We had the pleasure of meeting with Tom and Paula from Belknap House today. They are excited to have their shelter open for their first summer housing 14 people. They have 8 children and 6 adults. As of now, they are trying hard to support families navigate this challenging time. They are grateful to people like Len Campbell and Sherry Miner for providing direct support to families through video conferencing. Many community members have dropped off size 3 and 5 diapers and food supplies. They are in need of bike helmets for the resident children and creating an outside picnic area to make this stay at home time more palatable. They will be most likely not having their spring fundraiser or their golf fundraiser so they will be looking for ongoing community support.
Belknap House re-opened in October and will remain open year-round serving homeless families in Belknap County. Plans were underway for expanded summer programs for children and parents. However, since early March staff has been laser focused on providing a safe, healthy, and calm environment for our families during this most unprecedented time. Necessary precautions and procedures are in place, with the development of the Belknap House COVID- 19 Emergency Operations Plan, closely aligned with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control for homeless shelters, and custom fit for our house and services.
Remote learning is its fourth week at Belknap House. Our family room is transformed into a computer lab, with four middle school boys working online with headsets. The kitchen table is the early childhood and elementary school work place with a first grader, kindergartener, and three- year old tickled to be doing school work too. Our youngest, 8months old, has space to crawl, move around in his walker, and overall take in all the action daily. Late March snow melted allowing for outdoor fun on our play set, chalk art on the driveway, shooting hoops, and we’ve already fired up the grill for a “teacher appreciation” cookout for the families on Friday – celebrating parents’ efforts in their new role.
With the response to the Governor’s “Stay at Home” order, we suspended accepting donations of clothing. House supplies, diapers (sizes 3&5) and food items are accepted with gratitude. We ask that items be left outside our door, or you may call for pick-up outside your home, 527-8097. Our families continue to work via phone with some community agencies for support.
A huge shout of out of gratitude goes to the creative ways our greater community has shown their support! Phone calls and e-mails inquiring on our well-being and needs, ending with, “don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything.” Gift cards for groceries, take-out dinners, deliveries of diapers, paper products, pantry supplies, and donation checks, have all appeared at our door.
We remain more than grateful, yet know we have a long road still ahead of us supporting our homeless families. BH will be operating shelter services for an additional 4 months this year. A dad with 3 young children, ages 8 months, 3 years and 7, has been solely responsible for their care and schooling during the day, as his wife works at the local supermarket. His plan to be hired for seasonal landscape work, is now on hold, with local daycare/preschool programs closed. Our annual May fundraiser has been indefinitely postponed due to COVID19, with an estimated loss of revenue of $4000, our two major fundraisers scheduled for late summer/early fall, could very well be in jeopardy as well.
Summer learning programs are a powerful tool to help young children and youth maintain academic growth made during the school year. We are not certain about camp and other summer opportunities at this time. We are certain however, that it’s imperative that we provide educational experiences for our families.
Plans for children and parents to grow a vegetable garden are underway. Any gardeners interested in supporting this effort please reach out. For those with a love to build, a picnic table for adults and smaller one for children would be fantastic. Bike helmets for ages 3, 5, 7 and youth 10-13 are also welcome.
A more intimate look:
A family was entering Belknap House for the first time. A mother and her two young boys. You could tell the boys were scared, tired and unsure of what was happening to them. Why were they going to live at Belknap House? What exactly is this place? Where is their apartment and why aren’t they going home?
These are some of the many questions that go through the minds of the children when they enter Belknap House, a cold-weather emergency shelter for families. We are not able to answer these difficult questions which are for mom and dad, however we are able to make them feel comfortable in their new surroundings.
We start by letting them choose a special pillowcase, with a design they like, that is theirs to keep. These were made for us by local quilters, with all sorts of wonderful designs for toddlers, older kids, teens and adults. They also can choose one of the many donated handmade blankets, quilts and afghans. If they require hats, mittens, scarves or a winter coat we provide those as well.
Then the fun part begins as we show them around the house. Belknap House looks like a home, not an institution. They see a washer and dryer for mom/dad to wash their clothes. A kitchen with a large table for everyone to sit around for the family meal and to tell stories. Next, they see the children’s playroom. Eyes light up with wonder as they survey the room. First, they see the bookshelf loaded with board games, books, puzzles and movies. They move on to the play kitchen area with baby dolls and the puppet theater with puppets of various kinds. They see the shelves loaded with blocks, legos, duplos and other various toys. The computers they can use to do homework. Their eyes look as if it is Christmas morning. And they look up and ask, “Are we allowed to play with all these toys?” The answer is always, “Of course.”
Next, we move onto the booknook with shelves of books surrounded by big comfy pillows to sit on or lean against.
A place to hang out and relax and perhaps have a bit of quiet time when needed.
We move to go upstairs to their bedroom and they see real beds and a room that looks like their bedroom at their home. The children quickly start claiming which bed is theirs. Usually, the top bunk is the most coveted by the children. They also find out there are so many bathrooms and they want to know which one they are supposed to use. There are so many!
This is only the start of a family’s stay with Belknap House. In addition, each family receives a Belknap House canvas bag loaded with pasta, sauce, vegetables, peanut butter, jam, canned fruit, etc. If we are fortunate to have other items on hand, we also provide them with bread, frozen meat, frozen dinners, and milk.
The staff at Belknap House help to provide stability and guidance at a time of upheaval and insecurity in a family’s life. Please help to support Belknap House so we may continue to support homeless families in Belknap County. Click here for more info.