August 19, 2019
The Noyes Home for Children
DEFINITION: Having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature.
When you enter the double doors of The Noyes Home for Children, you enter to the sound of children laughing. And the clanking sounds of the kitchen, preparing the next meal. And the sound of the staff members, planning the next activity … or the conversations of volunteers, some organizing supplies and others hammering repairs into the historic staircase.
It’s a typical Friday morning, but it’s anything but typical. For 125 years, the Noyes Home doors have greeted children, families and community volunteers with the sounds of family – and the sounds of hope for a new start.
A Safe Place to Call Home
Founded in 1894, the Noyes Home is absolutely uncommon in St. Joseph, and uncommon across the entire Midwest. The organization serves an average of 32 children and youth each day, from infants to teenagers, who call the Noyes Home “home” 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Maximum capacity is 50 children, and in recent history, a variance has been secured to exceed maximum capacity to ensure homeless children have a safe place to call home. In total, hundreds of referrals are received each year across the Noyes Home services.
“Our doors are open to children who are experiencing temporary homelessness, or have a situation at home like a lack of food or safety – really, any situation that puts a child in harm’s way is a reason to bring the child to safety here. We also offer services to children who are part of the foster care system,” says Chelsea Howlett, executive director. “We are not an orphanage, or a ‘scared straight program.’ We are a loving, functioning home for a short-term situation, and our goal is that families return to their homes, together, and are strong and stable.”
In 2018 the average length of stay at the Noyes Home was 67 days, with some children staying just a few days and others several months. “Our goal is to provide a safe, structured place of hope and serve as a ‘restart’ while families decide their next steps toward stability,” says Howlett. “Here, they know they are loved, but they also learn new life skills to take back to their homes.”
The region’s only Crisis Nursery is located here, caring for infants and toddlers when home situations become unsafe or too overwhelming. It’s the only place where the youngest of children can receive immediate care and lodging, regardless of circumstance or time of day. A capital campaign was completed in 2012 that helped create new programs like a preschool area, complete with shelves of learning activities, toddler beds and cheerful stained-glass windows, a constant reminder of the home’s unique architecture and its century-plus legacy.
Inspiration, Inside and Out
The legacy of the Noyes Home is also part of the legacy of LUBA, (Ladies Union Benevolent Association), a women-led organization committed to leadership and service that has managed the organization since 1894. In keeping with founder Charles Noyes’ vision to serve children in need, the LUBA board and the Noyes Home staff ensure the days are filled with arts and crafts, field trips, outside time, school and homework, family meetings, counseling sessions and study hall – mixed in with story time and much-needed down time. The halls are lined with inspiring quotes, and inside the stately library, a long line of arched windows spills sunlight onto shelves and shelves of books, board games and other learning activities. Downstairs, a bright and inspirational theater space (known as the Take a Seat Activity Room) offers a creative outlet. A climb up the beautiful main staircase leads to the girls’ and boys’ dormitory wings. With many single or two-person rooms, the walls are dotted with posters and homemade artwork; yet all are neat and well put-together.
“Several things surprise people about us,” says Howlett. “It surprises people to know that the Noyes Home residents attend camps and field trips throughout the summer, with funding help from local community organizations. Outside, they enjoy a community garden and orchard, large play area, basketball court and swimming visits to the Moila swimming pool, our next door neighbor,” says Howlett. “We know many of the residents and alumni who come to visit us have good childhood memories here. So many alumni stop by to share these memories with us, and we are reminded often that the Noyes Home is a true community treasure.”
All meals and snacks are prepared and served in the Noyes Home cafeteria, with children rotating through clean-up chores. The laundry room also helps paint the picture of this building as a fully-functioning, yet bustling, home. Several machines are lined up and rows of bedding, towels and other items line the brick walls. Residents learn to wash their own clothes as part of learning responsibility and life skills.
Heather Schwertel, HR Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator, explains says the staff helps the children served to know “their actions really do play a part in their own lives and everyone else’s. We also want to help them take a breath and think about what’s next. This is their chance to be taken care of in a loving environment and have some new thought processes, too,” she says. “Part of this process means we are big on giving back. We take the kids on several volunteer opportunities across the community, including serving meals during the summer, volunteering at Meadowview with seniors and random acts of kindness throughout St. Joseph.”
Seriously, This is a Big Birthday…For Everyone in the Community
As the 125th birthday celebration approaches, Howlett explains that birthdays are celebrated at the Noyes Home all year long. One local community resident takes the time to find out each month’s birthday list for the children living there, and then orders a special cake in that theme and delivers it. Other families in the community collect donations for the Noyes Home or supplies instead of birthday gifts. Some of these items, and others donated throughout the year, are part of the Noyes Home store, where the children’s siblings can choose items they want to give a brother or a sister for their birthday.
And the community definitely takes notice. When clothing, shoes and school supplies are needed, the team at the Noyes Home relies on the community to come through, explains Howlett. “It’s absolutely amazing how much the St. Joseph community cares about these kids,” she says. “They’ve never let us down. When we have a need, we can share it on Facebook or other platforms, and that need will be met – everything from baby formula to diapers and school items. Sometimes we say on a Friday we really need diapers or baby formula, and we receive boxes of them by Monday morning.”
The doors of the home are open to the community for tours and volunteering all year long, but a few key events during the year help generate support and greater understanding of the home’s critical mission. One of these is the annual Block Party, an annual summer event featuring food, music and fun additions like celebrity kickball games. An annual golf tournament, “Fore the Lord,” sponsored by Grace Evangelical Church helps generate operating dollars and takes place on the first Friday of June each year at Fairview Golf Course. The “Take a Seat” fundraiser, held on Aug. 24, 2019, is another opportunity to educate the community on the work of the Noyes Home and help offset the continuing costs.
Love Lives Here
“Across the seasons, community members step up to help with supplies and donations, responding with generosity to Facebook requests and online giving options,” says Howlett. “I think people sometimes hear that we have a large trust to help us help the children, but the truth is, we continue to expand our services like our nursery and our preschool services. Our cost of operations rises every year, as does the community need for the work we do. Because of the unique generosity of our community, we can offer hope and stability to the families in need that seek our services.”
“We don’t receive any state or federal funding, but the local community has always, always been there for us with donations, in-kind items and volunteer support. We are so grateful and we try to be as creative as we can to maintain our longevity,” she adds.
Etched glass above a doorway captures the essence of the Noyes Home in just three simple words: “Love Lives Here.” For so many reasons, there’s no place like the Noyes Home. Above all, it is a home – one that plans to keep its doors open as a symbol of love and hope for another 125 years.
Interested in being part of the “uncommon” story of the Noyes Home? Volunteers are needed year-round, as are in-kind donations, like baby and toddler supplies. You can learn more online, and the Noyes Home is also a part of Amazon Smile.
When visitors and locals visit historic Hall Street in St. Joseph, they usually look up. A lot. And then they stop and stare. They take pictures and walk very slowly. They usually return, because this neighborhood known as “Millionaire’s Row” tells the story of St. Joseph’s turn-of-the century wealth and opulence like nothing else.
What does the road to a dream look like? If it’s a sports dream, there are early, dark mornings – lacing up shoes before any lights flicker on the block. There are late nights, pushing past physical and emotional limits, even when it seems out of reach. There are countless sacrifices at every turn. And there are often amazing mentors and coaches, right there to say, “We don’t quit. Not today.”
What started 160 years ago has returned in a new way. Ask hundreds of customers and visitors, and they’ll say it’s right on time.
If you ask him about his career playing and coaching tennis, he’ll tell you he just hopes that people try the sport.
It’s not paintball. It’s not even a water balloon fight. It’s foam warfare, and there’s a good chance you’ll want to join the fun.