Shelter: to cover, protect, defend; provide refuge.
PLACERVILLE — For 41 years, New Morning Youth and Family Services has quietly sheltered the youth of El Dorado County, providing a safe place with a listening ear and an open heart. It’s the only shelter for runaway and homeless youth in El Dorado County.
Now New Morning is now only days away from not having to shift kids around to make room and having a place for kids to play Ping-Pong or pool, work on computers and read or study in a quiet space. Soon, a new house — not an institution, but a beautiful, six bedroom, four bathroom 3,500-square-foot home located just off Ray Lawyer Drive — will open.
To celebrate, the public is invited to participate in the Walk for Shelter, a 3.4-mile journey from Hangtown Village Square (1200 Broadway in Placerville) to the new Emergency Youth Shelter, on Saturday, Sept. 24. Check-in at 10:30 a.m.
The new house is close to the Boys and Girls Club, El Dorado County Library, the El Dorado County Fairgrounds, Historical Museum, Joe’s Skatepark, bus routes and movie theaters. It has two wings with three bedrooms and two bathrooms each, separated by a great room, kitchen and office. Solar tubes and windows fill the place with light and everything is accessible for people with disabilities.
“We’re very excited. We wanted a home and the ANOVA architects who worked with us really ‘got’ that,” said David Ashby, executive director for New Morning since 1997.
The $2.2 million home is being paid for in part by a $950,000 grant from the Emergency Housing Program and by New Morning’s capital campaign fund. “We are the first children’s shelter to receive money from EHAP,” said Ashby, “and we started a capital campaign in 2008 just two weeks before the market crashed — but we didn’t give up.”
When New Morning was founded in 1970 as a response to a drug and alcohol epidemic affecting teens, children kicked out of their homes, runaways, abused, suicidal or substance abusing teens had no place to go except to Juvenile Hall, regardless of whether they had committed a crime.
Quickly realizing a need to provide for more than counseling, New Morning set up host family homes for youth who needed a respite from their own homes or a safe place to stay until something more permanent was available. The situation wasn’t ideal and in 1992 New Morning got a permanent emergency shelter when Mel Barber donated a house and the organization used loans and in-kind donations to move the house to property it had purchased on Spanish Ravine Road.
“The streets are so narrow here and the mover, who was from Sacramento, was so impressed with the neighbors’ cooperation to get the house moved that he knocked half off his moving fee,” said Ashby.
The Spanish Ravine house is homey and comfortable, furnished entirely with donated materials. There are apple trees in the yard and frisky kittens peeking through the door. But at only 1,000 square feet, it’s just too small.
“These kids come in with issues and they need space — not just physical space, but lots of personal and emotional space,”said Kathy Brook-Johnson, New Morning assistant director of Programming.
Boys’ and girls’ bedrooms are kept separate so shelter manager Mary Tyler often has to shift kids from one room to another as new arrivals come in.
“We have room for six beds, but three or four kids fill the house up ” said Ashby. “It’s not uncommon for this to be the first warm meal they’ve had in weeks and, for some, it’s the first time they’ve ever sat down to a meal with a family.”
“It’s our goal to reunite families,” said Brook-Johnson, “and this is a safe, wonderful place for children to come and decompress — but it’s not home. ”
The shelter is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day, for children ages 6-17. Everyone in the shelter is part of managing it — setting up the daily activities, food preparation and decision making involves all the children staying at the shelter and the adults who supervise.
Collaboration with school districts and other non-profit organizations has allowed New Morning to expand throughout the county to provide services for more than 2,000 youth ages 6-17 at more than 20 sites. In addition to the 24-hour emergency shelter, New Morning provides alcohol and drug treatment, counseling and support for pregnant and parenting teens, counseling for high-risk youth, school-based therapy with counselors who go into the schools, parent/child interactive therapy for children ages 3-7 and home based therapy. Services are provided by licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists.
With the main New Morning counseling center in the El Dorado County Office of Education and a counseling office in Cameron Park, most of the counseling is done out in the field.
“We have incredible partnerships with the schools,” said Ashby. “It’s a priority to make sure the child has a safe place to come to talk about their concerns and when a child has to ride to and from a counseling office with an angry parent, they decide not to come.”
“Kids who get counseling have improved attendance and grades,” said Brooks-Johnson, “so it’s a win-win situation. By being incorporated in the schools, it removes the stigma that used to be associated with getting counseling.”
New Morning is still almost $300,000 short of what is needed to pay off the house. Board members have made presentations around the county to raise money and the house on Spanish Ravine is for sale. “We’d like to keep it for an independent living facility for teens in transition — those too old for us to serve,” said Ashby, “but right now we need to sell it to pay for the new house.”
In addition to the Walk for Shelter, counselors have planned an online auction of youth artwork later in the fall.
“Our community will make it happen,” said Brook-Johnson with conviction.”We are proceeding in good faith that we will be able to come in here free and clear of debt.”
The Soroptimist Club of Cameron Park has donated $1,000 for furnishings, but Ashby said, “We don’t want to buy brand-new stuff that the kids won’t feel comfortable using. We’d rather buy or receive donations of gently used furniture.”
Of the children who were served by New Morning in 2010, 89 percent had been physically or sexually abused; 80 percent were living with parents who abused alcohol and/or drugs; 72 percent had witnessed parents beating each other or their children; and 69 percent had been abandoned by their parents. New Morning is also the receiving home for El Dorado County when parents are arrested and children in the home need a safe place to stay while Child Protective Services organizes a more permanent home.
New Morning is the largest provider of mental health services and the longest serving non-profit organization in the county.
“What do you say about a place that saved your life?” said Shawn Truesdale, 32. “When I had just turned 16, I was having a rough time with my folks and I ran away. A sheriff’s officer brought me to the New Morning shelter. I stayed there four months. They kept me off the streets, they taught me I was worth something and they gave me tools that helped me deal with anger, feeling worthless and all the negative emotions that were overwhelming.”
Truesdale said he uses the skills he learned at New Morning, including cooking, every day of his life. “I have four kids of my own and a decent relationship with my folks now.” He is a landscaper and plans to attend HVAC school.
“I want more people to realize what New Morning does. Without them I would have been dead or ended up in jail or an addict. They open the lines of communication with parents and the counselors are great,” Truesdale said, adding that he still visits “Mama Jen,” one of New Morning’s counselors from time to time.
A few months ago Truesdale saw two young girls, obviously in bad shape, hitchhiking along the road. He picked them up and took them directly to the New Morning shelter.”They provide a safe place that’s perfect for kids.”
For more information about New Morning and its services, to donate to the capital campaign or help with their wish list visit newmorningyfs.org.