Sarah's House expands to offer day care, education

September 11, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Recognizing that homeless parents cannot find jobs or work without a safe place to leave their children, Sarah's House -- a homeless shelter at Fort Meade -- has opened the state's first on-site day-care center for homeless families.

"Families cannot break out of the cycle of homelessness without child care," said Mary Lee Bradyhouse, director of the 64-bed shelter. "You can't go on a job interview with a baby bouncing on your knee."

At an opening ceremony Wednesday attended by about 150 people, local and state officials lauded Sarah's House, run by Catholic Charities, for becoming leaders in helping break the cycle of poverty and homelesses.

"To learn how to deliver social services in the correct way, we come to Anne Arundel County," said Carolyn Colvin, the state's secretary of the Department of Human Services, which played a large role in making the center a reality.

"Sarah's House is one of the jewels in Anne Arundel County's crown," said County Executive Robert R. Neall. "Day care is another important step."

Harold A. Smith, director of Catholic Charities, said Sarah's House staff recognized early that to help people end homelessness, they need more than a roof over their heads.

The new facility, in renovated Army barracks next to the shelter, houses a day-care center and an adult learning center. The learning center, equipped with eight computers, will focus on teaching basic job skills and helping residents obtain their GEDs. With the help of Anne Arundel Community College, the staff will organize different training classes to help prepare residents for jobs.

"This building symbolizes the end to homelessness," said Mr. Smith. "This is so that shelters don't become a dead-end."

Several Sarah's House residents who attended the opening said they felt they had no options and no way to succeed by the time they arrived at the shelter.

LaVetta Ricks, mother of two children who will attend the center, told the audience that Sarah's House staff helped her develop "a desire for success" that she never had before.

"I've learned that there are a lot of people willing to help those of us who have faced a lot of misfortune," she said. "It's more than a plus if you can go through your day without worrying that your children are being cared for properly."

Mary L. Thompson, who also has two children enrolled in the center, said she arrived at Sarah's House 10 months ago, ready to give up on life and herself. She recently ended an abusive relationship and had no job or money.

Eight months pregnant with her second child and with a 14-month-old son, she had made plans to give up the baby for adoption, believing she couldn't handle the additional responsibility.

"I was very angry. I had a real chip on my shoulder," she said.

She has since received job training and found a job with the Anne Arundel Housing Authority. She hopes to move out of Sarah's House within three months but plans to continue to use the center until she is more financially secure.

Ms. Bradyhouse, who said the center can accommodate 28 children, said staff will work with individuals to determine the best arrangement for moving children into private day care as families move on.

"The most important thing is the stability for the children," she said, adding that for some children, the center will provide the first stable environment they have known.

Kathryn Caldwell, director of the new center, said her staff of five has been trained to deal with the problems of homeless children.

"There will be aggression we have to deal with, and possibly withdrawal," she said. "The staff is specially trained to deal with the various problems that may come from stress the children have had to deal with."

The day-care and adult learning center was made possible through the coordinated effort of many organizations, including the U.S. Army, which owns the land and buildings and contributed $300,000; the Department of Human Resources, which gave a $50,000 grant; and Anne Arundel County, which contributed a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant.

Sarah's House staff has been working toward opening the center for more than two years, said Ms. Bradyhouse. She said the United Way of Anne Arundel County made the first contribution, of $34,000, more than two years ago.

Most of the center's operating costs will be covered by day-care vouchers, which many of the families receive from the county's Department of Social Services, and through private

contributions, Ms. Bradyhouse said.

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