when you’re down.

The kids at Gillis may never receive a fraction of the recognition the Royals receive, but they will forever share the same spirit of resilience. Life can continue to throw everything it’s got at them – curveballs, sliders, you name it – but they’re not going to strike out.

Each and every one is going to make it home one of these days, and we’ll be right there to cheer them on every step of the way.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Words from the President & CEO: Growth and Change Ahead for 2015

With the new year in full swing, I’m reminded of all the great strides made and challenges overcome in 2014 that have brought us to this point.  Over the past 12 months, Gillis has experienced significant shifts and changes.  Yet as we have done for over 140 years – and with your help, our Gillis family of supporters – we have again answered the call to innovate and adjust so we can better serve the changing needs of the children and families in our community. 

In 2014, Gillis expanded our key services out in the community.  We renewed our outpatient efforts, bringing therapy programs to our clients where they live, work and play throughout the Greater KC area.  Gillis also increased focus on our Treatment Foster Care Program, where we license and train specialized foster homes and better equip parents to provide a home for a child who may typically require an institutional level of care.  This often results in less trauma because we can limit repeated foster care placements, and I am proud to announce that Gillis is currently serving 37 children on this program

In October, Gillis opened the doors to its new Intake and Assessment Center (GIAC), which helps stabilize children and families in short-term care.  Our GIAC team of therapists and clinicians then work to identify what the next best step for long-term success might be and provide every child or family with a comprehensive assessment and list of recommendations to support that success.  Our hope is that we can shorten residential stays and quickly help children and families find or create the long-term home that is right for them.  We’ve already seen our efforts pay off for many children, including John*.  John overcame significant trauma and successfully transitioned back into a supportive foster home after both he and his foster parents received support, education and the tools necessary to thrive together from the GIAC program. 

We are positioned for a successful 2015. Through our many programs, and in partnership with our Cornerstones of Care Family of Agencies, we will continue to find new and innovative ways to improve the quality of community for our children and families.

I invite you to take a tour of our Agency to see the great work you help support each day.  I welcome an opportunity to connect with you directly at 816-508-3501 or Stephen.O’  I wish you the best this 2015 and thank you for all you have done and will do for Gillis.

Profound Regards,

Stephen O’Neill

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Give Joy to Gillis Families

Every day in our community, more children and families find themselves in crisis and in need of assistance.  That need is often magnified during the holidays when the cold and lack of resources can dampen their holiday spirits.


But with your help and support in stocking our Gillis Gift Gallery, together we can bring extra joy and light to these needy children and families on our programs.  


The Gillis Gift Gallery provides donations such as toys, clothes, household items and more from generous community supporters like you to our families, offering something for everyone to make the holidays a little brighter.  This event gives our families an opportunity to ensure all their loved ones have something special to open during this most joyous season.  

We hope you will consider donating to the Gillis Gift Gallery. Your donation of any item on our Wish List will truly bring joy and smiles to the children and families we serve.

Baby items - crib sheets, blankets, bottles, formula, baby towels, wash cloths, soap and shampoo, lotion, thermometers, diapers, wipes, sleepers, socks, bibs, clothes, infant toys, etc.
Children items - board games, UNO, puzzles, Legos, Silly Putty, Hot Wheels, books, remote control cars and helicopters, action figures, dolls, Playdough, Nerf Balls, creative arts and crafts, watches, gloves, hats, winter coats, backpacks, clock radios, clothing, etc.
Women's items - beauty products, perfume, household items, clothing, candles, etc.
Men's items - cologne, electric razors, tool sets, watches, grill accessories, dart boards, etc.
Family items - family board games, small appliances (popcorn maker, cake pop maker, toaster), family movies (G or PG), etc.
Gift cards - Target, Wal-Mart, Price Chopper, HyVee, QuikTrip, Restaurants, etc.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Renovate a Room. Renovate a Life.

Over the last 86 years, the Gillis intensive residential program has provided a home to more than 4,000 boys. Throughout our history in serving these desperate children, these cottages have come to need some serious rehabbing. Several individual donors just like you have already stepped up to make that change.

We know that physical living space truly makes a significant difference in how the children receive their time in treatment, so we not only want to renovate these rooms we want these renovations to have a direct impact on these children’s lives. When they come to Gillis, they will see a beautiful room, complete with beautiful walls; new, comfortable, kid-friendly beds, posters and decorations along with a complete, matching bed set that will be theirs to take with them when they go.

When children come to Gillis we want them to find love and acceptance – for most the first time they’ve felt these emotions. We want them to have an experience that they’ve never had: Something that has been created for them. Just them.

We are still in need of help to ensure the completion of this project! Contact Jennifer Hurst,

at for information on how you can help.

Friday, June 13, 2014


The Gillis board of directors, Gillis staff and Cornerstones of Care are pleased to announce Stephen O’Neill as the President and CEO of Gillis. Stephen brings with him over 10 years of experience providing and managing a spectrum of social work services including: mental health, substance abuse, housing, case management and residential treatment.

Stephen is a mission driven leader who believes that the key to creating innovative and impactful services is to allow service participants, families, staff and the community, etc. to participate in the process of generating ideas and designing service delivery systems. He believes that the organizations who find success in the future will be those organizations that are able to think in terms of what isn’t or might be rather than what is.

"I am very pleased to welcome Stephen O'Neill to the Gillis team, and believe he will bring strong leadership, energy, and empathy to the children and families we serve in our community" said Cindy Mahoney, chairman of the Gillis board of directors.


O’Neill began his new role as President and CEO on May 20. Gillis supporters are cordially invited to tour the Gillis campus and meet our new President and CEO. If you would like to set up a tour, please contact Gillis at 816-508-3500.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Centurions Gift Gillis with a new Deck

Members of the Greater Kansas City Chamber Commerce’s Centurions leadership program are leaving a lasting impression on not only the children living at Gillis today but those who will live at Gillis in the future through their legacy program. The Centurions built a custom deck on the historic Gillis campus large enough to accommodate 20 children at once. The deck will be completed on April 26th with custom landscaping and a new barbeque grill.

Cody, a 14 year old boy living at Gillis, shared his excitement about learning how to grill a hot dog alongside a Centurion volunteer, "I always wanted to know how to do that!" Centurion volunteers are teaching Gillis children how to have fun outside and grill a hotdog while helping them to find new hope for their future. Gillis Volunteer Manager, Jennifer Hurst, shared that "the quality time and attention that the Centurion volunteers gave our kids was the biggest gift of all from the legacy project. The volunteers created great memories for our children.

Since 1976, the Centurions Leadership Program has earned a reputation as an unequaled training ground for future Kansas City leaders. The mission of Centurions is to prepare a representative cross-section of the community's emerging leaders for their role in shaping the future of greater Kansas City. The Legacy Project is a tradition Centurions began in 2007 to leave a lasting impact on the greater Kansas City community.