Driving down Norbeck Road in Silver Spring, it’s easy to overlook the red brick house that has served as a home to thousands of youth.
The Caithness Shelter, set to reopen in November, will accommodate up to 14 boys and a round-the-clock staff of 20 to 25 people run by Hearts & Homes for Youth in Silver Spring, a nonprofit that helps abused, homeless, neglected and troubled children find shelter and support through advocacy, awareness and counseling.
“A lot of people in the community don’t realize we exist and we wish we didn’t — but we do,” said Catherine Bedolla, vice president for corporate and community relations at HHY.
Rex Smith, president and CEO for HHY, said the shelter first opened its doors to underserved adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 in 1972. The average stay at the shelter is about 17 days for homeless youth awaiting a court hearing or needing a place to stay before going back home, to foster care or to a group home. Smith, who has spent more than 46 years in the field of juvenile and criminal justice, said there are about 136 youth in HHY’s programs each day, including six area group homes.
The project was possible with the help of BB&T bank’s Lighthouse Project, which was started three years ago as a result of the recession, and aims to be a “lighthouse in the community” by allowing BB&T employees to take part in service efforts that make the communities they serve a “better place to live,” said Thomas Ransom, who leads BB&T’s operations for Montgomery County.
"It's not just us stroking the check," said Ransom, who said past local projects for Lighthouse included work with the John C. Tracey Boys Home in Rockville in conjunction with HHY.
About 40 Washington-area BB&T volunteers traveled to the shelter instead of work last week to spruce up the about 8,000-square-foot building, which includes two living room areas, offices for the full-time staff, a kitchen and dining area, a music room, a weight room and a recreation room. BB&T provided thousands of dollars in kitchen ware, bedding, dining room furniture, televisions and television stands for each of the two living rooms and window treatments, according to Damascus resident Abdi Russi, BB&T’s captain and volunteer coordinator for the HHY project.
Though they worked within their budget, Russi said the group raised an additional $3,000 from board members and businesses in the community to purchase the rest of the items on HHY’s wishlist.
“At the end of the day, you’re trying to help people who need help,” said Russi. “We’re taking ... employees out of their places where they work and putting them to work to help the community be a better place. We’re doing our part for this house ... so it can serve the kids who are the future in our community.”
Though the renovations for The Harriet Tubman Shelter — as it will be called upon reopening in November — are under way, Bedolla and Ransom said their programs would not exist without “community engagement.” They said they always are looking for volunteers from the community to lend a helping hand.
“We want to let [youth] know there are people that care about them,” Ransom said. “Rex has saved over 30,000 youth [since 1964]. Who doesn’t want to sign up for that?”