Experiencing Human Connection Through Vulnerability

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and finding yourself in a vulnerable situation are two entirely different things, yet Crittenton Center is there to support people in either circumstance. “Most people don’t realize we have four programs and employ 80 people,” stated Executive Director, Leslie Heying . “We have a whole spectrum of programs that support individuals, families, and children.”  

The Crittenton Center operates Supervised Apartment Living (SAL), H.O.P.E.S education program, The Resource Center, and four child care centers. “The SAL is a huge success,” said Heying.  “We are one of only a few programs in the state to work with kids who are aging out of foster care. They are 16-1/2 years old and need to learn how to live independently or they  end up homeless. We teach living skills – how to do laundry, find a job, cook meals, clean their apartment and take care of themselves.”   

“We kind of become family to some of these young people,” said Tracy Feathers, Manager of Major Gifts. Listening to Heying and Feathers share the stories of those they have helped, it is clear the program has impacted lives. 

The education programs support parents who are learning parenting skills. Healthy Opportunities for Parents to Experience Success (HOPES) begins with meeting parents in the UnityPoint Birthing Center.  The new parents have the option to enroll their newborn up until they turn 3-months old. Crittenton Center staff then provide personal support, education, and encouragement up to the child’s fifth birthday. “We’ve been able to help parents identify hazards they didn’t recognize themselves, like a child eating paint chips or a baby drinking iced tea instead of milk,” explained Feathers. Heying continued, “We really get to know the families. It takes courage for a new parent to ask for help! These are people who have allowed themselves to be vulnerable, acknowledging they don’t have all the answers and need some help.”  

The Resource Center is similar in that parents can come in to ask for help or be referred by social services. The Resource Center provides incentives for parents to participate in learning activities. “They can earn diapers, formula, or other things,” said Feathers.  

“Our Child Care Centers cover the entire city,” said Heying. “We have the West High Infant Center, the preschool at Liberty Elementary, Stella Sanford Center, and we just opened our Morningside location in March.” The Morningside location is a partnership with the Sanford Center and something that progressed to fruition despite the pandemic. “Partnering with another non-profit is a risky proposition,” explained Heying. “We had to make ourselves vulnerable to sharing mission and resources. It’s not always easy to do that, but we knew it made sense, and it’s working well.” The Crittenton Center provides care for children birth to five years old, and the Sanford Center provides before and after school care, and transportation, to school-age kids. The shared location allows both organizations to provide service in an area of Sioux City that is underserved with child care resources.  

The Crittenton Center is continuously evaluating services provided and those needed. Sometimes that means making tough decisions. Recently, they closed the doors on their emergency shelter for children. The landscape of child welfare has changed significantly over the years. Instead of caring for kids who had recently been removed from their homes, or kids from the local community, the shelter provided services to more clients from outside the community. These clients also had  multiple health diagnoses and histories of physical and sexual aggression. Maintaining and hiring appropriate staff for the 24/7 facility became impossible. 

“Closing a program is never easy; however, we remain stronger and more committed than ever to serving children and families. The Crittenton Center is actively engaging in conversations with local partners to reimagine our shelter space so we can continue fulfilling our mission and serve children in the area in a new capacity. We are excited about being part of the solution on the prevention side and rethinking how we deliver services in the shelter facility,” said Heying. 

In discussing this month’s magazine theme of vulnerability, Heying and Feathers see many applications to the Crittenton Center. They recognize that vulnerability is really an opportunity to experience human connection. Together they share the story of Cheyenne. 

Cheyenne first came to Crittenton Center’s emergency shelter when she was two years old. For the next 14 years, Cheyenne lost count of how many times she returned to the emergency shelter. “She experienced physical, sexual, and emotional abuse,” explained Heying. “She came to see the staff here, at Crittenton, as her family since it was the only place she was safe.” Eventually, Cheyenne aged out of the system, but she has learned to be independent with the help of the SAL. She graduated high school, is getting a job, and thinking about a future. “She’s someone who knows her vulnerability,”said  Heying. “She acknowledged what she’s overcome and that she has a lot to overcome in the future, too. That vulnerability and her resilience makes her one of the most courageous people I know.”  

Feathers expanded the conversation by explaining, “Research shows it takes generations to change the cycle of abuse, poverty, or neglect. That’s a lot of intentional effort, and who’s there to support it when previous generations don’t know how? We are!”   

“The best ways readers can support us is with the old adage – time, treasure, and talent,” said Heying .   Feathers added, “A lot of people want to donate goods, like clothes or toys. We don’t have a place to store these.  And some of our youth have never had anything new. So when we can utilize our partners and monetary donations to purchase something new, they realize they are valued and important.” Heying enthusiastically added, “A few months ago, a young lady came to us with just the clothes on her back.  It wasn’t her first time interacting with Crittenton Center. She was always in oversized hoodies pulled low over her face. After she got a new outfit that she picked out, I almost didn’t recognize her. Her head was up. Her hair was combed. She had some self-confidence. Those things we take for granted are really important.”  

Time and talents are also greatly appreciated by Crittenton Center. “We always need activities for kids.  If you have a talent to share – crafts, sewing, games – we would love to have you come do that with our kids or parents. Volunteers are needed for all kinds of tasks and are greatly appreciated. Just stop into the office (located in the Ho-Chunk Center downtown Sioux City) or call us.” Heying says. “Allow yourself to be vulnerable and connect to these young people who greatly need someone to care.”

There are so many misconceptions about the Crittenton Center.  Check these myths and facts:

Myth:  It’s the home for unwed mothers. They do adoptions.

Fact:  If it were 125 years ago, that was true.  We have evolved continually to what is happening in today’s society, impacting families and children.  We see what’s needed, and we find a way to address it.

Myth:  They only serve low-income people.

Fact:  People of all income levels use Crittenton Center services.  The Child Care Centers and education programs have families at all economic levels.  

Myth: There are too many nonprofits in Siouxland doing the same things.

Fact:  Crittenton Center collaborates with other entities to avoid duplication of services while expanding reach.  They work with Siouxland District Health and Lutheran Services of Iowa on the HOPES program.  With the Sanford Center on child care and numerous other non-profits for other supports for their families and children.  

Ways you can support the Crittenton Center:

  • Donate funds
  • Donate gift cards for department stores
  • Volunteer
  • Share a talent

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