CUMMING, Ga. — The walls are lime green; the couches, big and comfy.
“We want the girls to feel like they’re safe and in a home-like environment,” Executive Director of Jesse’s House Amber Black said.
Opened in 1998, Jesse’s House in Cumming, is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency and long-term care to female youth in need.
“Jesse’s House came to be after Kennesaw State University conducted a needs assessment study for the North Georgia area,” Black said. “The results showed the need for an emergency youth shelter focused on at-risk female youth, ages 7-17.”
The nonprofit houses girls from the metro Atlanta area who have been removed from their homes through the juvenile justice system or DFACS.
“We can house up to 12 at a time and as of today, we have 11,” Black said.
The nonprofit has about 20 direct care and administrative employees, most of whom work directly with the girls.
“We have a very specific program developed to help the girls with basic life skills as well as skills necessary for independence,” Black said. “However, when a girl first comes to us, we first assess the situation as well as address any medical issues and then develop a plan specific to that child.”
Plans include education, counseling, medical care and behavior management.
“Our girls come from homes where there was physical or sexual abuse, drug and alcohol problems or neglect,” Black said. “Though those circumstances can be generalized, they are very different for each case and we determine our care on a case by case basis.”
Black said the adjustment isn’t easy, but they try to make it that way.
“Most of these girls come from homes with little to no structure, but it’s all they know,” she said. “They may not like what happened in their homes, but the fear of the unknown is often more stressful for them.”
Each girl gets her own room and options for personalization, and the walls are painted in colors attractive to teenagers.
“We have a system that allows the girls to gain rewards,” Black said. “And of course, consequences for their actions, too.”
Jesse’s House relies strongly on the community for support.
“Ultimately, our goal is reunification,” Black said. “But that’s not always the case, and some girls have been here long-term.”
She said the support and contributions from the community are a big part of making the girls comfortable and the program run smoothly.
“Our building was donated, and Home Depot covered the cost of replacing the floors,” she said. “SR Homes came in; it was like an episode of Extreme Home Makeover.”
She said monetary donations help keep food on the table, soap in the showers and give the girls social opportunities.
“We reward the girls with outings, and are always looking for ways to give them a positive experience that allows them to be a teenager, like going to a movie,” Black said. “And we appreciate the donations the community gives.”
Black said the girls’ emotions can be tough on everyone and warns the staff they might not always see the reward for their efforts.
“We may not see what impact we’re making, but as with parenting, often times what we’re doing doesn’t show up in the girls until later,” she said. “It’s emotionally challenging not only because of that, but because we see how these girls struggle and what they’ve gone through.”
She said the strength of the girls often amazes the staff.
“Once we establish their trust, we see their strengths, and it’s that strength we work to foster as we work to help them heal,” she said.
For more information about Jesse’s House, visit www.jesseshouse.org.