Mary Winter, 80, founder of Angel's Place in Brookline, comforts Geno Crenshaw, 4, while reading a book to Cameron Krestal, 4. She founded the organization 30 years ago and still volunteers there cooking lunches.
By Lorri Drumm / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Emily Gallagher, 23, of Brentwood remembers the day that she picked up her son, Cameron Krestal, from Angel’s Place in Brookline. As they were finishing storytime the teacher stopped her and said, “I have to tell you what Cameron said today. ‘I have three families -- my mom’s family, my dad’s family and my Angel’s Place family.’ ”
The sentiments of her 4-year-old were echoed by other parents and staff connected to each of the three facilities operated by Angel’s Place, a nonprofit that provides free child care and other support for single parents so they can complete their education. It marks its 30th anniversary this year.
It was the brainchild of Mary Winter, who in the 1970s did emergency pregnancy counseling. “It just killed me to see a young woman have to drop out of school because she was having a child,” she said. In 1983 at a meeting in Harrisburg, she heard of a place in that area that was providing child care to young parents at no cost to ensure that they could stay in school.
This idea planted a seed that soon blossomed. She enlisted support to bring those services to Pittsburgh. The doors to Angel’s Place opened in 1984 at Brookline Boulevard Presbyterian Church. Its permanent home in Brookline opened in 1986. A second center opened in Swissvale in 1989 and a third center on the North Side in 1998.
“Throughout the years I have seen hundreds and hundreds of young women graduate,” Ms. Winter said.“Nearly every profession is represented by Angel’s Place moms and some dads also.” Angel’s Place celebrated Ms. Winter’s 80th birthday with her last November. She continues to volunteer three days a week at the Brookline facility.
Beth Banas, executive director of Angel’s Place Inc., has worked with Ms. Winter for 25 years.
“We are a ministry of supporting families and we believe that education is paramount to success,” Ms. Banas said. In 2013 Angel’s Place served parents ages 15 and up. They nurtured 90 children, 28 toddlers and 36 preschoolers. They celebrated 16 parent graduates.
Angel’s Place continues to provide its services primarily from grants and contributions from private and corporate donors. In 2013 over 70 percent of its revenue came from foundation grants and contributions. Special events added 16 percent of their funds needed. Program services accounted for 85 percent of how that revenue is spent.
The three current facilities are able to accommodate a total of 75 children. Each of the sites always has a waiting list for enrollment. The wait-time varies depending on the site and other circumstances. There are no current plans to add more facilities. Funds are devoted to improving the quality of services offered.
To be eligible. a parent must be low-income, single and a full-time student with a child between the ages of birth to 5 years. The facilities, accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, provide free child care and early childhood education and development. Parents have free access to individual support, education counseling, career planning, job placement and parenting development. The staff provides food, clothing and other basic needs when necessary.
To continue with the program, parents must maintain their attendance in school and they must have passing grades of a C or above. Participants are also required to donate three hours per week in support of the program, with two of those hours devoted to program-upkeep and one hour devoted to parent education. Ms. Banas believes that parent support is crucial to their personal success and that of the program. “Involvement gives the families ownership,” she said.
“Family” seems to be the key component to parent and child success at Angel’s Place.
Emily Gallagher agrees with her son, Cameron, that Angel’s Place is like an extended family. Thanks to the program, she will soon graduate with an associate’s degree in chemistry from the Bidwell Training Center. When she got pregnant, she was afraid that she would have to take out loans to complete school and provide for her son.
She heard about Angel’s Place but was hesitant to call because free childcare might not mean quality childcare. Not only does she feel that Cameron is well cared for, but she also feels that the staff shows genuine care to her entire family. “They really are the sweetest people in the world,” she said. “For Christmas they sent us home with 10 garbage bags full of gifts and even included gift cards for me.”
Onasha Presberry of Forest Hills has had her daughter at the Swissvale branch of Angel’s Place for four years. When she got pregnant at age 16, she thought she might have to drop out of school. She heard about the services but like Ms. Gallagher, she was afraid that free child care meant poor quality.
Her mother encouraged her to apply and within a month she was accepted. The program enabled her to graduate from high school. She is enrolled at the Community College of Allegheny County, working toward a degree in education. “I want to be a math teacher,” she said. She learned skills from the parent meetings, crediting them with helping her to be a better parent. The family atmosphere has always made her and her entire family feel welcome and supported.
Braddock resident Pamela Suber could have chosen to use free services from Head Start for her children but chose to pay to keep them at Angel’s Place. ”It feels like I’m part of their family,“ she said. “My whole family feels welcome there. We always enjoy grandparent’s day,” she said. The staff even celebrated her graduation with her. Five years ago Ms. Suber found out about Angel’s Place from the WIC office. She had a 2-year-old child, was working and had just registered for school when she got pregnant. “If it weren’t for Angel’s Place, I wouldn’t have my degree because day care is just too expensive,” she said. The program enabled her to get an associate’s degree in business management that led to a job that now allows her to pay to keep her children in the care of those who have come to mean so much to her.
As a former client and current teacher, Angel’s Place has played an integral role in Sarah Dargay’s life. The Pittsburgh native was 21 and attending Penn State University’s main campus when she became pregnant. She got on the waiting list of Angel’s Place. She transferred to the Penn State campus in McKeesport and in December 2005 got her bachelor’s degree in applied psychology while her daughter was in the program. “I always loved the program. It was small and family-oriented,” she said.
Ms. Dargay wanted to stay involved, so she spoke with the director and was hired as a teacher in 2006. Her job is a win-win situation for her and the parents as she gets to do what she loves and give back to those who are in a situation that she was once in.
Plans are being made to celebrate Angel Place’s 30 years of success stories and community support. There are raffles planned for anniversary week, Aug. 10-16. A celebration at Pittsburgh’s Le Mont, on Grandview Avenue in Mount Washington, is being planned with former Pittsburgh Steeler Charlie Batch as host. Notes have been sent out to alumni, and a slideshow is in the works.
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