Mandy Watkins was only 13 years old when she came to live at Missouri Girls Town.
Abandoned by her mother, she entered the foster care system but struggled with the emotional fallout. Her case worker felt she could benefit from the counseling, educational, vocational and other support services offered at the residential treatment facility.
While most Mid Missourians may be aware of its existence they don’t really know what Missouri Girls Town is all about, or harbor misconceptions that it’s a juvenile detention facility or correctional institute. It’s not.
“Missouri Girl’s Town is really Missouri’s best kept secret,” said Denise Chapel, a board member who lives in Jefferson City and serves as the director of Vendor Relations for the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan. “We help change the lives of these girls and their families.”
Founded 60 years ago by The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Missouri, GFWC, Missouri Girls Town serves girls 8 – 21 from all over the state who have been neglected, sexually or physically abused and are dealing with behavioral and emotional issues.
Placed at the facility through the Missouri Division of Family Services, the Department of Health or the juvenile court system, Missouri Girls Town is a village of people dedicated to caring for young girls by not only offering them a second chance, but for many the first time they’ve been able to count on any safety, support and consistency in their “home” life.
“The world has let many of our girls down and they weren’t able to grow up with a supportive family life,” said Kim Distefano, the president elect of the Board. “On average they’ve been through nine foster care placements that haven’t worked well and often are sent here where we can offer them a soft place to land.”
There are no giant signs marking Missouri Girls Town, located ten miles from Kingdom City and visible from Interstate 70 East, or gates. The 22-acre facility resembles a small campus, which includes four residential homes, a dining hall, school counseling center, administrative building and recreation center.
Two-thirds of its $2.5 million operating budget comes from the state and the remaining one-third through donations from various individuals and companies, all listed on decorative honor walls throughout the campus structures. The Missouri Girls Town Foundation is a non-profit, tax exempt organization with a very active board. Ann Kutscher, a long time GFWC member and former administrative assistant to the late Missouri Senator Ike Skelton, served as board president for 25 years.
“Ann was instrumental in helping Missouri Girls Town receive accreditation and grow the facility,” said Executive Director Kathy Becker, who has served in this capacity since 2007 and for four years was director of development.