Teen Haven struggles on through pandemic
Throughout shelter-in-place, the calls to Teen Haven from women with children and nowhere to turn kept coming.
It broke Michelle Wade's heart.
A few years ago, with charitable donations falling, the Happy Valley Road facility reduced the number of rooms from eight to four and gave up some of its office space.
“We always have a wait list of about eight or nine women but we were getting two or three calls a day from women who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic and couldn't pay their rent, or they had to leave their home due to domestic violence,” said Ms Wade, the programme's director. “I had to tell them, ‘I'm sorry. We don't have any room.' You think about the children. I easily could have filled 20 rooms.”
Teen Haven offers shelter, counselling and other services to mothers between the ages of 16 and 25.
Kelly, a mother of five, considers herself fortunate to have been accepted only a few months before Covid-19 hit Bermuda.
“In December I had to leave the home I was in suddenly,” she said. “I thought we would move in with my grandmother, but then there was family drama and I couldn't.”
With nowhere else to turn she called Teen Haven.
“I was with them nine years ago,” she said, tearfully. “I just never thought I would be here again.”
She moved in and joined three women in their mid-twenties, along with their children.
The bedrooms at Teen Haven are not that big, but Kelly artfully arranged bunk beds, a trundle bed and a crib so she and her children could be housed in a single room.
“My oldest is 11 and my youngest is four months old,” she said. “The children have all taken it in stride. They argue over who gets the top bunk. I'm so grateful to Teen Haven. Just providing us with shelter was enough.”
Although she had been working at a nursery school before she moved in, almost immediately after, she lost her job.
“They said the number of children at the nursery was down,” she said. “I was the last in, so I was the first out.”
The pandemic only added to her stress.
“There was the whole technology thing and trying to keep up with teachers' schedules,” she said. “I only had three children who were doing remote schooling. I had a newborn and I was helping my fourth child with preschool. The older children's school provided iPads. Teen Haven also let them use their office computers.”
During lockdown Ms Wade and Zena Francis, a case worker, received essential-worker status, which allowed them to extend their work shifts.
There were 11 children living there at the time, three of them younger than six months.
“It was a full house,” Ms Wade said. “We got some masks made. Trying to do the social-distancing with children was challenging, but they were OK. The change was sudden for all of us.
“I was very pleased with [the community foundation] Give Bermuda. They were able to give us funding from their emergency fund. That helped us to get the medical supplies.
“With the adults and children home all the time our grocery bill went up. We coped by implementing kitchen schedules so everyone wasn't in the fridge all day, every day.”
What amazed her was how resilient the children were despite how Covid-19 disrupted their lives.
“No one lost their minds,” she said. “We didn't have a lot of meltdowns.”
Kelly appreciated how Ms Francis helped her and the other mothers juggle the class schedules.
“She said write it all down — which class, which child and what time. That was good support right there.”
She helped by putting her skills as a nursery schoolteacher to work, creating a makeshift class for the younger children. She cut out letters, numbers and colours and put them on the family room wall. In lieu of PE, she and the other mothers would take the children out for a run around the garden.
Still, it was a relief when they all went back to school and she could focus on her own prospects. Her dream is to one day open her own preschool.
“I've started sending out my résumé again,” she said. “I haven't had any responses yet. Before I lost my home, I was studying at the Bermuda College. I had one year left. I would like to finish that, but I still have to pay off the last term's fees.”
Teen Haven is grateful for the support it received — with food vouchers and other assistance — from Child and Family Services, the Anglican Church of Bermuda and teachers from Victor Scott Primary School.
“We are always grateful for financial donations as well as goods — even if it is a grocery voucher or a voucher for Belco. We appreciate tangible things that help us cut down our costs. We need sponsorship for the young ladies to attend the Bermuda College or to finish.”
Also needed is help to upgrade the computers at Teen Haven, which, according to Ms Wade, “have had their day” and are necessary to help the women find jobs.
“We need to upgrade in case we have another shutdown,” she said. “Flu season is coming and we have two young ladies who are registered to do their general education diploma.
“It is so disheartening. All we can do is try to pinpoint places for our girls to go. And you need to have a GED even to have an entry level post.”
• For more information on Teen Haven: 292-4598, 295-3220, email@example.com