In its 15-year history, Blessing House in Lorain has cared for more than 1,400 children in crisis. Their tiny handprints cover the walls throughout the house.
Now the facility’s staff, board and other supporters are working to help the ministry expand in order to assist even more families. They recently unveiled plans for a spacious new, one-story facility that would be financed through “Be Part of the Heart,” a $3.3 million capital campaign.
Sister Mary Berigan’s dream is to expand Blessing House so it can care for up to 28 children at a time. She, Donna Humphrey, the business manager, and the Blessing House Board of Directors, led by Mary Herrick, president, have developed a plan for a new 16,730-square-foot, one-story facility around the corner from the current house. The new facility would be built on land to be purchased from nearby St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Elyria Township.
Sister Mary, a Notre Dame sister and Blessing House executive director, founded the faith-based, nonprofit ministry in 2005. Before that, she was a Catholic school teacher and principal.
Every child touched by Blessing House has a story, Sister said. Many have been abused or come from dysfunctional families. But Blessing House, which is licensed as a residential children’s crisis care center, is always ready to help. It operates 24/7 and provides a safe, homelike environment for up to 10 children at a time from birth to age 12.
Once they’ve been to Blessing House, they are part of our family,” Sister Mary said, something that has had a transformative effect on countless children. At Blessing House she said children learn that people care about them. It also allows them to be children and to have fun.
She and the staff welcomed Bishop Nelson Perez to the house on July 22. They shared the past, present and future vision for Blessing House with him, showed him around the facility and introduced him to the children. Notre Dame Sister Rita Mary Harwood, who leads the diocesan parish life and development office, also joined the group for the tour.
Blessing House is known as “God’s Project of Hope.” The support staff focuses on care for the whole child, Sister Mary said. They provide developmental interventions, academic support and continuous assessment, as well as trauma informed care, healthy food and appropriate clothing. There are four bedrooms and children have access to secure play areas both inside and outside the house. The ministry operates from two adjacent houses with a combined space of 5,028 square feet, including residential and administrative space.
The facility assists families in crisis by providing a safe place for children. Sister Mary said sometimes a parent is unable to care for a child due to mental health, substance abuse, legal, medical or other issues. In other cases, grandparents raising children may need a respite. About 17 percent of Blessing House children are being raised by grandparents, she added.
Whatever the crisis, the Blessing House staff is available at any time to assist a child in need.
Some of Blessing House’s earliest residents are reaching adulthood. Sister shared the story of one young man who spent time at the house several years ago before he, his siblings and their single mother moved out of state. Now a high school graduate who is preparing to enter college, he returned to the area recently and visited Sister to thank her and the staff for helping to keep his family together. He’s hoping for a career in law enforcement, she added.
One thing former Blessing House residents love to do is search for their handprints, name and date on the walls. Each child who stays at Blessing House adds his or her handprint, first name and year to the wall. As a result, the walls are filled with small handprints representing all the lives touched by the ministry.
The facility fills a valuable role in Lorain County, Sister Mary said, and the need is great. It is one of only two crisis care residential facilities for children in Northeast Ohio and the only one in Lorain County. Most times there is a waiting list and the house has operated at capacity for the last three years. Often there are multiple children in a family but space limitations make it difficult to accommodate the requests of large families.
The current house is two floors with bedrooms on both levels and administrative offices divided between the main house and an adjacent house. Space is at a premium, with every square inch utilized. The new facility will have eight bedrooms and seven full bathrooms and will allow greater flexibility for families with multiple children, Sister Mary said.
For more information on Blessing House and its Be Part of the Heart campaign, visit blessinghouse.org.