Jeremiah’s Place is Pittsburgh’s first crisis nursery, providing free childcare and temporary housing to families in emergency situations. Parents who are overwhelmed by stress, medical emergencies, or employment problems can bring their children to this safe haven at no cost, and get connected with social services to help them overcome their challenges. Physicians Lynne L. Williams and Tammy Murdock relentlessly pursued the founding of Jeremiah’s Place after a survey of families in the East End revealed a strong need for a short-term childcare facility. In 2013, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation committed a $350,000 grant from the Opportunity Fund to jumpstart the opening of Jeremiah’s Place. They accepted their first child for daycare on April 22, 2014.
Jeremiah’s Place aims to transform the lives of parents, children, and the Pittsburgh region by promoting positive parenting, preventing childhood trauma, and fostering community connection.
The nursery leverages funding, in-kind donations, and volunteers from a strong community support network that includes foundations, emergency responders, and other organizations serving families and children.
The creation of Jeremiah’s Place gained momentum through conversations with families in need and more than 100 partner nonprofits.
Jeremiah’s Place is part of a larger initiative to protect children in the Pittsburgh region and reduce costs of the child welfare system.
A mother desperately wants to visit her terminally ill son in the hospital, but she has three young children at home. She has relied on babysitters for too long, and grapples with a difficult decision: she could leave her little ones at home alone or bring them to see their dying sibling.
Fortunately, she and other parents who are faced with family emergencies can choose another option. Jeremiah’s Place, provides free, short-term care to children ages 6 years and younger, and helps connect families to resources during their time of need.
Families turn to Jeremiah’s place for a range of reasons. A single mother might need to drop off her child for a couple hours while she attends a job interview. A family may seek warm shelter for their children until they can afford to have the heat turned back on in their house. Or a situation far worse—abuse or homelessness—may threaten a child’s safety. Whatever their reasons for coming, families won’t be met with judgment by a staff of experienced caregivers and social workers.
“I think this place could change the trajectory of people’s lives,” said LouAnn Ross, Executive Director of Jeremiah’s Place. “If a mom or a dad has a minute to regroup, it could alter their course.”
Housed in Larimer’s Kingsley Center, the licensed daycare center and residential facility has been designed as a home-away-from-home, a sanctuary for children to play and rest. At first glance, Jeremiah’s Place looks like many other daycare facilities. In the “Cozy Corner,” kids can cuddle up with a book, or color or draw on the chalkboard. At the opposite end of the giant play room, cabinets are filled with crafts, play dough, and other supplies to encourage creativity. Walking further into the space, one discovers what makes Jeremiah’s Place truly feel like home: a living room and kitchenette gives way to three bedrooms, each able to hold up to four children.
The staff has taken great effort to help children feel comfortable and cared for, whether they spend just a few hours or a few days. Because many kids come with just the clothes on their backs, Jeremiah’s Place provides everything they need during their stay, from meals to diapers and pajamas. Each child who stays overnight is assigned his or her own cubby, and when it’s time to go home, they are sent off with a backpack containing a blanket, a book, a stuffed bear, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and the pajamas they wore. All of these items have been donated by the community: faith-based organizations, volunteers, and advocates. In fact, WYEP collected 700 pairs of pajamas for Jeremiah’s Place at the 2013 Holiday Hootenany.
Ross explained that often kids who are in crisis experience a transient lifestyle and may not have their own possessions—the backpack is something that they can cherish as their own.
“I’m hoping that the backpack reminds them of the good experience they’ve had here. When they see that backpack in their house, they’ll be able to reach back and find hope again,” said Ross.
Jeremiah’s Place intercedes at critical moments before trauma can happen—before stress pushes parents to their limits. Researchers from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention have found that children who are exposed to toxic stress are at increased risk for substance abuse, mental health disorders, diabetes, and other illnesses later in life.
Besides providing an immediate childcare solution for families, the ultimate goal is to sustain and strengthen families beyond the time of their visit. As soon as parents arrive, they meet Kristen, a social worker and resource expert, who helps connect them to a network of Pittsburgh organizations that provide needed social services, whether that’s counseling, financial literacy, or job training.
“What we really hope for, in our heart of hearts, is that in the long-term, everybody is better off,” said Ross. “The child’s life is much less stressful, and the mom’s and dad’s life is much less stressful.”