Northern Home expansion would nearly double capacity for teen moms and kids

Northern Home for Children on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough is raising money for a major building overhaul. The social service provider plans to renovate Merrick Hall, an unoccupied, roughly 140-year-old building on its campus in dire need of some TLC. The finished product will provide enough space to double the capacity of two Northern Home programs that support teen moms and their kids.

As of now, the goal, which director of development Maureen Klein admits is “very aggressive,” is to raise $4 million, start construction, and open the renovated facility, along with an attached new-construction, four-unit apartment building, by summer 2013.

“We’re allowed to take in more people, but we just never had the space,” Klein says. “This will change that.”

Funding for the two programs comes from the Department of Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and donations.

The Generations I program is for girls age 16 to 18 who have a baby and are aging out of foster care, or are difficult to place in foster care because of the child (i.e., the foster parents don’t want to take on a baby, too).

According to Northern Home, girls in that age range in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to get pregnant than girls in the general population, and teen moms who age out of foster care are at risk of being homeless or pregnant again within two years.

Through the program, participants get a place to live for up to two years, plus life skills and parenting training, vocational planning, individual and group counseling, and access to onsite daycare so they can stay in (or return to) school.

“These are kids who don’t have a support system. They’ve been victims of abuse and neglect and now they’re winging it on their own,” says Donna Bolno, Northern Home’s director of community partnerships. “They come in here and we give them support in a very structured program, where they have to stay in school and go to therapy.”

The second program, Generations II, is similar, but it’s geared towards homeless women age 18 to 21, who have one or two kids. Applicants for that program have to meet HUD’s definition of “homeless,” Klein explains. “They can’t be sleeping on someone’s couch,” she says. “They have to be living in a shelter, or on the street — some place not meant for living.”

The young moms also have to have some type of disability to qualify. A learning disability or bout of depression counts; most of them, Klein says, have “been through the ringer” and can’t function without support.

“These programs impact multiple generations,” adds Bolno. “The goal is that they go on to live independent lives, and their children never enter the system.”

Generations I can currently accommodate eight mothers, each with one child, in Northern Home’s Caroline Alexander Buck Residence Hall; Generations II has room for eight mothers and up to 16 children in the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Residence Hall.

When the Merrick Hall renovation is complete, Generations I will move into the three-story, 8,000-square-foot-plus building and be able to add another eight moms and eight kids. With the space in Buck Hall freed up, Northern Home plans to add another component to the program by bringing in eight pregnant teens.

The renovation will also include an addition to Merrick Hall of four apartments for homeless mothers, each with up to two kids, who are transitioning out of Generations II.

All told, the capacity will go from 40 to 76. Northern Home is confident the new beds will fill up quickly.

“We always have a waiting list of kids who meet our criteria,” Klein says. “We just need to make room for them.”

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