Jamie McElroy said she chokes up whenever she talks about the difference HEARTH programs have made in her life and that of her daughter, Angel.
Ms. McElroy was one of a dozen speakers at the grand opening for the nonprofit agency's new apartments and offices in Shaler. HEARTH is an acronym for Homelessness Ends with Advocacy, Resources, Training and Housing. It provides transitional housing, an array of counseling and life-skills training programs for homeless women with children.
Her daughter was a year old when the pair moved into HEARTH's Benedictine Place in Ross. "The staff was friendly and supportive," Ms. McElroy said. "I met other women in similar circumstances, and Angel always had playmates. We were like a family."
HEARTH's strict rules, high expectations and one-on-one counseling enabled her to move beyond minimum-wage jobs and into her own home on the North Side, she said. She began work three years ago as a guard for AlliedBarton Security Services and recently was promoted to access-control administrator.
The program's new facility at 3724 Mount Royal Blvd. includes 20 apartments in two renovated buildings that were part of the Zoar Home campus. The Zoar Home had provided housing for unwed mothers for many decades until it ended that service in 1991.
HEARTH had been a long-time tenant at the Benedictine Sisters convent and school in Ross. The agency had to find a new home after the nuns decided to sell their large property on Perrysville Avenue and relocate to smaller quarters in Richland.
While HEARTH searched for and then built its new home in Shaler, its residential program was moved to Scott and administrative offices remained at a separate location in Ross.
"It's great to be back in one space," executive director Judy Eakin said after the grand opening ceremonies last Thursday. "What was rewarding for staff and families was to get to know each other," she said. "When we were in two spots we didn't have that interaction with the moms and their kids."
The price tag for the project was about $7.5 million, with the bulk of the money coming from the sale of federal low-income housing tax credits.
HEARTH itself launched a $1.5 million capital campaign and has raised or has pledges for all but $50,000 of that amount.
The agency honors donors who gave at least $10,000 toward the capital campaign as "Dreammakers," and Victor and Patricia Siclari, a Franklin Park couple who earned that honor, spoke at the grand opening.
Mr. Siclari said government-supported loan and grant programs had enabled him to attend college and law school. HEARTH offers the women and children it assists "a helping hand, not a handout," he said.
HEARTH's new apartments and offices were built by Trek Development, a Pittsburgh-based for-profit firm, and leased long-term back to the social service agency. Fourteen of the 20 two- and three-bedroom units already are occupied by women and their children. More information on HEARTH's transitional housing program is available at www.hearth-bp.org or by calling 412-366-9801.
HEARTH services are available to homeless women with up to four children who have been free of drug or alcohol abuse for at least five months. Participants must commit to completing an education program.
"I had thought the rules, the apartment inspections and the expectations went overboard," Ms. McElroy said of her initial impression of HEARTH. "But I see how they built up my sense of responsibility."
Len Barcousky: email@example.com or 412-263-1159.