Tucked away in the 8th Ward section of Johnstown, the Christian Home of Johnstown Inc. is quietly closing in on its 100th year in operation.
The organization was formed as an orphanage in 1908 by local women who wanted to help children who lost parents because of illness or as casualties of World War I.
Since then, the organization has expanded its services and now has five buildings throughout the community.
“We are one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in Cambria County,” said Trish Corle, executive director. “We are a community-based program, and we want to make our clients feel as normal as possible.”
One of the additions was the formation the federally funded Transitional Living Program.
“The program was started four years ago with the intent to help homeless young adults 16-21 years old,” case manager Sherie Young said. “We want to assist them with making a better life for themselves.”
Eligibility for the program is based on the age requirement and the applicant’s homeless status, which is verified by a referral.
Applicants younger than 18 must have court papers saying that they legally are adults.
“We also ask potential clients to write a 500-word essay telling us why they want to be in the program,” said Debi Gagermeier, another case manager.
“Of those interested in the program, 95 percent are accepted.
“This is a federal program, so kids can come to us from anywhere in the country.”
Gagermeier said that when children turn 18 and age out of the system, they often end up back on the streets because they have nowhere else to go.
“This is a safety net for them where they can learn life skills, and we assist them with finding a job,” she said. “Our kids do become successful, and this program does work.”
Young said young clients are reassured that they can depend on staff members. Too often, she said, clients have had no one to rely upon, including their parents.
Four people are in the program now, and more than 50 have successfully completed it since its inception.
Once in the program, clients can remain there for up to 18 months, although most stay between eight and nine months. Clients are housed in apartments and are responsible for upkeep, rent and utilities.
“You are reviewed every 90 days, and as you progress through the system you are expected to pay more of a percentage of your income,” Young said.
The program is simple, staff members said, but the rules are strongly enforced.
“We do have some people quit because of things like no smoking in the apartments, but you really have to mess up to be thrown out entirely,” Gagermeier said.
All clients must be employed or actively seeking employment while in the program and must attend a mandatory workshop once a month on topics ranging from drugs and alcohol to relationships and personal finance.
“We also require one-on-one meetings at least once a week,” Gagermeier said.
In addition to required meetings, Gagermeier and Young are available to program participants 24/7 for any reason, but no staff is on site at the apartment buildings.
“This is rare for transitional living programs,” Corle said.
“The point is to teach them how to be independent, and with us there watching every move, they are not able to accomplish that.”
After the clients successfully complete the program, it’s not uncommon to see them return to show the staff what they have been able to accomplish on their own.
“About 10 percent of our clients come back and let us know how they are doing,” Gagermeier said.
Corle said the Christian Home organization is trying to change the stigma often attached to being homeless.
“These are good kids who need our help, but due to circumstances, whether it be emotionally or socially, are in the situation they are.”
Many people wouldn’t ask for help, because they are scared to take that first step to having a better life, Corle said.
“We want them to know there is nothing to be afraid of, and we can be of tremendous help – and if we can’t help, we will get you in contact with someone who can,” she said.
For more information on the Christian Home, contact 535-8775.
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