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Organization that helps homeless opens new facility in Shaler with grand celebration

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:25 p.m.
Abbie Minard | Shaler Journal
Barbara Smith, HEARTH board member, giving a tour of the facility.
Abbie Minard | Shaler Journal
At a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of HEARTH H.O.M.E.S., speakers and local officials Bill Gatti, top left, Bill Schenck, Kelley Owen, middle left, Jamie McElroy, Winthrop Watson, bottom left, Rich Fitzgerald, Brian Hudson and Angel, daughter or Jamie McElroy, were on hand.
Abbie Minard | Shaler Journal
HEARTH acquired this property, renovated it and now it will be used to house women with children who need a safe place to live and help transition into the next phase of life.
Abbie Minard | Shaler Journal
The HEARTH store is full of donated items that residents of the HEARTH facility can earn by completing steps in the program.

HEARTH's mission is to give homeless women with children a roof over their heads while helping them get back on their feet, and now the organization has a home of its own.

HEARTH, which stands for Homelessness Ends with Advocacy, Resources, Training and Housing, lost its previous home when the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh decided to sell their monastery in Ross. But on July 18, the organization celebrated the grand opening of its new facility in Shaler Township.

“HEARTH will never be homeless again,” said Judy Eakin, executive director of the organization.

HEARTH officials worked for close to two years to acquire and renovate the former Zoar Home site at Elfinwild Road and Mt. Royal Boulevard.

The 5-acre property now contains 20 two- and three-bedroom units between the main and former boiler buildings as well as administration office space, extra storage and program and meeting spaces, a laundry room, computer room and program food pantry.

“It's quiet and green and so peaceful,” Eakin said.

Currently, 14 families live on the property with a total of 32 children. There is room to accept additional program participants.

The women in the program are required to be enrolled in continuing education courses, arrange their own childcare and transportation and attend personal growth meetings.

As they achieve their weekly or monthly goals, they earn incentives to continue to better their situations.

Program participants are required to respect the visiting hours and not have overnight visitors.

There also is a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol on site and participants are subjected to random drug testing while in the program.

The requirements of the program are created to help promote self-sufficiency and success in the program.

Participants, on average, spend about 18 months in the program, before they are ready to move on in their lives.

Jamie McElroy, 28, of Observatory Hill, said while the program can be challenging, she is proof that it works.

McElroy entered the HEARTH program when her daughter, Angel, now 5, was 18 months old to escape a dangerous living situation.

“It was probably one of the best things I did for my daughter,” McElroy said. “It helped me with my confidence.”

McElroy left the program and went on to become an access control administrator with AlliedBaron Security Services at a PNC Bank branch Downtown and purchase her own home through the state Housing Finance Agency.

“Without this program … I don't think I would have accomplished these goals to provide for my daughter,” McElroy said.

HEARTH received low-income housing tax credits to complete the project and launched a $1.5 million capital campaign to raise the remaining money needed to complete the facility.

Eakin said realizing the dream of creating a permanent home for HEARTH and its participants was a combined effort of countless volunteers, donors and local agencies.

Eakin said it was always a goal to stay in the North Hills area.

“We get a lot of support from non-profits in the area,” Eakin said. “Right now we are looking for volunteers. We want to be part of the community and we want the community to be part of us.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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