Grants help Ward Home help at-risk youth
Photos of Ward Home Inc.’s young charges often show them flashing smiles, now that they have a reason.
“I could sit here all day and tell you some of the stories of the backgrounds of these kids: physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse. It’s all over the place,” executive director Bill Wolfe said. “And without some guidance, they might grow up to have a job, but they’re not going to grow up to have healthy relationships.”
For more than a century, the nonprofit organization has provided for children whose circumstances have put them in otherwise hopeless situations. Starting in 1955, the Robert Boyd Ward Home on Moffett Street in Mt. Lebanon opened its doors to teenagers and young adults who otherwise would be without a home.
“As times have changed, we’ve evolved,” Wolfe said. “In 1997, studies and approaches showed that it would be better if organizations like Ward Home were in communities where the kids actually were from. That’s when we sold the Moffett Street location, and we now have three sites.”
Conducting a supervised independent living program for individuals in foster care ages 16 to 21, the organization can house up to 10 people each in Pittsburgh’s Friendship neighborhood for girls, Swissvale for boys and young mothers in Wilkinsburg. The administrative office continues to be South Hills-based, in Scott Township.
“Where we differ from a lot of other organizations that run group homes and shelters: Not only do we provide the living facilities for the kids, but we constantly are teaching them life skills, everything from how to balance your checking account, how to prepare a list to go grocery shopping, buy healthy foods, live a healthy lifestyle, complete job applications, complete résumés,” Wolfe explained. “What we consider equally important: We raise money to give these kids the sort of extras that kids need to really feel good about their lives.”
One such initiative is the recently launched is the Health and Well-Being Enhancement Program, which teaches the importance and value of living a healthy lifestyle, including nutritious cooking and the importance of physical exercise. Ward Home received a $20,000 multi-year grant for the program from the Allegheny County Medical Society Foundation, to complement funding from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation.
“What they enable us to do is add a little bit of money to each child’s food allowance each week, so that they can add more healthy foods to their diets: fruits, vegetables, lean meats,” Wolfe said. “The grants also allow us to put in healthy exercise programs. We bought all the kids Fitbits, and we have contests on a continuing basis. A teen who has the most steps in a given month gets a gift card. We’ve bought exercise equipment, a treadmill. We take the teens horseback riding.”
In January, Ward Home kicked off another program, My Best Self, through a grant from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. The program is open to everyone in the county ages 12 to 21 who is in foster care.
“What this program is for is to build self-image and self-esteem,” Wolfe explained. “We provide them with the ability to go in and get their hair cut. The girls can get their hairdos done. They can get makeup training. They can get lotions. The boys can get shaves. They can do whatever they need to be properly groomed.”
The program, which has served nearly 100 youngsters so far and continues to grow, has a second component, according to Wolfe.
“We run workshops to talk about building your self-esteem and confidence, so that these kids can go out and apply for jobs, so that they can go to a college interview and be accepted into college or a trade school.”
Such activities certainly promote Ward Home’s efforts to help society at large by helping at-risk youth.
“The goal is to successfully transition them into a positive adult life where they become taxpayers,” Wolfe said, “not a drain on other taxpayers.”