Imagine being just 18 years old and aged out of the foster-care system. Add childhood trauma, homelessness and mental-health issues to the equation, and it’s a lot for a young person to handle, and for us to understand.
Nancy’s Place Montclair is a residence with eight single bedrooms, a house with 24-hour services, supervision and a supportive environment to live in until age 21 or older if need be.
I spoke to Nancy King, who purchased the property on South Willow Street on behalf of Covenant House New Jersey. Nancy sits on the board of Covenant House, and responded to a concept suggested by Jim White, executive director, of a separate residence for young people with mental health issues who needed long-term care, clinical care and a safe place to reside.
Nancy has personal experience with mental health issues, having had a son who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and substance abuse problems. She said, “I just couldn’t help him. It wasn’t enough. I had the opportunity to help someone else’s child, and Nancy’s Place, founded in 2009, exists in his honor.”
Sadly, her son is no longer alive, but the work of Covenant House continues.
Jim White and Nancy explored many different towns, and Nancy said, “We had a lot of doors shut on us, and decided that Montclair, with its welcoming and supportive sense of community, was the perfect choice for our young people to live and work.”
Covenant House New Jersey provides shelter for young people ages 18 to 21, and helps them transition successfully to independent living. A customized care plan assists each person and helps them identify their obstacles and goals, with a team of service managers, youth advisers, behavioral health specialists, lawyers and medical professionals a available to them 24/7, 365 days a year.
Kathy Walsh, major gift officer for Covenant House and liaison for development at Nancy’s Place Montclair, told me more about the program and how young people come to reside there. After first visiting the Crisis Center in Newark, they can be referred by a behavioral specialist. During the point-of-entry interview, they are given the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) test, which quantifies possible childhood mental or physical abuse, neglect and household dysfunction on a score of 1-10.
Kathy said, “Most of our residents score 4.5 or greater on the ACE, and need to overcome homelessness and move on to live on their own. They reside with us on a voluntary basis. It’s not just a place to live, but to learn how to succeed and move on in the future.”
The eight residents of Nancy’s Place each have their own fully furnished room. New linens and towels are provided, along with clothing if need be. There are staff members on-site 24/7 to assist the residents and address their physical, emotional, educational, employment and spiritual goals.
Think of Nancy’s Place as a home where eight young people reside in a group situation. They become part of what is a new family for themselves, cooking and eating meals together in the way that many of us experienced and enjoyed as children.
We never thought that this was a luxury, but it is for some. The residents participate in the responsibilities of a shared household, which include chores, meal preparation, food shopping and weekly activities.
As part of her job, Kathy helps to raise crucial funds that help keep the doors of Nancy’s Place open. Along with monetary donations, Kathy said that “we are always in need of new bedding, towels, bathrobes, toiletries and cleaning supplies.”
The Junior League of Montclair-Newark will present Sleep Out: Montclair Community Edition, a fundraiser for Nancy’s Place, from Friday, March 4, at 8 p.m. to Saturday, March 5, at 8 a.m. Participants can choose to sleep out in their cars at the Montclair Women’s Club, 82 Union St., or at a location of their choosing. You can give up your bed and sleep out in your own backyard, garage, on your porch or terrace.
In this small way, participants will experience what homelessness feels like. The program will be live and interactive online, and will connect people from Covenant House New Jersey, alumni, front-line staff and fellow Sleepers from across the state.
Each participant is required to register and fundraise in advance, with corporate sponsorships available. For more information, contact Kathy Walsh, [email protected]
I had the pleasure of doing an extended phone interview with a current resident at Nancy’s Place, a 22-year-old young man named Nicholas.
Nicholas came to Nancy’s Place in August of 2020 and has made great strides since arriving there. He said, “I am trying my best to live peacefully in our house while following the house rules, and have made new friends there. I am on the road to independence and focusing on my mental and physical health. I wasn’t really thriving before. The pandemic made me lonelier, and COVID is a challenge.”
Nicholas learned cooking skills, how to grocery shop and do laundry. He prepares his own meals and can choose to have meals together with the other residents when his schedule allows, or eat on his own in the shared kitchen.
He is employed by Johnson & Johnson in Raritan as an analyst for the medical technology team, focusing on software and writing.
His second job is at Whole Foods, where he uses his employee discount to purchase vegan ingredients for his meals. This helps him to save more money to purchase his own home, and he is currently looking in Trenton and South Jersey for a home to purchase. I am impressed by this, as I was 44 before I purchased my home here in town.
A many-faceted man, Nicholas likes to illustrate and draw comics in the Japanese Manga style, and visits East Side Mags here in town.
“I also like to purchase punk merchandise, and am back to attending Anytime Fitness on Bloomfield Avenue,” he said. “I am proud to have my own license, and purchased my first car. This helps me to get around more, while slowly and carefully searching for homes that I can afford. I wish I could go to more restaurants in town, but I’m being careful about how I spend my money.”
Nicholas is a prime example of turning a sad and challenging story into something positive, and showing us how one can survive trauma and move on in a positive way.
That’s the magic of Nancy’s Place, and he wants us to remember that “everyone has their own path at Nancy’s Place, and we are track-focused young adults. This has been a safety net and my nest, and I don’t know where I’d be now without it.”
In this article:
- Nancy’s Place Montclair
32 South Willow St., 973-744-8175
- Kathy Walsh, major gift officer for Covenant House New Jersey and liaison for development, Nancy’s Place Montclair
- Covenant House New Jersey
330 Washington St., Newark
Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director’s Award of the Essex County Legacies Essay contest.