Updated: Feb 1, 2019
This article was taken from the Virginian-Pilot Online, written by James Thomas.
ForKids, the nonprofit that works to alleviate family homelessness, has returned to Suffolk.
A grand opening celebration for the ForKids Suffolk Regional Services Center was held on Nov. 8 at its new West Constance Road location. It caps a $2.25 million campaign to renovate and redesign the old Kelly’s Tavern as a ForKids trauma-informed center. Funding cuts hindered operation of the one-time shelter on Finney Avenue.
More than 100 friends, donors and staff of the Norfolk-based group attended a ribbon cutting and open house at the new Suffolk location. It will serve a 1,400-mile area of Suffolk, Franklin, and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.
Designated “The Birdsong Center for Families,” the facility honors George Y. Birdsong who chaired the almost 2½-year Suffolk ForKids Capital Campaign drive. “It’s what we love to do,” Birdsong said, who has been involved in numerous philanthropy efforts in Suffolk.
State Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, made an appeal for volunteers and resources the facility will need to grow and serve its purpose. He said that 14 children can be transported to and from the building in its lone van, but an extra van could support more children, and additional resources could mean serving 50 children.
ForKids CEO Thaler McCormick welcomed guests to the new home and went over some of its highlights. “The space is joyful and full of light,” she said. “Wherever you turn you see art. It is a hopeful place for our children to learn and our families to start over.”
ForKids children’s art is displayed on walls and hallways throughout the building. It’s the result of a community drive to collect throw-away objects like buttons, beads, costume jewelry, plastics and assorted household items for children to create art.
The organization was able to convince Israeli artist Hanoch Piven, best known for creating celebrity caricatures, to lead a workshop to help the children create self-portraits by pasting the odds and ends on posters. Piven was in Hampton Roads as the first artist in residence for Israel Today, a program run by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.
Another art display of decorative coasters and discs highlighted a large donor wall created by Norfolk artist Randy Beard. Beard donated dozens of the pieces called “Ink Spots” to the facility that McCormick nicknamed “swirly plastic coasters.”
The revamped 7,000-square-foot facility, redesigned by Tymoff+Moss Architects and construction firm Hourigan, will primarily serve as a base for job coaches, mental health professionals and case managers. No overnight sheltering will be provided, but staff will help parents find jobs and housing placements, and children will receive tutoring and assessments to improve learning skills.
The facility includes a commercial kitchen, and children will be given meals at least two times a week, said Becky Pinkard, a spokeswoman at ForKids. Also on site is a food pantry and a center for dropping off clothing and other supplies.
“Last year 90 percent of our original homeless families exited to permanent housing, and 95 percent of our kids – most who were below their school grade level – advanced to the next grade,” Pinkard said.
ForKids programs directly assist approximately 200 families, including 400 children each day, and impact nearly 63,000 people each year, according to the organization’s literature. Its crisis hotline logged 45,552 calls in fiscal year 2018, according to ForKids' Crisis Response Manager, Shirley Brackett.
The Suffolk Regional Services Center represents only the first of two projects in the overall five year, $15 million ForKids campaign chaired by Frank Batten Jr. of Landmark Media Enterprises. A 60,000-square-foot, $12 million regional headquarters is planned for the South Norfolk community of Chesapeake.
Volunteers are always needed, McCormick said, such as tutors, drivers and receptionists.
Visit ForKidsVA.org or call 622-6400 for more information.
James Thomas, email@example.com