‘Our Place’ is their place
In the city of Cambridge, Mass., among the various burger restaurants, bakeries, and college hangouts, Our Place, The Salvation Army Day Care Center for Homeless Children, provides an invaluable service.
Our Place is a nationally accredited and licensed day–care center working exclusively with homeless families. The first of its kind in the state, Our Place provides care for children ranging from newborns to 5–year–olds. This service leaves the parents free to work, seek permanent housing, attend school, or receive counseling.
“The staff tries to do as much as we can for each of the families and their individual needs,” says Darlene Kopesky, director of programs. “Doors officially open at 8:30 in the morning, but we provide a 7:30 a.m. drop–off because some parents just need to be at their new job earlier, or risk losing it. Though we encourage children to be with their moms full–time until they are three months old, we have had newborns, only a few weeks old, stay with us.”
The five classrooms in Our Place each have licensed teachers and volunteers who also play with and educate the children. Workers in the infant rooms provided for the youngest children take precautions that are typical in hospital nurseries, such as covering their shoes when entering. The room also has an extra care provider working with the infants.
For toddlers and preschoolers, Our Place has classrooms filled with toys, books, and even a private playground. If the weather is good, they go on trips and walks. The children also receive breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks.
But the center is more than just a safe haven for the children of homeless families. Its goal is to break the cycle of generational homelessness.
Kelly Hall, family advocate for Our Place, assists parents in performing tasks such as finding employment or submitting applications. This provides them with a helping hand that may be missing from other shelters where they’ve stayed. By leaving their children in the care of Our Place, families have developed a trust in the center that makes them open to accept help for their own situations.
“It’s a big thing to leave your child with somebody,” says Hall. “And not all shelters can be as helpful as one would hope. Here, they know we will focus on them.”
“The red tape and bureaucracy of finding a home, getting help, is very hard for homeless families,” says Kopesky. “They could be eligible for assistance and never know it, because going through the steps, which would be a challenge for anyone, is especially difficult for them.”
Our Place families have found jobs and homes, and have made friends with other parents. Some have even become employees themselves for the day–care center. Darlene Kopesky says that these successes are a result of the staff at Our Place.
As Christ welcomed everyone He met with open arms, children and families are greeted with hugs in the morning. Though many day–care centers will shy away from giving children hugs or showing affection, Kopesky says that showing that love is encouraged, and crucial, at Our Place.
“The teachers and staff meet our families’ needs in Christ’s name,” continued Kopesky. “We treat them how Christ would have treated them, with affection and genuine concern, whether it’s in help preparing for a new job, or simply being an ear for them. Sometimes taking the time out to listen to them is exactly what they need at the moment.
“Our Place provides children with a first step towards family stability. When their names are written on a cubby or on a chair, it’s a memorable experience. It lets them know that it’s theirs, and will always be theirs, as long as they are here.
“Even the name ‘Our Place’ has come from the children,” Kopesky remembers. “When the center became licensed in 1991, it was simply called ‘The Homeless Day–Care Center.’ The teachers told the preschool group that they were going to have a contest to come up with a new name for this place.
“One of the children looked up and exclaimed, ‘Do you mean, our place?’
“The contest was over right then and there. It really is their place.”
by Hugo Bravo