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Nazareth Home closes its doors after 25 years

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Children at the Nazareth Home in East Chicago play druing a summer morning at the facility in 2012. (NWIC file photo)

 

BY ERIN CISZCZON

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      EAST CHICAGO – What started in 1993 as a way to confront the growing problem of abused and abandoned children with unique medical needs grew into a larger, 24-hour home for medically compromised babies and children with no place to go. Last month, however, after more than 25 years of caring and concern, the Nazareth Home made the difficult decision to close its doors on Aug. 1.

      Nazareth Home has been hosted and operated by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. It first opened in 1993 as a foster home, but in early 2018, changed its status to a licensed group home for medically compromised children newborn to age six in an effort to qualify as a shelter for children under the care of the Indiana Department of Child Services. That effort, however, did not materialize as DCS moved toward placing children in private foster homes.

      During its time of operation, Nazareth Home assisted more than 230 children. “This is a sad time for all of us. We can take comfort, when we remember all the special children, over the past 25+ years, who have better lives because they received spiritual, emotional and physical care at Nazareth Home,” stated Sister Joetta Huelsmann, provincial of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.

      Nazareth Home did take in two children last year, one in April and another in September, that were later released back into the custody of their parents. Since then, the federal Department of Children and Families (DCF) has not reached out to the group home for assistance with child placement. Therefore, no children were in the care of the home at the time of the closure.

      The Nazareth Home staff fluctuated over the years from 17 to about 12, which included cooks, housekeeping, childcare and maintenance personnel.

      “The leadership made the decision to close because we can’t in fairness keep the staff, especially with no children,” said Sister Mary Ellen Goeller, PHJC, executive director of Ancilla Systems Inc. in Hobart, an internal service organization for the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ and a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.    

      While the timing of the closure might lead people to think the COVID-19 pandemic somehow impacted the facility, it’s more the result of the passage of the Family First Act. That federal law adopted in 2018 is based on the idea that, “The child welfare system will work toward keeping families together by providing access to the right prevention services for the right family, to ensure a stable and safe environment focused on long-term success.”

      “There’s the belief that children should not go to a group home,” explained Sister Goeller, “that they are better off going back to their parents or to a foster family.”

      But the advantage of the Nazareth Home, she said, was the ability to provide expert care for children with special needs and the one-on-one loving attention given the children. 

      “I don’t know anyone who has ever said a bad word about the place,” said Sister Goeller. “We’ve had many benefactors who have remained dedicated over the years and we are grateful for them.”

      Before making the news public, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ mailed a letter to all donors in late July notifying them of the decision to close.

      “Because of generous supporters like you, Nazareth Home provided loving care to more than 230 children for the past 27 years, and we are eternally grateful for your commitment to providing hope to these children,” the letter stated. “We ask for your prayers for all the children who need this kind of care but will never know it.”

      Bishop of the Diocese of Gary Robert J. McClory was also notified through a special correspondence and expressed a deep appreciation for the ministry of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.

      “I can imagine the profound sadness the religious community experienced in making the difficult decision to close the home,” said Bishop McClory. “This is a time to thank God for all the blessings received through Nazareth Home. We pray that the needs met by Nazareth Home will continue to be met in the future in new ways.”

      Angela Curtis, director of the Nazareth Home, said what made the place special was the care that they gave to the children that came to the home with a variety of medical needs. She pointed out the access to heart monitors and “a whole gamut of things to offer care and support.” The home was originally licensed for a total of eight beds - six beds and two emergency beds.

      “It’s a tremendous loss,” Curtis said. “For 25 years the staff there dedicated everything they had to the children. It’s just a tremendous loss to the community.”

      Curtis knows the mission of Nazareth Home not only from a professional standpoint but a personal one as well. Her son, now 13, spent the first year of his life at Nazareth Home. He was in a fragile state at the time and his biological parents had abandoned him. Curtis later adopted him.

      “(Nazareth Home) is a wonderful place,” she said. It’s where he went and that was good for me. I find joy in that.”

      A special private closing ceremony was held for staffers and volunteers. For more information, visit poorhandmaids.org.

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