After 20 years of providing help to over 1,300 children in the Fremont area, the Jefferson House will close its doors on Jan. 6.
“We’re just so thankful for the community’s support over all these years,” said Chris Sewall, program director for the Jefferson House. “We were able to serve so many kids during that time, and we couldn’t have done it without their support.”
The youth residential shelter and group home, which opened in 1999, is a program of Heartland Family Service. The shelter has provided care for youth and families through meeting their needs and teaching them skills.
The Jefferson House’s closing came from Heartland’s decision to prioritize non-residential services for youth, Heartland Chief Program Officer Marry O’Neill said.
“We just felt that the needs of some of the youth that we had, there’s just more services that we felt like we needed to provide to them that we did not support,” she said. “And for us to really provide the best programming, if we can’t provide all of those services that those kids need, then we feel like we’re not able to do it in a way that we think is going to provide them for the most success and the best outcome.”
O’Neill said much of the funding for the Jefferson House has come from the government through grants and contracts.
“When you have governmental contracts, you’re really kind of at the mercy of what those expectations are within those contracts,” she said. “So as things in the environment change, the community changes.”
The rates set by the government also made it difficult to pay high salaries for its staff, O’Neill said.
“Also, in a tight labor market, we just experience a lot of issues of being able to sustain staff in the program as well,” she said. “That’s kind of been that way for the past couple years of just that struggle.”
Heartland has also noticed a push in providing services to juveniles in their homes earlier on as opposed to out-of-home placement, O’Neill said.
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“If we can really get services to kids and keep families intact and keep them together, that’s wonderful,” she said. “So the need has gone down a little bit.”
With the youth living in the Jefferson House, O’Neill said they will either go home or move to another placement, depending on where they’re from. Heartland also plans to offer positions to staff currently employed at the shelter.
“So we’re working right now to place as many staff as we can, if it’s a good match and something that they’re interested in,” she said.
As to the future of the building itself, Jessica Fickbohm, president of the Jefferson House Advisory Board, said the board currently owns the building.
“So the intention of that, if we’re going to sell it, that’s still in transition here as we kind of discuss amongst our board members on how we can best use this facility that addresses community needs,” she said. “Can we work with another nonprofit in the community that fulfills a need for the area?”
As Heartland moves forward, O’Neill said the organization plans on expanding its community support program and meeting with community nonprofit leaders to fill holes in what people need.
“With a lot of our programs, we have expertise in lots of different areas, but we know that here, our focus has been on kids and families,” she said. “So if that’s something that we can fill a gap and the community really feels like this is a need, then we definitely want to be at the table in talking about that and how we can assist in that way.”
Fickbohm said the advisory board has been proud to have a great partnership with Heartland with their efforts for youth.
“We also want to thank our community for the support, the donors, big and small, that have come forth and helped support those kids,” she said. “We just really appreciate all of that all over the years.”
With the community donations, O’Neill said the Jefferson House had been able to do so much more for the people it helped.
“Those donations have let us be able to be creative in how we serve those kids and families,” she said. “So we’re just very appreciative of that ability and for all the donors that we’ve had over the years here in Fremont and the Fremont area.”
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