November 23, 2014

Elyria
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Care center a blessing for stressed parents

SHEFFIELD TWP. — The atmosphere around the Blessing House was quiet — too quiet if you asked Sister Mary Berigan.There were no children clamoring at her feet, no meals to be prepared and no toys to be picked up. The five-bedroom, 12-bed facility was still for the moment, giving employees the chance to catch up on chores.

Berigan called it “the calm before the storm.”

CHUCK HUMEL/CHRONICLE
Donna Humphrey of Blessing House walks two young girls whose mother dropped them off as she rushed to the hospital to give birth to a baby brother. Blessing House takes kids from parents for a limited time to give parents a cooling off period from stress.

Since first opening more than two years ago, Berigan said she has learned through experience that the crisis care center could almost instantly fill with the happy noise of children looking for a place to sleep and a warm meal to eat. The words barely left her mouth Thursday before a ringing phone let her know the prediction would soon come true.

A mother of four was heading into the hospital to have her fifth child and needed some place for her children to go. Family or friends were not an option.

Not a problem. That is why the Blessing House exists, Berigan said, as she eagerly reached for the hand of a shy 3-year-old girl and eased her apprehension with the offer of lunch.

“We’re the grandmas and grandpas for the kids that don’t have grandmas or grandpas to go to,” she said.

The Blessing House is a unique concept, and one of only two such places to exist in the state — the other is the Providence House in Cleveland.

Situated at the end of Glove Road on the edge of Sheffield Township, the Blessing House is a non-denominational, faith-based, non-profit organization that takes care of children between the ages of birth and 12 years old when their families are in crisis, and the children have no safe place to go.

Children typically stay for three to five days while their parents work out safe alternatives. Sometimes it means resolving homelessness, utility disconnection, hospitalization, incarceration or just dealing with high levels of stress because there is no one to help them out.

While mom and dad are busy with such serious issues, their kids are in the loving care of trained employees who are happy to color, paint, cook, clean, wipe runny noses or teach youngsters how to ride a bike.

It’s not a day care, as parents are not allowed to leave and pick up children at their whim on a daily basis. Parents with those needs are directed to other community resources.

It’s also not foster care as parents voluntarily hand their kids over for a few days. After a lengthy assessment where the needs of the parent are determined, children are admitted for as little as 72 hours to as long as a month.

“They belong to their families, and we are just here to help,” said Donna Humphrey, co-founder and business manager. “It makes me so mad when I hear about parents leaving, abusing or neglecting their children because we are here if someone just picks up a phone.”

Humphrey said she, like probably a lot of Lorain County residents, wondered what could have been done to save the lives of Jayden Davidson, Zyairre Pasenow and Nicolas Shaw, the Lorain County toddlers who died this summer —allegedly from child abuse.

In two of the instances, the accused perpetrator was a family friend pegged with the responsibility of babysitting while a single mother went to work.

While Humphrey’s agency doesn’t provide day care, she said it is in the position to help prevent future tragedies involving children.

The Blessing House operates under the premise of being there when a family needs help. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, someone is always available to answer a phone or offer arms to a child in need.

“We get calls from parents who are literally like, ‘If someone doesn’t come get these kids now, I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ ”

Berigan said. “At times like that, how can you say call back during business hours or let’s set up an appointment? That’s not what a parent is looking for when they call for help.”

Humphrey said the idea is to keep families together as every parent in a bad situation is not a bad parent. With the help of a few community resources, Humphrey believes many families can turn the corner to success.

“Sometimes a parent just needs to hear it’s OK to ask for help. They just need to know it’s going to be all right,” she said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.