University City Children's Center

Christine Grosch, early childhood educator, celebrates language and early literacy with her students in the Horizons room at University City Children's Center. Horizons teaches add the "wow" to a child's day with activities, like a recent one where corn popped while still on the cob.


Founded in the early 1970s, University City Children's Center (UCCC) combined nine churches and synagogues to create a goal of helping change children’s perspective on society.

UCCC allows children to explore diversity in their community and know about different socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Its main motive is to make kids feel like they do not stand out, because of race or ethnicity, but they are just as important as the kid directly across from them.

Stephanie Smith, parent and grant coordinator at the children’s center, explained the joy of celebrating the big day of Old Newsboys, a source of assistance since 2010.

“Our children benefit, our families benefit and it is rewarding to take part in this special day each year. It is always fun to gather families, staff and volunteers, bundle up and wave those newspapers every November,” Smith noted.

“We routinely serve children in the foster and/or adoptive care system. UCCC is committed to providing innovative, quality care and education to a racially, culturally, developmentally and a socioeconomically diverse population of children between the ages of six weeks and six years in a nurturing environment that provides supportive services to families,” Smith said.

The program, which began with 28 children, enrolls about 252 kids from more than 35 local zip codes each year. The student population consists of about half Caucasian, up to one-third African American and the rest with other origins, many of them from foster care and adoptive care systems in the St. Louis area. Some have special needs or their families may be learning English.

Volunteers and teachers help provide the five essential pillars that are important in a child’s early stages of life: trust, love, empathy, compassion and joy. No matter a child’s past experiences in the world, the program encourages children to treat others as they wish to be treated.

“I have worked at the organization for five years and what I love is that I am constantly learning,” Smith said. “The children teach me to slow down, connect, laugh and look with wonder at the world. Staff and educators have taught me about child development, brain research and the importance of investing early. I see in visible ways, every day, that what happens early in life lasts a lifetime.”

UCCC programs - LUME, Nutritional, Seed to Table and Healthy Minds - help increase kids’ mental health and educational growth for the future. UCCC is the model school for LUME which has four focus areas in the community: professional development, workforce development, family education programs and community engagements.

The children's center proudly shows its classrooms, gardens, playgrounds and resources on tours at 4 p.m. on Mondays and at 10 a.m. Fridays.