At Concourse House, A Decade of Helping Women and Children
By PETER VITOLO
When Concourse House opened its doors on April 22, 1991 its goal was to help single mothers with no place else to go. Now, a decade later, the 42-room shelter is reflecting on its accomplishments and preparing to celebrate its anniversary in the fall.
In 1986, the cornerstone of the creation of Concourse House was laid when Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation (FBHC), a not-for-profit housing manager and developer, purchased the building that was to become Concourse House from the House of the Comforter, a nursing home that moved to Westchester. After renovations were complete, Concourse House opened in the spring of 1991 as a Tier II shelter, meant to provide transitional services and temporary housing for single moms.
Located on the Grand Concourse at the corner of East 196th Street, the house provides teachers for pre-K level classes, a family services staff, case workers, a housing specialist and a psychotherapist, all in the effort to find new housing and jobs for each of the mothers who come in. The women stay until these requirements are met and they are fully back on their feet. The average stay of a family can range from nine months to a year, but there is no limit on a particular family's stay.
"The house has accomplished a big part of the original mission it set out to reach," said John Reilly, executive director of FBHC. "We wanted to set up a temporary residency for single moms, and we have succeeded in doing that for hundreds of families." Reilly added that Concourse House also provides community services, such as a morning childcare program.
Concourse House staff and residents say the organization has provided stability for women in need who are often given low priority by the government and society in general. "The system just doesn't seem to care about these women," said Manuela Schaudt, Concourse House's executive director. "We want to establish a community-based feeling where everyone here can feel like they are important."
Schaudt, who has worked at Concourse for eight years, and has led it for four, has the help of over 40 employees, and many interns from surrounding schools, such as Fordham University, Lehman College and Mt. St. Ursula.
During the day, the quiet in the halls at Concourse House belies the work being done to transform the lives of women and their families. The current contingent of 22 school-age children are taken to nearby PS 86 in the morning. Younger kids attend pre-school classes inside the house and go on class trips. The mothers are just as occupied. They are meeting with their case workers to find jobs they can interview for, and with the housing specialist to identify new housing.
Melinda Colon, who has worked at Concourse House for six years as a caseworker, believes it is successful because everyone works as a team. "Everyone here enjoys working with one another and we want to help these women," she said. "It's just a perfect environment."
Shantel Williams, a mother of two and a victim of battering, has lived at Concourse House since January. "I'm so glad that I came to this place," she said. "At other places, people just don't seem to care about you. They're not interested in helping you."
Williams was in the process of packing up, as she had just found a new job and housing for herself and her children. She proudly displayed all of the clothing and accessories that Concourse House provided her and her children with. "The Concourse House taught me to be a good mother," Williams said. "They stay on top of you and make sure you do the right thing. It's really built my self esteem."
Schaudt take pride in success stories like these. "When women come back and thank us for helping them out," she said, "it makes me realize that we really are doing something right and it makes me want to continue to provide help for the new people who come in here."
Some Concourse House alumnae will return on Oct. 14 to officially celebrate the organization's 10-year anniversary. The event will also serve as a fundraiser, and will feature speeches by graduates of the program.
Williams is one of the true believers who can attest to the program's impact on the lives of women and their families.
"There will never be enough ways for me to thank the Concourse House," she said. "They helped change my life forever."
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