Lexington's Florence Crittenton home for girls and women to close after 119 years

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comNovember 11, 2013 

  • Facility opened in 1894 as House of Mercy

    According to the Florence Crittenton Home's website, it was established in 1894 as the House of Mercy by "a group of public-spirited citizens, concerned about the problem of 'wayward girls' in their midst." It says "the home was among the earliest established in America with the emphasis of 'saving and rescuing the fallen and degraded.'"

    At some point it was named for Florence Crittenton, whose father, Charles Crittenton, was a wealthy New Yorker. After Florence died in 1882 at age 4 of scarlet fever, he threw himself into mission work, according to a Dec. 7 article in The New York Times. Crittenton established what became the Florence Crittenton Mission, building homes for "lost and fallen women" throughout the country, the article said. Today, the National Crittenton Foundation in Portland, Ore., is affiliated with 27 independent social-service agencies, including the one that runs the Crittenton home in Lexington, according to the foundation's website.

    Herald-Leader Staff report

Florence Crittenton Home, which has served single pregnant women and girls in Lexington since 1894, will close Nov. 26 because it doesn't have the money to continue, the executive director said Monday.

"We've always been a poor agency. That's just all there is to it," Mary B. Venezie told the Herald-Leader. "We've always struggled.

"We don't have enough money to buy formula and supplies for the remaining girls."

The state no longer refers women and girls to the home, she said in a statement.

"Given the reliance on state referrals to sustain operations, the home can no longer continue its service to this population," said Venezie, a 23-year employee.

Board chairman Mike Wickline said the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services "has changed its philosophy on what is best to take care of the clients that we would have been receiving."

He said state officials preferred foster care.

Venezie said many girls also receive services at home.

Wickline said there had been no problems with state inspections at the Florence Crittenton Home. "We're one of the top agencies in the state," he said.

Cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said late Monday that cabinet officials probably would not comment until Tuesday because offices were closed for Veterans Day.

Venezie said the decision to close was made Friday, and officials will begin finding new placements for the five juveniles and four infants at the home. The population is down from last year when there was a full house of 11 girls and eight babies, she said.

Venezie said there were about 25 full- and part-time employees.

The Florence Crittenton Home's board of directors is exploring other possibilities in hopes the home might continue serving at-risk populations, Venezie said.

No decisions have been made, but "we would love to keep it open," Wickline said. "There's lots of folks out there that are in need."

But in addition to financial considerations, it will be a challenge to find a group in need that is a good match for the nonprofit organization, Wickline said.

In recent years, Florence Crittenton Home has been a residential treatment center receiving about 80 percent of its funding from the state, which placed girls there. Some money came from United Way of the Bluegrass and private donations. The home had an annual budget of about $600,000, Wickline said.

Venezie said home officials kept a low profile, even when fundraising, because they wanted to be "respectful of our clients."

Wickline said the home also served girls who were not pregnant.

"The home has been a safe haven for women and girls of all ages facing single pregnancy and parenthood, abuse and neglect ... . The staff provides medical, nutritional, educational and counseling services to the women they serve," Venezie said in a statement.

The home also has had an alternative school on the grounds, she said.

Although the number of people the home served was low, "the difference we were making in those girls' lives was just unbelievable," Wickline said. "It's breaking our hearts."


Facility opened in 1894 as House of Mercy

According to the Florence Crittenton Home's website, it was established in 1894 as the House of Mercy by "a group of public-spirited citizens, concerned about the problem of 'wayward girls' in their midst." It says "the home was among the earliest established in America with the emphasis of 'saving and rescuing the fallen and degraded.'"

At some point it was named for Florence Crittenton, whose father, Charles Crittenton, was a wealthy New Yorker. After Florence died in 1882 at age 4 of scarlet fever, he threw himself into mission work, according to a Dec. 7 article in The New York Times. Crittenton established what became the Florence Crittenton Mission, building homes for "lost and fallen women" throughout the country, the article said. Today, the National Crittenton Foundation in Portland, Ore., is affiliated with 27 independent social-service agencies, including the one that runs the Crittenton home in Lexington, according to the foundation's website.

Herald-Leader Staff report

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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