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Nursery offers haven for kids at risk

Thu., April 3, 2008

Color sprouted in the front yard of the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery on Wednesday afternoon as volunteers from the all-female group The Assistants planted 3,963 pinwheels – one for each child who came through the nursery’s door in 2007.

“There are some repeat children in there,” said executive director Amy Swanson. “But the need for the services we provide is huge.”

In February, 200 children were turned away because the facility was at capacity.

“It’s really heartbreaking to know that we can’t serve those children in their moment of critical need,” Swanson said.

After it moved into its new building seven years ago, the crisis nursery became licensed to care for 23 children – a step up from its former, smaller location.

“We thought the new building was an end-all for us, but it wasn’t,” Swanson said.

When parents are turned away, they are encouraged to call until a spot opens.

“And we do triage – we try to assess who’s the most critical, who needs us most right that moment,” Swanson said.

The solution would be to add space – perhaps in a different location – but for now that’s just a dream.

“I wish we had an endowment so we don’t have to start with zero money in the budget every year,” Swanson said. “And we do dream of multiple locations, but we’d first have to assess where the people really need us.” The nursery is funded by private donations and grants.

To spread information about its services, the nursery will be open to the public from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays beginning April 8.

“Previously, we shied away from doing that because of confidentiality issues,” Swanson said. “But I think there are a lot of people who don’t really know what we do, so now we’re going to open our doors. Think of little Nevaeh (Alana Miller) who just died. I so wish her mother’s employer had known about us and could have encouraged her to call us.

“People know we do good work but they don’t really know what we do,” Swanson said. “They see the word ‘crisis’ and they can’t get past that. We have to demystify that the best we can.”

Outside on Wednesday, The Assistants – a group of 40 volunteers who donate time and money – were busy planting pinwheels.

“Vanessa Behan called and asked for our help, and we were more than happy to show up,” said Connie Howard, the group’s president.

The Assistants also volunteer at the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant, Crosswalk, the Santa Express stores and other community organizations and fundraisers.

“These women are just amazingly effective workers,” Howard said, as the rows of pinwheels stretched around a corner. “Once we get a system down, we just get going.”

Swanson hopes the pinwheels will remind passers-by of the importance of investing in children. “If we do so early enough, if we are proactive, then we don’t have to deal with building another jail later on,” Swanson said. “Spokane is a small enough town that we are all stakeholders in our children’s future.”


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