Vision for Barnabas House coming to fruition after 30 years

A goal of Barnabas Ministries has long been a safe home for unaccompanied, homeless teens

By Annette Manwell
January 5, 2015

Holland, Michigan –

It’s been a dream a long time in the making, but Barnabas House, an emergency shelter for teenagers, could open in one year’s time.

Barnabas Ministries Executive Director LoriJo Schepers said the timeline could be a bit optimistic, but everything has fallen into place to possibly go out for bids in January, followed by a spring groundbreaking and a late December dedication.

“The house has been a vision and goal for 30 years,” Schepers said.

In February, the ministry will turn 20, she added, and since its formation, “the house has been a goal.”

Barnabas Ministries offers a variety of programming for teens, whether mentoring, guidance, equestrian or sports or job training, but there has long been a need for a safe house for teenagers who don’t have one.

The 13-bedroom home will be used as an emergency and short-term home, but could also be long-term, Schepers and Michelle Bechler, the ministries assistant director, agreed. Because the home will not be funded at all by government money, it is not subject to the 21-day rule other such shelters are limited to.

Barnabas House will be transitional housing, the women agreed. A teen — 16 to 19 years old are the average ages served — could stay for only a few hours while staff diagnose the need and determine the best course of action. In some cases, that could mean being taken home. For others, such as teen mothers, it could mean months while the teen is mentored and helped to get on her feet.

“How long they will stay will not be determined by funding,” Schepers said. “But by the need of the youth. We receive funding from whoever will allow us to be who we are.”

The house could be a safe place for a teen rescued from sex trafficking, a teen kicked out of his home by parents or a teen fresh out of the state’s foster care system with nowhere to go.

The house will be located on 24 acres of donated land off 112th Avenue near Quincy Street. The location wasn’t chosen by the ministry, but Schepers believes it’s perfect, centrally located in Ottawa County and the communities the ministry is most involved with, not far from county’s Fillmore Street Complex and close enough to schools and employers. At the same time, it is somewhat secluded.

Finalization of the blueprints and plans was a lengthy process, Schepers said, but the delay was a blessing. The outcome of that delay is a home far removed from the original design, which looked more like an industrial facility than a home. The directors residence and shelter was part of the one large building.

Now, the two buildings look like homes and include the 13-bedroom home for teens and a much smaller residence for the ministries’ director, separated by a courtyard.

The new design is more cost effective and will also be able to be easily duplicated when it’s time to expand to a second house, Schepers said.

Significant funding for the first house has been promised by donors. In November, the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area awarded a $25,000 grant to the project.

The future of Barnabas house could also mean a series of cabins, which would be homes as well, but with fewer bedrooms, Schepers said. The cabins could house teens coming from similar situations, though labeling a cabin would be avoided.

“These kids have enough labels,” Schepers said.

For now though, the ministry is licensed for 13 beds, she said. The house will have bedrooms on the second level and a kitchen, which can double as a teaching kitchen, a study area, a recreational area and a place for nursing or first aid needs. It will staff monitoring the home and teens around the clock.

Currently, there is no facility like it for homeless, unaccompanied teens. The Holland Rescue Mission would be available to some of those served by Barnabas House, Bechler said, but the programs simply are not the same, she said.

“We know that, they know that,” she said, adding the two organizations work together regularly.

Right now, in connection with Calvary Church, Barnabas runs Calvary House, Schepers said. That home houses only four teens, one who is a mother with her child.

See the original article at the Holland Sentinel, HERE.