"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

Another Step Closer to Home

By S. Georgia Kitt

Bethany House Services wouldn’t be the organization it is today without the dedication and efforts of (from left) Sisters Delia Sizler, Mary Stanton, RSM, and Mary Grafe.

It was the summer of 1983 and the Sisters of Charity had experienced a spring Chapter where preparation and discussions centered on how can we more truly journey with the poor and risk actions that will effect justice? Together we prayed that the flow of God’s work would find an opening in us. S. Mary Grafe was working at Peaslee Neighborhood Center among the poor, asking how to serve the unmet needs of mothers and children without a home. S. Dee Sizler was aware of homelessness among single women and witnessed the poverty of families and their lack of services, asking: Can we collaborate with other existing groups to effect change? It was as if the parable of the sower and the seed was catching hold as the seed fell on ‘good ground.’ Both women were spurred on by the Acts of Chapter 1983 “to know the needs of our sisters and brothers and to dare to risk a caring response.”

From this impetus by the SC Community and their ready supporters, Bethany House was birthed into being. The early founding group gathered from a variety of faith backgrounds, all bringing energy for action. They brought a heart for mothers and children needing a home. Barbara Poppe called the partners together; Harold Dreibelbis provided financial expertise; Becky Johnson summoned contributors; Church of Our Savior and Church Women United joined in. It was with the help of the Franciscan Friars, Province of St. John the Baptist, who owned the house, and so many committed supporters, that this house of hospitality came into existence. Bethany House opened in 1983 with S. Dee as the first director. They welcomed at-risk families and homeless mothers and children with a mission to find solutions to achieve housing stability. Their shared vision was to live in a community where all families have a place to call home and no one spends a night without shelter. 

Over the founding years new partners joined the effort; in 1985, Mercy Sister Mary Stanton became the director and the Homeless Coalition was formed. Increased demands called for more beds, homes were added and eventually more services were provided thus changing their name to Bethany House Services (BHS). In 2000, they collaborated with the Hamilton County Department of Human Services and others to form the Family Shelter Partnership Program. This addition and emerging grants enabled Bethany House to add permanent housing services. In 2013, Susan Schiller became the first lay leader and third generation of leaders. She was relentless in seeking additional mental health services for the organization. By 2018 they were in five locations, providing 100 beds. In 2020, they began a capital campaign for a consolidated shelter and services center.

In the fall of 2022, a new era for the agency began. BHS welcomed Peg Dierkers as the fourth CEO and Carolyn Washburn as Board chair. In a year of transformation they raised $20 million and opened a new modern, consolidated, community-style facility enabling Bethany House Services to enhance efficiency and maximize resources. All services are on one site. Guests have their own rooms and the dignity and privacy that offers. They are ensuring that all families have access to the services and care needed, offering 43 private family bedrooms and space for children to play, learn, grow and thrive. S. Dee is most proud of the directors and dedicated Board members who have kept BHS together, moving forward, particularly past director Susan Schiller.  

In an interview with guest Carrie it was apparent that she was making the best of her time at BHS, participating in life skills classes, and working with her case manager on completing all the necessary steps to find housing. Carrie and her 20-year-old son Matthew had been at Bethany for almost 200 days; their situation is not typical. Matthew is disabled and the family has a dog, Max, who is currently being cared for by another local shelter. Staff went the extra mile with her; these were unique barriers that Carrie has had to work through before she was able to get housing. Her advice to others: “Be open to help; it’s here! Don’t give up. Develop a schedule, learn to be organized and follow a budget. Then a home and job can follow.”

Campus ministry students from Seton Hill University provided service to Bethany House Services during their spring break in April 2023.

The new BHS setting is ensuring that all families have access to the services and care needed. The leadership team has welcomed the potential opportunities with enthusiasm. Adult education, mentorship programs, support groups and counseling are offered on-site. Other services include medical and mental health that are often obstacles to a stable environment. Service providers are empowering parents and children through guidance and tools for parents along with academic, social, emotional and therapeutic children’s activities. During this initial year BHS has offered more than 50,572 bed nights in shelter for 251 families. A typical stay is 39-45 days. The programming and services for guests is showing promising results so far. Eighty-six percent of the families who graduated from the program have not returned and 82 percent have remained housed. Current Board member Sister of Charity Lynn Heper pointed out another professional benefit. “These social workers, case workers and support staff all come to the same facility now, not five different locations. They serve, interact and support one another professionally. This results in a wealth of knowledge, techniques and shared skills to make a real difference for guests and themselves. It’s a win for all.”

What’s next? As Bethany House Services takes time to celebrate its 40th anniversary this October, the organization sees a need to further develop childcare on-site and increase the number of outside providers. In an interview with current Board Chair Carolyn Washburn they are not resting. As past editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer (until 2015) she was aware of the helplessness experienced around children and poverty in the Cincinnati community. She wanted to find ways to help people better understand their priorities as voters and committed citizens. Both Carolyn and her husband volunteered initially at BHS with dinners and childcare; she was very impressed with the organization. Soon she agreed to serve on the development committee and eventually the executive committee, offering gifts from her valuable connections in the Cincinnati community. Carolyn is moved by the potential in the women and children BHS is serving; she doesn’t want to lose these important benefits for the community.

Now, in 2023, with the new facility functioning, the Board and leadership feel ready to embark on the new strategic plan. They are asking how the Cincinnati community needs Bethany House Services next? The Board would like to see those who have been nurtured from services received at BHS to become more visible, to find ways for the community to get to know their families. Carolyn shared, “We need to continue to tell their story and their value as persons and as citizens in the community.”

All interviewed for this article expressed the significant importance of keeping the issue of affordable housing in the forefront. All will stay committed and keep the pressure on for housing to receive the attention it deserves. Thanks to the believers in Bethany House, past and present, Cincinnati families are another step closer to home.

(From left) BHS Board member S. Lynn Heper and Gail Myers, current committee member, collaborated on the history wall that now greets all those who enter the new Bethany House Services shelter and services center.

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