Mourning Mary Kessler
Our Youth In Need family mourns the loss of our friend and colleague Mary Kessler. Mary was the Senior Director of Partnership Services for our Early Learning Programs. She passed away on June 17 after a hard-fought, month-long battle with leukemia. Mary was widely known, uniformly loved and greatly respected. Her loss leaves a huge hole in our hearts and in our Early Learning Programs.
It’s been said that “there are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone, the light remains.” Mary had that light, and she shared it ten-fold with anyone lucky enough to know her. As we remember Mary, it’s clear that her death leaves an unfillable void. But what’s also clear is that Mary truly knew how to live and love—deeply, passionately and joyfully, without exception.
In Mary’s five years at Youth In Need, she helped grow the Early Learning Programs’ partnership program, which partners with community-based childcare centers to provide Head Start and Early Head Start services to eligible families. Managing a team of six staff that oversaw 10 partner centers serving more than 300 children, Mary took the word “partnership” to a new level.
“Mary always had a heart for childcare providers and how hard their work is,” said Melissa Chambers, Vice President of Early Learning Programs and Mary’s supervisor. “She wanted to do everything in her power to make it easier so that kiddos could have a quality education.”
To do that, Melissa said Mary was always willing to think outside the box, a trait staff at her partner centers appreciated. “Our world is so regulated with rules from all sources,” Melissa said. “Mary never forced that. She truly wanted to partner to make it work, so we could comply with regulations and partners could still deliver services the best way they could.”
Professionally, Mary was an expert at a lot of things, Melissa said. “It made her essential in everyone’s lives that knew her.”
She would assist partners with financial questions because she “spoke the language” and could connect the worlds of finance and childcare. She knew all things healthcare from running a childcare center in a hospital setting. Once, Melissa even found her talking to construction crews about ductwork and electrical wiring at a partner site. Mary was the “perfect storm.”
Mary always said that Youth In Need was her dream job. She always showed that dedication, even attending work meetings from her hospital bed until the week before she died. “It speaks to how much she loved what she did,” Melissa said. “She was still engaging in every way possible.”
Personally, Mary was everyone’s best friend. She had an unmatched sense of humor and looked for every opportunity to relieve stress in a room, often at her own expense.
“Mary was the person I loved to sit by in meetings and at the same time shouldn’t,” said Amy Nichol, Director of Operations for Warren County. “She could have me cracking up at the worst times during a meeting. Her sense of humor and spirit is what we all need in life.”
She was fun, genuine and honest. You always knew where you stood with Mary, and her friends and colleagues loved that about her. She had a colorful vocabulary, would send emails at 3 a.m. but hated early morning meetings, and entered a room saying, “What up, my peeps?”
Whether you were a coworker, childcare partner, friend or family member, it was impossible not to love Mary. And that love—that light—is what Mary leaves behind for us to carry on.
Community, Businesses Rally for COVID Relief
Since mid-March, individuals, businesses and foundations throughout the community have rallied to support Youth In Need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carney’s Kids, Midland States Bank, Pott Foundation, QuikTrip, Roblee Foundation, St. Louis Community Foundation, Starbucks, Toyota Bodine and Tracy Family Foundation are just some of the supporters that have donated thousands of dollars toward Youth In Need’s COVID Relief Fund. Support has provided compensation relief for frontline staff, rent assistance for clients, diapers for kiddos in the Early Learning and Teen Parent Programs and groceries for youth and families facing food insecurities.
In addition to more than $5,000 in donations from individuals, Youth In Need also received donations of snacks for youth in the Emergency Shelter and Transitional Living Program group home, cleaning supplies and homemade face masks for the youth and staff who continued to work during the pandemic.