Charles Dickens, a brilliant 19th century writer, vividly depicted the harsh reality of orphan life in Victorian England. A common theme in many of his novels was the vital role hope played in determining the future of children living shoulder to shoulder with the specters of starvation and death. During Dickens’ lifetime a high mortality rate among street children was to be expected, as society’s ability to care for the abandoned, sick and poor was very limited.
Today, orphans, as well as children with living parents unable to care for them, face a far less uncertain future than the poor street urchins described by Dickens. In the 21st century, government programs and non-profit organizations allow for the provision of many youngsters who would otherwise suffer abuse and abandonment.
However, none of these measures would be successful without one vital component. Hope.
Hope. An emotion I found in abundance during my recent visit to The Children’s Home at 205 Bloomsbury Avenue in Catonsville. First established in 1863 as a residential care facility for children suffering misfortune due to the Civil War, the originally named German Protestant Orphan Asylum has evolved over the last 150 years to its current incarnation, providing group home, emergency shelter and foster care services to children facing challenging home situations. Situated on 44 acres originally belonging to the Belmont estate, staff at the Children’s Home work to fulfill the organization’s mission providing residential and community services to young people and families who experience disruption in their lives.
Providing care for up to 80 children at a time, the home’s makes available a variety of services; from the residential program offering longer term support for boys and girls ages 13 to 21, to Transitions, an intensive program for boys 13 to 17 years of age, and Successful Starts, a semi-independent living program designed for young men and women ages 16 to 21.
In addition, in April 2008, the Children’s Home opened the Diagnostic Center, a 16-bed facility for girls 13 to 19 years of age, providing a 90 day crisis intervention program for youth at high risk. This center is the first of its kind in the state of Maryland.
Bruce VanDervort, publicist for the Children’s Home, was kind enough to show me around campus. As we walked, it was obvious that the organization is experiencing productive growth, as evidenced by a brand new therapeutic swimming pool, a remodeled health suite and two new living facilities currently under construction.
Mr. VanDervort is understandably proud of these advances, and eager to ensure continued growth. “We’ve really dedicated a lot of time and effort to educating our residents, making sure they learn life skills. The goal is to reunite these kids with family or kinship care,” VanDervort said.
But this level of care comes with a cost. VanDervort continued, “the state covers the basics, but we really rely on donations and support from the community.”
The last stop on our walk was the Diagnostic Center. Boasting a beautiful contemporary design, the Center is comprised of two sleeping wings connected by a central great room. The center also contains its own health suite, as well as a classroom with a dedicated teacher. I sat down with Dorenzer Thomas, program director, to find out more about the facility.
Thomas is rightfully proud of the accomplishments of the center.
“Less than 1 percent of our residents end up back here,” she said, describing the success rate of the 90-day intensive treatment.
“We are very invested in the future of these girls. If foster care is needed, we make sure it is a good match. Ninety-nine of residents successfully complete this program.”
During their stay, residents adhere to a balanced schedule which includes academics, group and individual therapy, and supervised entertainment. Girls are provided allowances, and enjoy many outings to area museums and amusement parks. Yoga classes, a big hit with the residents, have
been recently introduced thanks to funding by the Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle. Residents are not allowed to use cell phones, and social networking is prohibited.
I met 16-year-old Zoe (name changed), a slight, friendly teen who is unfortunately all too familiar with the foster care and juvenile detention systems. Zoe, in the last day of her stay at the center, is sad to be leaving. She feels the center has helped her on many levels.
“Before I had an ‘I don’t care’ attitude,” Zoe said. “This program has helped me with my anger. If somebody had gotten smart with me before I would have gotten physical. Now I try to have more control over myself and the situation.”
Zoe feels the staff at the center has been very supportive. “I had to make a pit stop and get myself together. In some programs, the staff doesn’t care. This program, they do.”
This caring attitude has given Zoe hope. A budding hope that needs to be nourished and shielded from the rough winds of the world awaiting her. Given the foundation provided by the center, Zoe’s odds seem finally in her favor.
As Zoe exited the room, leaving behind a space filled with her infectious personality, Ms. Thomas sums up the reason behind her efforts at the Children’s Home.
“There are no bad kids," Thomas simply stated. "Only bad things that happen to kids.
There are many ways you can help support The Children's Home. Consider funding the following projects: Pooling our Resources- over $40,000 is still needed to complete this rebuilding campaign; Diagnostic Center- $3 million is still needed to satsfy the debt for this project. Alternatively, save the date for FACES-2012, a Wine, Art and Jazz benefit to be held at the Visionary Art Museum on October 17, 2012. For more information contact Gail Lee at (410) 744-7310, or visit their website at www.thechildrenshome.net.