Yoga class to help Jeremiah's Place

Child care in a crisis

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Three years ago, pediatrician Lynne Williams realized there was a gap in the city's human services when a doctor from another town suggested that a crisis nursery be called for a local family in need.

There was no crisis nursery in Pittsburgh, said Dr. Williams, who works at Hilltop Community Health in Pittsburgh.

So she rounded up a small team of individuals to research crisis nurseries in other cities, and she set the wheels in motion to create Jeremiah's Place. Tentatively scheduled to open in the fall, the nursery will provide 24/7 temporary care for children, age 6 and younger, when their families are experiencing an emergency.

Mt. Lebanon yoga teacher Janet Tantwill hold an outdoor yoga fundraiser from 7 to 8:15 p.m. next Wednesday on the lawn of Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, in support of Jeremiah's Place.

"One of the things that yoga teaches is that we're all connected. People are really looking for ways to de-stress, relax and reconnect to themselves," said Ms. Yant.

The "gentle yoga" class for all ages is based on the practice of Seva Yoga. Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning service to others.

"It is an expression of compassion for others," Ms. Tantsaid.

This will be the seventh year that Ms. Yant, with the help of her students and other local yoga teachers, holds the fundraiser. Each year she has collected about $1,000 for a different charity, including the South Hills Food Bank, an orphanage in Africa and Hurricane Katrina relief. Mt. Lebanon's Empire Music store is donating and preparing the sound system.

Donations for Jeremiah's Place will be made in a "pass the hat" fashion at the event, Ms. Tantsaid.

The crisis nursery was named after a local infant named Jeremiah who had severe medical issues and a mother who was overwhelmed by her son's illness. It will tentatively be located in a facility in Pittsburgh's East End. Dr. Williams and a working board that includes co-founder Tammy Murdock, who is a doctor, and Children's Home of Pittsburgh volunteer Eileen Sharbaugh are finalizing plans for the undisclosed location.

The group also is working to get the facility licensed as a child care center in Pennsylvania, a process that normally takes a couple of months.

"The space was formally a child care center, so physical amenities are in place [like small-sized toilets and sinks]. Hopefully, this will help speed things up in terms of inspections," Ms. Sharbaugh said.

Nationally, 69 crisis nurseries help families in a variety of situations, including medical issues, domestic violence, homelessness or incarceration of a parent.

"Cleveland has had one for 33 years. New York for 100," Ms. Sharbaugh said.

It can be stressful for a single parent to have a young child underfoot while trying to navigate the system to seek housing or medical care, for example, she explained. With nowhere else to turn, parents in crisis are often forced to depend on family or neighbors they don't trust. Many young children are left alone in a locked apartment.

"We hear about it when something goes bad," Dr. Williams said.

Jeremiah's Place will provide care for up to 72 hours at a time. The mission is to protect the child in the moment of a potential injury and connect the families to established resources to help them make good decisions and strengthen the family as a unit.

"We are starting to raise awareness and getting the public sector to say, 'these are our families and these are our children,' " Ms. Sharbaugh said.

A recent $100,000 grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation provided the board of about 30 volunteers the boost it needed to secure a permanent location. Other fundraising efforts, like a 5K run in April, also have helped.

The group has gained support from four community leaders who have committed to being on a formal board of directors: Robert Cicco, pediatrician and neonatologist at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital; Tori Yoos, co-founder of the Family Life Auxiliary of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC; Pam Schanwald, CEO of The Children's Home and Lemieux Family Center; and Laura Townsend, director of the Family Support Policy Board at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development.

Things worked out well for Jeremiah, now a thriving 2-year-old. He was placed in foster care and received his medications, and his mother remained in his life. Future families in her situation will be able to turn to Jeremiah's Place and stay together.

Those who practice yoga believe that compassion and cooperation can change the world, Ms. Tantsaid. "It's a nice way to channel energy," she said.

In case of rain, the yoga class will take place inside the church.

For more information, call 412-344-1799.

Correction, posted July 3, 2013: The spelling of Janet Tant's last name has been corrected.


Laurie Bailey, freelance writer:


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