Haven House focuses on at-risk kids

Todd Cohen

Michelle Zechmann
Michelle Zechmann

RALEIGH, N.C. — Haven House, a Raleigh nonprofit that annually serves over 3,000 at-risk youth and their families throughout Wake County, is working to strengthen its fundraising strategy and better meet the needs of young people.

The agency is shifting its development strategy to cover a bigger share of its costs through fundraising and less from government funding.

It also has launched two new efforts to more quickly serve kids who need support.

“We want to really make sure that kids are well taken care of,” says Michelle Zechmann.

Formed in 1973, Haven House operates with an annual budget of roughly $2.5 million and 62 employees, roughly half of them working part-time.

The agency operates a range of programs in the areas of mental health, juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention, and gang prevention and intervention.

Haven House provides 18 apartments scattered throughout Wake County for example, for youth ages 18 to 23 in need of transitional housing because they are homeless.

It also operates a drop-in center on Wake Forest Rd. and a six-bed emergency crisis shelter on Morgan Street.

At the drop-in center, homeless kids ages 10 to 17 can get a meal, take a shower and get connected to a case manager to help them find services and resources they may need.

The agency also operates an outreach program to find homeless kids, tell them about the drop-in center and crisis shelter, and give them a hygiene kit that includes items like a toothbrush and toothpaste.

“We try to get connected with them to get them off the streets,” says Zechmann, who joined Haven House in September.

She previously served as director of program development and quality management for The Durham Center, a local management entity that contracts with nonprofit and for-profit agencies for mental-health, substance-abuse and developmental-disability services for Durham County.

Haven House offers two mental-health programs.

One provides what is known as “multi-systemic therapy,” an evidence-based practice for youths involved in the juvenile-justice system who have mental-health concerns and typically are referred by the juvenile-court system.

The therapy, lasting up to five months, involves working with an entire family to help family members work together to understand how to best serve the children, and developing support system for the family, such as the assistance of a pastor, neighbor or coach, that can continue after the therapy ends.

Haven House also has provided intensive in-home services, although it plans to end that program in May because of a change in state rules.

The agency also offers restitution and community-service programs in the area of juvenile justice, working with kids who have damaged property or done something else for which the court system has ordered them to pay restitution to the victim.

The program lets the kids work through the agency to perform community-service work, earning credits at the agency, which pays the victim.

Haven House also offers a structured-day program for kids who are suspended from school.

In that program, for kids suspended from middle school for three to 10 days spend weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Haven House, working on homework, life skills and community-service activities.

And in January, Haven House plans to launch a new late-afternoon program for middle-school and high-school students suspended for the remainder of the school year.

That programs aims to fill a gap created through the termination of long-term suspension programs in the Wake Public Schools resulting from budget cuts.

Since 2005, Haven House also has offered a gang-prevention program that provides exercises and boxing skills in gang-neutral territory.

“Our hope is ultimately they will spend more and more time with us and less and less time with their gang,” Zechmann says.

This month, the agency is launching a program in which three outreach workers working in neighborhoods suspected of gang activity will try to connect local kids with constructive activities.

Government contracts and grants account for roughly 80 percent of the agency’s funding.

Raleigh fundraising consultant Maggie Clay Love is working with Haven House, which has received a capacity-building grant of nearly $35,000 from the John Rex Endowment, to develop a resource-development plan and get its board more involved in fundraising.

Haven House aims to respond quickly to kids’ needs as they emerge in the community, Zechmann says.

“We don’t want kids falling through the cracks,” she says.

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