The idea for The Villages came from Karl Menninger, a leading 20th -century American psychiatrist. Menninger emphasized the importance of providing a stable and loving environment for children. In the 1960s, he established homes for neglected youth in Kansas, Michigan, and Indiana. In 1978, Lilly Endowment, Inc. (LEI) provided funding for The Villages of Indiana, which became a branch of Menninger’s The Villages of Kansas project. In 1980, John Pless, a Marion County forensic pathologist and supporter of child abuse prevention, and and his wife Lois donated a parcel of land near Bedford, Indiana, to build the organization’s first group home. With the opening of this model group home, The Villages provided services and support to 10 abused and neglected children.

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The Villages Sign, 2014 Credit: Michelle Pemberton, IndyStar View Source

The need to provide for Indianapolis’ at-risk children compelled the group to purchase and open two family group homes in Indianapolis and to launch The Villages Adoption Program. In 1987, the organization formally incorporated in Indiana as a separate nonprofit organization. Another Lilly Endowment grant allowed the organization to launch The Villages Specialized Foster Care Program. With this expanded budget, The Villages spread its foster care services to accommodate 30 children.

In 1992, The Villages became one of the first Indiana nonprofit organizations to receive accreditation from the National Council on Accreditation for Children and Families. One year later, the group launched its family preservation and reunification programs and The Villages Independent Living Program, which prepares foster youth for self-sufficiency. In 1997, foster care services expanded to Kentucky, and the agency developed intensive family reunification and wraparound services for the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, which is part of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. The Villages also began to provide aftercare child and family services that same year. During the late 1990s, the organization expanded its Healthy Family services to other Indiana counties, including Hancock and Lawrence counties in 1997, and Brown, Decatur, Delaware, Lake, and Jackson counties in 1998.

The Villages became a member agency of United Way Of Central Indiana in 2001 and added the fully accredited Children’s Village Child Development and Education centers, one in Indianapolis and another in Bloomington. The next year, programs for grandparents and other family members began. Grandparents who are raising grandchildren receive support through The Villages Family Connection Network. These services extend to other family members raising their related youth.

By its 25th anniversary in 2003, The Villages had grown to be Indiana’s largest child and family services agency, serving more than 1,200 children each day. The organization’s dedication to Indiana’s neglected and abused children led The Indiana Department of Child Services to select The Villages to rebuild the Department of Child Services Foster and Adoptive Parent infrastructure.

In 2007, The Villages’ annual budget exceeded $25 million. To ensure long-term survival, John and Lois Pless established the Pless Family Society to promote planned giving to the agency. To generate even more awareness, Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, became a spokesperson for the organization, emphasizing the need for foster and adoptive parents, while at the same time encouraging charitable giving.

The Villages continued to grow. Dad’s Inc., a program that encourages the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children, merged into The Villages in 2009. Hamilton and Monroe counties were added to The Villages array of sites in 2010. In 2011, the organization received the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids grant, which allowed for the expansion of services in Southwestern Indiana. In 2015, the organization began a collaboration with Early Learning Indiana to launch the Early Head Start program at its Indianapolis Children’s Village childcare center. As part of a three-year fundraising initiative, The Villages received its first $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2014, and in 2018, LEI gave the organization a $10 million sustainability grant.

With roughly 300 to 360 licensed foster families in Indiana, The Villages serves over 3,000 children and families annually. Headquartered in Indianapolis and Bloomington and with more than 20 offices located throughout the state, it continues to be the largest child and family service nonprofit in Indiana.

Revised December 2022
 

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