Financially ailing Larkin Center to be taken over
BY JANELLE WALKER For Sun-Times Media October 16, 2013 2:38PM
The 117-year-old Larkin Center, whose main facility was at 1212 Larkin Ave. in Elgin, experienced severe financial problems related to insurance, the unstable economy and other factors, its board president said. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: November 18, 2013 7:45AM
ELGIN — As of as of Friday, the Larkin Center will be no more.
In a release Wednesday afternoon, Executive Director Dennis Graf confirmed that the organization, which has served troubled children in the Fox Valley since 1896, will no longer exist.
Chicago-based Lawrence Hall Youth Services said late Wednesday that it will take over operations of Larkin Center facilities.
It’s unclear, however, what it all means for the children who are clients. According to the center’s Web site it can serve up to 52 children aged 8 to 18 in a residential setting and up to 100 students up to Grade 12 in a therapeutic school setting.
“The Larkin Center has been a valuable part of the Elgin area for over 117 years,” Graf said in a prepared statement.
“Unfortunately, the center has experienced financial challenges at a time when demand for its services has increased. We have been in discussions with several strategic partners over the last 18 months to secure the long-term future of the center,” the statement said.
“Through last Friday, the effort collapsed, and we are working with appropriate state agencies to transfer contracts and transition our clients.
It saddens us to announce that the center will no longer be able to sustain itself after Friday, Oct. 18, 2013,” it read.
Representatives from Lawrence Hall were at the Larkin Center’s main facility at 1212 Larkin Ave. on Wednesday.
“At the request of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), Lawrence Hall Youth Services (LHYS), a not-for-profit child welfare agency serving at-risk youth and their families throughout Chicago, has agreed to assume important youth programming provided by the Larkin Center following the organization’s decision to close,” according to a prepared release.
“LHYS worked closely with Larkin for many months to identify a means by which the center could continue its mission in the Fox Valley community, but a number of financial and operational obstacles proved too difficult for Larkin to overcome,” the release went on to say.
“LHYS is working closely with DCFS to ensure the continuity of services for the Elgin children, youth and community under Larkin’s care. We are exploring all Larkin integration points with our current resources to preserve as many of Larkin’s programs as possible within the community. As of today, LHYS has negotiated to lease and manage the programs for four of Larkin’s group homes. At this time, the status of the other programs has not been confirmed.
“This agreement will help to strengthen and expand at-risk youth programming and services in Elgin and throughout the northwest corridor of Chicago,” the statement read.
‘In a bad spot’
An employee who asked his name not be used said Larkin Center staff had been at the Larkin Avenue location all day, reapplying and interviewing for their positions under the new management.
The new jobs would not be covered under the Service Employees International Union contract they currently have, the employee said.
He is worried about the kids they serve.
“Our kids are in a bad spot,” the two-year employee said. “They have a lot of anxiety because they don’t know where they are going to be, or whether they will still be with us.”
A source close to past negotiations said talks with Lawrence Hall have been ongoing for several months. Finances for the Larkin Center — which includes group homes for at-risk children, adult services and outpatient treatment — have been difficult for several years.
The center’s 2011-12 annual report indicated the organization’s revenues were $8.97 million for that year, with expenditures of $8.9 million — leaving a $70,000 surplus. The annual report did not indicate what past debts the organization may be facing.
“I know they had a cash-flow problem” at the Larkin Center, said state Rep. Keith Farnham (D-Elgin).
He had been involved with negotiations between the state, city of Elgin and Elgin Community College for land and a separate school now used by the Larkin Center for its education program.
That land is owned by the state of Illinois, leased to the city for $1 a year, and then leased to the Larkin Center.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed HB 2862 in August that “amends an act to authorize the Department of Mental Health to convey certain state-owned lands in Kane County” that was approved Aug. 10, 1965, and “provides that certain restrictions on the use of that land do not apply to a specified portion of that land.”
The bill was sponsored by Farnham and state Sen. Mike Noland (D-Elgin).
The parcel is about 87 acres located off Routes 31 and 20 that once were part of the Elgin Mental Health Center campus and became tied to the completion of a land transfer deal between the city of Elgin and Elgin Community College.
Mayor Dave Kaptain said in May that the land deal might make it easier for the Larkin Center youth/adult therapy treatment agency and a potential nonprofit partner to develop a new campus allowing it to consolidate all its group homes into one location.
Construction and renovations have been ongoing at Larkin Center group homes, including renovations to one group home which was damaged by fire. In August, the Larkin Center received a Community Development Block Grant through the city of Elgin for $56,430 to upgrade the chiller system at its school at 515 Sports Way — the location involved in the land deal.
The Larkin Center has its roots with Mary Peabody, an Elgin woman who took in twin infants whose mother died in childbirth in 1893. By 1898, Peabody was caring for 30 children at the Elgin Children’s Home Society. The group later became the Larkin Home for Children and moved to its present site at 1212 Larkin Ave.