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Shelter in the storm

Verda’s House helps local children in crisis

Shelter in the storm

Leigha Sarasqueta works with children on an arts and crafts project at Verda’s House crisis shelter in Turlock.


POSTED September 13, 2011 9:49 p.m.

Verda’s House looks like a cross between a daycare center and the home of a very devoted grandma. The kids have decorated the dining area with seasonal artwork, there are toys in every room, and even the bathrooms have tiny toddler-sized toilets. The hope is that when kids visit Verda’s House they feel like they are in a safe family environment where they can work through any crisis they might have at home.

Verda’s House is a shelter for children who are facing crisis situations at home. The shelter is one of five Children’s Crisis Center shelters in Stanislaus County and it opened in 2006. The non-profit organization focuses on preventing child abuse by giving high-risk children a safe place to go before they are harmed. Children’s Crisis Center serves all children from birth to 17 years old, but the majority of children at Verda’s House are under the age of 6.

Children stay at Verda’s House anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Some are the children of abused women, some come from homeless families, and others are brought in by police officers and social workers for protective care. Some come in for a few hours a week while parents are in court or at counseling, and some stay overnight while their parents work on issues at home.

“Our hope is that the stress within the family will not be played out in front of or on the child,” said Colleen Garcia, executive director of Children’s Crisis Center.  

Children are fed three home-cooked meals per day that are prepared in the kitchen at Verda’s House. Each Children’s Crisis Center shelter has a cook trained in child nutrition who can prepare family-style meals for the kids. Each child who stays overnight picks a bed in one of three bedrooms, and that is his or her bed for as long as they stay. There is also a supply of blankets donated by community members, and children are welcome to take a blanky home if they get attached.

“We went them to feel like they’re in the home of a family member. Maybe an aunt or a grandma’s house, actually we considered naming the shelter Grandma Verda’s House. We don’t want them to feel at all institutionalized,” Garcia said.

Between meals the children play with each other and the teachers at Verda’s House. Their play areas are painted in bright colors and are full of toys. Monte Vista Chapel donated a stage area with changeable backgrounds so that children can put on shows or just play pretend.  Each child is assessed for their developmental capabilities and needs and their playtime is structured around those needs. Children’s Crisis Center employs credentialed teachers who have an emphasis on early childhood development. The games and playtime are considered therapeutic play, because they are designed to help children through trauma.

“We’re influencing children. It’s different from day care because children form a bond with their teachers. We want to teach them how to form family bonds because the way we parent is often based on what we learned as children. We want to break that cycle of generational dysfunction,” Garcia said.

Children’s Crisis Center serves all of Stanislaus County. Verda’s House is located in Turlock but it also serves the Westside communities including Newman and Patterson.  The center has a 24-hour crisis line that parents can call if they ever need help. That number is 577-4413.

“Our goal is to help stabilize families in crisis so that children remain safe from abuse or neglect. We want to encourage families to call before their situation reaches the crisis stage,” Garcia said.

Verda’s House and all of the Children’s Crisis Center shelters are funded partly through state grants, but they rely on private donations to stay open. Verda’s House is hosting a tennis tournament on Sept. 24 to raise money for the Children’s Crisis Center. The event will be held at private courts around Modesto and all levels of players are welcome. They are also accepting donations for the silent auction and court sponsorships. Interested participants can call 577-0138 and ask for Helen.

The shelter also needs donations of toddler and household items. A complete wish list can be found at childrenscrisiscenter.com. Donations of money can be made online or by calling 557-0138.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, email agoodwin@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.

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