By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
As picnic booths sprout along Frankfort Avenue on the St. Joseph Children’s home campus, something more important is happening behind the scenes.
The dozens of children who live at the home are moving into four new cottage-like residences this week. The residences have been planned for the last eight or so years and cost about $6 million.
But they’re well worth the price, St. Joseph leaders say, noting that the new accommodations will be therapeutic for the abused and neglected children in their care.
“They have been so excited,” said Andrea Pridham, development director for the home. “They have had the unique ability to watch the construction everyday. It’s like a family watching their home be built.”
The new residential buildings, located behind St. Joseph’s main 19th century building, were open to the public last Thursday, July 9, during a “home-warming” celebration. Five children cut a ribbon in front of one building before getting their first look inside.
Each building — or cottage, as they’re called at St. Joseph — can house up to 12 children, and each child will have his or her own room.
The cottage that was open to the public last week had an open floor plan with brightly colored contemporary furnishings in navy blue and bright orange. The centerpiece of the cottage is a sunken common area furnished with two sitting/TV watching areas anchored by large flat-panel screens. In the center, two sets of tables and chairs give the children a place to gather for games and projects.
The cottage also has a dining room filled with one long wooden table dressed for the house warming celebration in brightly-colored place settings that coordinated with the other furnishings. The building also has a computer room, a warming kitchen (so meals can be heated and served at the dining table) and a laundry room.
While the look and feel is more homey than institutional, each cottage will have therapists on site. And staff will be able to observe the children from office space in the cottage.
“At the end of the day, our job, St. Joe’s job, is to help these kids learn how to be successful in a family,” Pridham said. “These cottages will be a huge step in that direction. They’ll have the privacy and independence they need. They’ll also have the group-home setting,” which, she said, is therapeutic.
St. Joseph serves children who are wards of the state ages 6 to 14. About half of the children, on average, return eventually to a family member, Pridham said. But the other half, on average, will go into a foster home and aim to be adopted.
In order to do either of those successfully, Pridham said, the children must learn how to live in a family.
“How do you learn how to be in a family?” Pridham asked rhetorically. The answer, she said, is to provide a family-like environment.
That’s why the cottages are important, she said. And that’s why the children have private rooms and a common living and dining area, too, she said.
During the July 9 celebration, Kosair Charities also announced that it is donating $1 million to the home.