Northern Children’s Services offer more with Merrick Hall reopening

By Bernard J. Scally – Originally published by The Roxborough Review on August 3, 2014 

It has been a long time coming but has been done with style and great support. More than two years have passed since the groundbreaking was held to mark the final phase of the ‘Generations Campaign” and starting the renovation of Merrick Hall.

It is the oldest building on Northern Children’s Services (NCS) campus, located on the 5500 block of Ridge Ave., and it will house teenage mothers and their children, who are either transitioning out of foster care or chronically homeless.

“When I stepped foot on this campus seven years ago, it wasn’t as beautiful,” said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. “But it’s purpose was still as strong. This building had been stepped in in decades but it’s purpose drove it.”

With the history of involvement that his staff has had with NCS, Jones said that his office will be providing $3,000 for the maintenance of the renovated Merrick Hall “whether [NCS] applies for it or not.”

NCS began as “Northern Home for Friendless Children” in 1853, as a refuge for orphaned children and like today, its mission continually evolved. During the Civil War, Northern Home founders visited sick and wounded soldiers; distributing clothing, food and aid.

“I think back then, they didn’t about branding and logo and market or things like that,” said DeLissio. “They just called it as they saw it.”

NCS moved to its current campus on the 5300 block of Ridge Ave. in 1923. Like many institutions, Northern Home slide downward. In the late 1990s, new leadership breathed new life and renewed vision to the core principles by designing new innovative programs, building bridges to schools and communities and securing a professional staff.

A $70,000 playground, along with school uniforms, supplies and computers were donated by rock star/sports team owner/philanthropist Jon Bon Jovi. The playground was constructed by the cast of MTV’s ‘The Real World’ in 2004. Bon Jovi would mention the agency on The Oprah Winfrey Show a year later.

In 2006, the Caroline Alexander Buck Residence Hall opened—it was the first new construction on campus in 75 years. It currently provides transitional living space for eight women between the ages of 16 and 18, each with one very young child.

Hartley Hall was totally renovated in 2008 and later dedicated the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Residence Hall in June 2009. It houses chronically homeless teenage mothers, each with up to two children.

“[During the 2004 Soul Playground construction], he was very interested in what was going over there, but he kept looking at this building,” said Mimi Box, Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. “And saying, ‘ what’s going to happen with that building. It has great bones. It could have real beauty.’”

The JBJ Soul Foundation is a major sponsor of the Merrick Hall project. Other major sponsor include Wawa, who have had a 25-year partnership with NCS and was their first local community non-profit partner; over the years, Wawa has donated more than $1 million in NCS. IKEA is the third major corner of this triumvirate providing the furnishings and other touches to the building. Their yellow-clad army was on-hand at the ceremony.

“Knowing we were part of the first Generations program, it seem natural that we should be part of this one,” said Mike Ward, of IKEA North America. “It feels a little like a store opening knowing that everyone was inside until ten minutes ago.”

According to NCS, of all the factors that increase a former foster youth’s likelihood of becoming homeless, being pregnant or a mother is often the most predictive. These young homeless mothers often find themselves without safe places to live, and without access to many opportunities and supports.

The renovated three-story Merrick Hall encompasses 15,000 sq.-ft of residential space that includes transitional and permanent housing. There are four apartments that can provide supportive living for four homeless teenage mothers, each with up to two children.

Tours of the building were given after the ribbon cutting ceremony on July 31.

NCS’ Generations Programs currently provide transitional housing for teenage mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 who have either aged out of the foster care system or are identified as homeless. The program was created to help these young mothers secure a brighter, safer and more stable future for themselves and their babies.

“I repeated think to myself from time to time where would me and my son be without Northern Children’s Services,” said Brittany Chokpelle, a Generations resident at NCS. “Also I think who would have thought that so many strangers would have extended so much unconditional love toward my son and I.”

Through NCS and despite having a child at a young age, Chokpelle was able to graduate high school on time.

“That’s what is all about changing lives and making a difference,” said Tracey Lavallias, president and CEO of Northern Children Services.


Northern Children's Services