Relief Nursery’s history is a story of hope. It is a story born from our community, which banded together over 40 years ago to help children and families rewrite their futures, free of fear and full of promise.
In 1976, child abuse and neglect was a problem in our community. Worse yet, children and families at risk of abuse and neglect didn’t have many services available to them until after a child had been victimized. The primary response to abuse and neglect was removing children from their families and putting them into foster care.
That didn’t seem like an enlightened approach to many people. Why not offer preventive services? Why not support children and families so that the abuse and neglect didn’t happen in the first place?
A group of community leaders took a stand and said, “We can do better for our children.” Peggy Hoyt and the women of the Junior League of Eugene joined with Lynn Frohnmayer and Mary Ellen Eiler of Child Protective Services, and they created Relief Nursery, a private nonprofit agency dedicated to supporting families and keeping children safe.
At first, a handful of children were in the program, which met in borrowed space in churches. Word spread, more families came and Relief Nursery grew. Our community gathered around its vulnerable citizens and said, “We will not let our fragile families get hurt.”
As our community needs grew, so did the Relief Nursery. In 1993, our community came together again under the leadership of John Sheppard. He successfully chaired a capital campaign for a Relief Nursery building. Under the guidance of Jean Phelps, executive director for 22 years, Relief Nursery grew from a small respite program to a comprehensive child abuse prevention program recognized in 2003 as innovative by the United States Office of Child Abuse and Neglect.
Today, Relief Nursery serves more than 1,000 children and their families every year. We’ve had great success – more than 93 percent of the children served have no reports of abuse or neglect after involvement with Relief Nursery. That’s success, considering that when we first meet the families almost half are involved with child protective services. Thirty one other Oregon communities have opened their own Relief Nurseries.