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New St. John’s Residence Not ‘Just a Building’

February 6, 2011

A new residential building to be dedicated this week at St. John's Home for Children in Wheeling will provide a significant increase in the facility's capacity to help boys in need.

The 7,000-square-foot residence, located on Key Avenue, is situated beside the home's admistrative office building and in front of the existing cottages. The 22-room building is constructed on the site of a former orphanage, used most recently as the Thomas More Center, that was demolished last year to make way for the home's expansion,

A blessing and dedication by the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, is planned at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9. After the ceremony, an open house will take place until 5:30 p.m.

Article Photos

Admiring the amenities in a spacious living room of the new facility at St. John’s Home for Children are staff members, from left, Kenny Fisher, assistant director; Trista Rager, nutritional coordinator and youth care worker; Jennifer Novak, secretary, and Chad Kocher, residential program coordinator.

Terry McCormick, executive director of St. John's Home, said a moving date for the residents is set tentatively for Friday, Feb. 11, pending approval from state authorities. The state fire marshal conducted a final inspection of the facility Wednesday, Feb. 2.

"This will also be the genesis of the next era of services to youth and families entrusted to our care as we celebrate our 155th year of operation on Feb. 21," McCormick said.

Currently, St. John's Home can house eight boys, ages 8-14. The new building increases the home's capacity by one-fourth, allowing 12 boys to be in residence.

Architect William Hooker designed the new building. Walters Construction of Wheeling was the Project BEST contractor for the work.

"The building isn't just a building. It is the conduit in which the kids are taught the skills they need to learn, or sadly, to relearn, after experiencing abuse at the hands of the adults in their lives. It also becomes an environment where they learn to trust adults, an important developmental task for many of the youth," McCormick said.

This new facility houses all residential services in one location. McCormick explained that the new St. John's Home for Children has:

The executive director added, "We also have an educational lab to provide our youth with modern, up-to-date equipment to assist them in their school work and to receive tutoring services."

Licensed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation, St. John's Home for Children provides tesidential services and care to West Virginia boys,. ages 8 to 14, who have behavioral problems or are the victims of abuse or neglect. Boys are sent to the home from the state's Region 1, which stretches from Parkersburg and Clarksburg northward; most of the boys come from the Northern Panhandle, McCormick said.

On average, a boy will stay at St. John's for about 10 months, he said. After leaving the facility, "some may go back home; some go to adoptive homes; some to foster homes," he said.

While in residence, boys attend local public schools. "The schools work well with us ... to keep the kids in school," he said.

After school, the boys eat dinner as a group to learn social skills. Each boy also has a chore to do, to help him learn to handle responsibility in whatever setting he will live, McCormick said.

The home's staff and the boys "work on some of their more serious issues, through therapy and counseling, both individual and family counseling," the director said.

The new facility's spacious living room and dining area (both with a cathedral ceiling), kitchen and recreation area are located in one section of the building. An adjacent wing houses bathrooms, 12 bedrooms, a laundry room and storage areas.

"Now, every child will have a bedroom," McCormick said. "With some of the challenges the kids come with, they require a single room. It makes the treatment process more effective."

He commented, "Each area of the new facility is designed to create structure in the child's life as well as ceremony and ritual, activities essential to this age group. Structured activities such as sitting down together for meals, having designated homework hours, interacting together with relaxed playtime, working together on homework, completing assigned daily chores to learn how to contribute to the 'family' and following set bedtime routines will enable the boys to begin their journey of healing and teach them to become productive members within their communities."

Residents are excited about moving from the small cottage into the larger facility, he said. One of the cottages is rented to a Kids' Club daycare center. The current residential cottage will be utilized later for new programs that the home plans to initiate, McCormick said.

Trista Rager, the home's nutritional coordinator and youth care worker, is ecstatic at the prospect of preparing the boys' daily meals in the large new kitchen. She said the kitchen is huge in comparison to the present facility. "We're very excited. I'm thrilled with this," she said, surveying the kitchen's shiny amenities.

A capital campaign to finance the construction has raised more than $875,000 toward the $1.5 million goal with a major lead gift by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston through the bishop, McCormick said.

"We are so, so grateful to all the donors who have contributed to our campaign," he said. "We will be working very hard over the next few months to raise the remainder of the funds."

Contributions may be sent to St. John's Home for Children Capital Campaign, 141 Key Ave., Wheeling, WV 26003. Donations also can be made online through PayPal at

Among the contributors is Bethany College's Department of Social Work which selected St. John's Home as its "spotlight organization" and donated $1,000 to the capital campaign. The money was raised by the department through its annual two-day symposium that provides continuing-education credits for nurses, social workers and counselors.

Bethany has had a long and successful partnership with the home, and many of the college's students have completed internships there. Katherine Shelek-Furbee, chair of Department of Social Work, serves on St. John's board of directors. She commented, "St. John's provides quality child-care services and is very deserving of this donation."

In addition to money, the college contributed "brawn" to the project when five Bethany football players - Matt Grimard, Ryan Busch, C.J. Thomas, Robert Baker and Tyler Babinchok - spent a Saturday morning moving furniture and appliances to the new building.

McCormick said, "We are so grateful to Bethany College and student-athletes from its football team who assisted us by helping us move all the items that needed to be installed into the new 22-room facility. This was no small task, especially with all of the heavier furniture and recreation room pieces that were part of the moving process."

He remarked, "We simply would not have been able to complete this move without the help of these Bethany students. This is just another great example of how our partnership in education with Bethany comes to life and is representative of these students embodying the mission of Bethany College."

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