Miss Addie

From The Southern Illinoisan, July 3, 2010

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

— Mark 9: 35-37 (NIV)

Addie Gillespie of Carbondale welcomes little children into her arms and her life everyday. It’s something she says she was designed to do.

“I have always thought kids have purpose, according to God’s plan,” she says. “With that, I’ve always felt it was my responsibility to help guide them toward that purpose, and that has always been my purpose for being here – to help children become what God has called them to be.”

As the founder and director of the Hannah House Child Development Center, “Miss Addie,” as the children call her, has touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families by providing a safe, nurturing and structured environment for children since 1995.

“She has a heart for children and always wanted to do something,” says Janice Kirksey, who has worked with Gillespie at the center for 15 years. “Her vision was to have a place for children to come and that every child was teachable no matter what.”

Kirksey says that to fulfill the vision, at an age when many people are settling into careers or looking toward retirement, Gillespie instead returned to school, obtaining a degree in early childhood development. A daycare was started in the basement of Greater Gillespie Temple before moving to the center’s own building two years later.  Today the center serves nearly 100 children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12 years. Gillespie has always served as director, leading children that remind her of herself.

“I really see a lot of myself in these children,” Gillespie says. She adds that she grew up in a single-parent household in Detroit.

“I can remember being small and having nobody to push me. I know that I probably could have been pushed or urged a bit higher, but I think, though, that I’m right where God wants me.”

She does, however, work to encourage and motivate the students at Hannah House.

“A lot of the kids here don’t have two parents and the one they do have often is so tied up with work or school or other issues, they sometimes can’t give the children the time or attention they need. “

Gillespie says that the attention takes many forms.

“I know that only if these kids have someone to watch them, somebody to push them, somebody to help them, somebody to motivate them or to love them, then they could really be someone,” she adds. “Sometimes we give them discipline, sometimes it’s structure and sometimes it’s just a hug.”

She has also worked to establish scholarship funds to help parents pay for childcare.

“Most of the people we serve are not people with high incomes,” she explains. “They are people with low or moderate income or no income, so we started a scholarship program to help subsidize the child care subsidy.”

Her dedication to children is apparent, says Kristin Gregory of Carbondale.

“She is committed to children and to having a positive environment for her students and staff,” Gregory says. “She’s a person with a heart for kids. That’s her passion.”

It’s a passion that is more than a job. In fact, Gillespie, who will turn 70 in the fall, has served in a variety of rolls at the center, says Kirksey.

“She’s the director, but she’s also served as cook, a teacher and janitor. One of the amazing things is that she has never accepted payment in all of these years. It has to be her passion.”

Despite being unpaid, Gillespie says the rewards are many. She says that she enjoys watching children fulfill their potential and succeed as they grow into adolescents and adults.

“I really don’t need a salary, because I get paid everyday. I get paid in seeing changes in people’s lives. Personally, what I get out of this is the feeling that this is my calling. When I lay down at night, I have the assurance that I am doing what is God’s will for me.”

“She’s a phenomenal woman,” Kirkey adds. “I get inspiration from her, because she never stops; she always moves forward.”

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