The Children's Neighborhood
they could get involved. Today, more than 60 area churches are committed to doing every thing from holding food and clothing drives to recruiting volunteers for tutoring. Maine makes such a convincing argument, it’s no wonder the response has been so great. “People have to understand, if we don’t give these kids a chance now, we’re going to have to give them a second and third chance of a different kind further down the road,” he explained. “The statistics about what happens to these kids after they get out of foster care are frightening. Seventy percent of our present prison population started out as foster kids. After they get out of foster care, two-thirds wind up selling drugs, taking drugs or getting into prostitution; and many become homeless. If we don’t do something for these kids now, we’re going to have to do something about them later.” A PLACE TO CALL HOME
The amazing result of their efforts is The Children’s Neighborhood, a DCF-licensed facility consisting of a 24-hour emergency shelter with room for 16 children to stay from 30 to 90 days, or longer if necessary; one long-term family foster home for eight children staffed with two full-time, married foster parents; two transitional homes for up to 13 young adults ages 18 to 22 who are too old for the foster care system but still in need of support; a neighborhood center housing administrative offices; a clubhouse for
More than 270 children no longer safe in their own homes have found refuge at The Children’s Neighborhood since its opening in 2008.
tutoring, activities and group meetings; a food pantry; and a playground. Gay is nonchalant about what some would say is an extraordinary accomplish ment. “My faith teaches me that we’re here on earth to help our fellow man, not to build aircraft and go to war, not to advance our professional careers,” he said. “We’re here to take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves.” And both Gay and Maine credit Berry for instilling in them the untiring work ethic and exceptional commitment to service they’ve brought to the project. The friends are quick to emphasize that, from the ground up, this has been a community effort encompassing a number of partners, such as the community college president who helped broker a lease of 20 acres of land at $1 a year for 50 years and the United Methodist Church district that built the first building – that much-needed emergency shelter. And that just scratches the surface. An astonishing 90 percent of the neighborhood’s infrastructure has been provided by in-kind gifts from donors. The first foster care home was built by an individual donor, and more are in development. Community contributions cover 65 percent of the cost to
sustain the neighborhood, and countless community volunteers have served as house parents, tutors and mentors and have provided funds for birthday parties, field trips, food, clothing, medical care and more. The impact on children’s lives has been immense. Since opening its doors in 2008, The Children’s Neighborhood has operated at near full capacity, providing a haven for more than 270 children who were no longer safe in their own homes. More than 40 sibling groups have been kept together as families, and scores of children have been helped to get back on track academically, with some excelling at school. Most importantly, the neighborhood has given children like Joshua a safe, family-like, emotionally stable home in which to live, grow and thrive. Now settled into his new life, Joshua was recently seen making pretend snow angels on the carpet of the shelter and happily singing a little tune that went something like this: “I have mommies who love me – Lauren and Megan and Caitlin and Sue and…” He was naming all the female staff members at The Children’s Neighborhood. And he knows what he sang to be true because they tell him. Every day. B
BERRY MAGAZINE • WINTER 2011-12
Berry Magazine - Winter 2011-12