For several years now, I’ve been on the hunt for a mission. I am a feminist, and deeply passionate about the advancement of equity and human rights. But as I’ve become more educated about the complexity of everyday oppressions faced by marginal communities – on a local, national and global scale – I’ve fallen victim to my own cynicisms; I’ve been forced to confront my complicity within an expert machine of systemic oppression. Sometimes it’s overwhelming.
In these moments, I’ve learned to take a few deep breaths, scale back my anxiety and try to harness a measure of power instead. My placement at Providence House has served as the spark I’ve needed to find greater clarity in this path – it has offered me a practical means for shifting my learning toward productive action.
Providence House is Ohio’s first licensed crisis nursery, and it fights to end child abuse and neglect by protecting at-risk children, empowering families in crisis, and building safer communities for every child. It works toward this goal by offering free, voluntary emergency shelter to children, ranging in age from newborn through ten years old, who are actively living in crisis situations. With a long-term objective of family preservation, the nonprofit employs a two-generation approach to empower families and break the debilitating cycles of abuse, violence and poverty. They offer family case management, social service referrals, trauma services, child medical care and skills training, parent education programming, and an “aftercare” program that provides ongoing support to parents as their children transition to reunite with their families.
The results speak for themselves. Last year, Providence House achieved a 98-percent success rate of family reunification, and served 326 children from 166 families from nearly 30 zip codes across the Greater Cleveland area. In its 35-year history, the nonprofit has cared for nearly 8,000 babies and children throughout the region. Moreover, a long-term outcomes study conducted by Case Western Reserve University affirmed that when parents are engaged in recommended support services, 82-percent of children tracked did not enter the foster care system after a stay at Providence House.
Looking toward the future, Providence House just launched its new five-year “Vision 40” strategic plan. Through my placement here, I’ve had the privilege of laying the groundwork for their “Every Child Ohio” consultation-based replication strategy. Cuyahoga County currently ranks #1 in Ohio for rates of child abuse and neglect. While Providence House is working to expand within our region, they recognize the need for this model in other high-risk counties throughout the state. My role entails gathering data to assess where counties with the highest need intersect with key stakeholder support to launch and sustain this crisis nursery model in other communities. Within the next five years, this strategy will be initiated in three to five of the most viable Ohio counties to prevent abuse and neglect on a larger scale.
Beyond this project, I am also an Ohio City resident; Providence House is a pillar of my neighborhood, and I’m more engaged in the success of this community than ever before. This work has also deepened my investment in the city of Cleveland, and I have been challenged to celebrate progress while remaining critical of the dire needs that still exist in our communities. I have found clarity in Providence House’s work toward shifting toxic stigmas surrounding families in crisis—especially single mothers—and I aim to help amplify the powerful stories of our clients on a larger scale. In doing so, I hope to continue championing this crucial mission throughout my career in Greater Cleveland’s nonprofit sector.
Eva McKnight, a graduate student at Cleveland State University in the Master of Nonprofit Administration and Leadership program, is placed at Providence House. Eva conducts research and analysis to explore the expansion of the Providence House program model to other communities in Ohio and provides donor research and campaign material development for Providence House’s endowment campaign.