Numbers alone speak to the need for a safe haven such as Jeremiah’s Place, a Larimer nursery where children from birth to age 6 can stay up to three days at no cost during any sort of family crisis.
Parents who are overwhelmed by stress, medical emergencies, or other problems bring their children to Jeremiah’s Place. Nearly 600 children from 350 families have come here since Jeremiah’s Place opened 2 ½ years ago at Kingsley Association, many of them seeking daytime or overnight care more than once. Jeremiah’s Place now averages six to 10 kids a day.
“It shows a tremendous need and a gap in services, and we’re happy to fill that gap. We know there are often layers to a crisis,” says Executive Director LouAnn Ross of Squirrel Hill.
Now the founders of the 24/7 nursery are considering a second location. Jeremiah’s Place can accommodate up to 20 children for day care, and 12 overnight.
“We’re definitely talking about expanding. The East End is nice but we’ve had children come from 56 different zip codes and we know transportation is a barrier for many people,” says Lynne Williams, a pediatrician from McCandless who co-founded the nursery with obstetrician Tammy Murdock and educational consultant Eileen Sharbaugh.
It took the women four years to get the “crisis nursery” operational after learning about such facilities in Philadelphia, Cleveland and elsewhere. They surveyed Pittsburgh families to determine the need for a crisis nursery after a young woman struggling to care for her three children sought help at UPMC Presbyterian.
Marc Cherna, director of Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services, offered Williams and her co-founders early support.
“The fact that they did this on their own time, while they have full-time jobs, I think is really admirable,” Cherna says. “Jeremiah’s Place is doing a terrific job. When people have emergencies and need somebody to watch their kids, especially in crisis situations, or when somebody at risk for child abuse really needs a break, this is a good place to get a respite.”
The county and charitable organizations such as Hillman Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, RK Mellon Foundation, Grable Foundation and the Pittsburgh Foundation fund the center’s $500,000 budget. Individuals and corporations also donate and raise money through events.
“It’s well-received by the community and they are really getting a lot of kids, demonstrating there’s a real need for this,” Cherna says.
The city’s hospitals and county caseworkers refer families who need sudden child care. Often the children are at risk of abuse or neglect, but there’s no stigma to seeking help at Jeremiah’s Place, Williams says.
“This is for everyone who might have a need – you’ve just moved, or your mom who usually watches your kids is sick,” she says. “We’ve had a nurse practitioner who had issues with domestic violence bring her kids.”
The center – named for a little boy Williams met – cannot accept children with medical issues. But the staff sometimes breaks its rules regarding age or length of stay to accommodate someone’s need.
“We tell families they can be there up to three days but there may be times when kids need to stay longer,” says Williams, who adopted three boys she fostered, ages 10, 7 and 5. “We have a fantastic social worker who meets with families to assess their needs and helps them plan out their next steps. The key is getting families connected – we refer out to 50 different agencies to give them help.”
Sharon Scott of Larimer, an administrative assistant at Kingsley, was among the first to utilize the day care. Two years ago when she sought custody of two nieces and a nephew, she had no idea the judge would send the children home with her that day.
“I was certainly in a crisis and Jeremiah’s Place was definitely there for me. I don’t know what I would have done without them,” she says. “It was so much, so overwhelming.”
Single and without a car, Scott worried about juggling work, court paperwork, school enrollments, doctor appointments and other errands. Jeremiah’s Place made an exception for her two children older than 6.
Scott now is adopting her nephew, 5, and one niece, 12. She recently joined the nursery’s board of directors.
“I’m so joyful Jeremiah’s Place was there for me. I’m not sure if it’s known well enough. We’re working on that and I’m going to do my part to make that happen,” she says. “The facility is clean and the workers are gentle with the kids, very skilled. My kids love it there.”