Trust. For children, the person in whom they place the most trust is their caregiver. It can be mom, dad, an aunt or uncle.
But when child abuse occurs, that trust can be instantly shattered, leaving a child suddenly feeling alone and scared. According to the National Abuse and Neglect Data System, four children in this country die each day by the hands of their abuser – usually the child’s caregiver. Of those fatalities 78 percent are under 4.
Wealthy or poor, child abuse knows no boundaries. It could happen to a next door neighbor, a child’s playmate or even one’s own child in a daycare situation. No one may suspect the abuse until the child exhibits either physical or emotional signs. But child abuse victims living in North Idaho have found a loving home at Kinderhaven – a nonprofit, community-supported, group foster home and emergency shelter for abused and neglected children from birth to 18 years of age.
Since opening in 1996, Kinderhaven which can house up to 16 children, has weaved its way into the hearts of many in this community.
“Kinderhaven is so much more than a shelter,” said founder and past president Marsha Ogilvie. And it is because of the continued support of the Sandpoint community, Ogilvie said Kinderhaven has been able to provide scholarships and transitional housing assistance to many of the children who have called Kinderhaven home during the past 13 years. The children are not forgotten after they leave the people who have nurtured them through what is likely the most difficult time in their lives.
But community support wasn’t always as prevalent as it is today. It took time and energy to educate the community about the frequency of child abuse and how Kinderhaven and the community could make a difference in the lives of the abused children in North Idaho.
“At the beginning it was a (financial) struggle every day,” said Ogilvie. “But we have won the hearts and minds of this community and have seen them wrap their arms around us and the children.”
Ogilvie said it was always a dream of hers to start a home for women and children, the goal of which was to help them become self sufficient and to teach them critical life skills. But she knew she could not do it on her own.
“I used to think I would have to win the lottery to do it,” said Ogilvie. Ultimately it just took some fundraising and awareness on the part of the community.
When Ogilvie learned of Sandpoint resident Linda Brown’s plan to start a shelter, she, along with her sister Susan Bowman, volunteered to help Brown with fundraising. They put on the first fundraiser for Kinderhaven at Sandpoint’s City Beach in 1995. The event raised $2,000 and they were ecstatic.
“We found a home to rent and we had our first baby placed in Kinderhaven in February 1996. He stayed for eight months,” said Ogilvie. “And I still remember our first Easter. We had five kids in the home. They were ravenous, running from room to room.”
In its 13 years, Kinderhaven has seen hundreds of children pass through its doors and has welcomed the children back when they return as adults to say thank you. Each child has his or her own story and none are ever forgotten. Ogilvie’s eyes fill with tears as she remembers one young boy who struggled because other kids who were put up for adoption were chosen and he was not. That boy is now happily living with a family surrounded by love and support. Her tears are those of joy.
Barb Perusse served on the Kinderhaven board of directors for 10 years, two as president. Prior to moving to Sandpoint in the 1990s, Perusse investigated child abuse for 11 years for the state of Missouri. She said the fact that Kinderhaven now has a social worker on staff will only improve the quality of care the children receive. Phyllis Horvath has a master’s degree in social work and serves as Kinderhaven’s executive director.
“The key for the (abused) kids is stability, and having a director trained to deal with certain situations will do much to contribute to the child’s stability,” said Perusse. “We are equipped to set the children up for success instead of failure.”
Kim Diercks, board president for Kinderhaven, agrees.
“Phyllis is part of the treatment team. She is able to reinforce on a daily basis what the children are being told by their counselors,” said Diercks.
People like Diercks, Perusse and Ogilvie have chosen to be involved with Kinderhaven because they believe they can make a difference in these children’s lives. They have seen children transform before their eyes – an illiterate third-grade student is now an avid reader; a mute 2-year-old has transformed into a 3-year-old chatterbox; a somber fifth-grader has learned to laugh in joy; and children who have had to take care of themselves learn to accept help. They have found that help in the people of North Idaho.
“Kinderhaven belongs to the community. This is where we take care of our own and the community is doing their social responsibility,” said Perusse.
According to Diercks, Kinderhaven’s license allows them to take kids from anywhere throughout the state, but they tend to receive children from the five most northern counties. The majority are Bonner and Boundary County residents.
Wherever the child comes from, it is clear that for many they have lived a life deprived of things most children take for granted. When they come to Kinderhaven it is sometimes the first time a child has had a bed to sleep on, a pillow upon which to lay their head, and even a toothbrush.
“We have had school-age children who have never even been to school,” said Diercks.
Up until recently a family of six siblings was living at Kinderhaven. For more than two years these children called Kinderhaven home and were safe from a life of abuse and neglect. But equally important, they were together. Had it not been for a home such as Kinderhaven, the six siblings would have been split up into different foster homes and been apart from one another at a time when they needed the support of each other.
Many kids who are victims of abuse not only lack the love and affirmation a stable home provides, but also the structure. At Kinderhaven the kids have chores, earn allowance, celebrate birthdays, participate in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and live a structured home life like traditional families.
“And it is only because of the generosity of the community that we are able to provide these things for the children,” said Ogilvie.
The staff and board of directors hope that much of what the children learn goes with them when they either return home or go elsewhere when the leave.
“Our care goes beyond keeping them in a safe environment,” says Diercks referring to the life skills that are taught, the counseling the children receive and the love the kids get from knowing they are valued and appreciated.
When looking to the future, the one thing that these women agree on is that it is important for people to be aware of child abuse and to keep Kinderhaven in their hearts when looking for a place to donate not only their money but their time.
“Like any homeowner, the costs associated with running a home are always a concern,” said Ogilvie.
Perusse adds that a goal of the nonprofit is to become self sustaining. “We need to know that no matter what, our kids will be taken care of,” she said.
April is Child Abuse Prevention month – a time to educate the community on abuse and the resources available for victims of abuse. But the reality is for those at Kinderhaven they want every month to be dedicated to child abuse prevention. And if the past is any indication, they know the people in North Idaho will continue to wrap their hearts and arms around the Kinderhaven children and will do all they can to keep them safe.
“We are truly owned by the community,” said Diercks, who said Kinderhaven is always seeking volunteers. “I think there’s a lot of love out there that can be shared with our kids.”