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Tallmadge -- City Council approved a request for a change in zoning that will allow The Highlands teen pregnancy shelter to serve more moms and babies.
Shelter Care Inc., located at 32 South Ave., requested City Council to grant a conditional zoning certificate for special nonresidential development for its shelter down the street at 262 South Ave. The request was approved 7-0 at Council's April 24 meeting. The certificate will allow the capacity of The Highlands to increase from a maximum of five people to 12 at one time.
According to The Highlands Program Director Mary Kay Dotterer, since its inception in 2005, the large home-like shelter has served 64 mothers and 34 babies. The average stay is from four to eight months. The facility was unable to help about 30 teens per year, on average, who requested admission to the program, because of the facility's former zoning.
Dotterer said increasing the capacity at the shelter would mean not having to turn any teens away because of limited space.
"We'll be able to catch more of those girls who slip thorough the cracks … It would mean a lot. It just breaks my heart to turn them away," she said.
The waiting list of teens who might be eligible for the program when space becomes available has five names, according to Dotterer.
Shelter Care Executive Director Wesley Fair said teen pregnancy rates haven't been increasing, but the organization believes it can address more of the demand of teen moms in Summit and surrounding counties who would otherwise be homeless by increasing the capacity of The Highlands.
"We would serve more girls than we would turn away. We would be in great shape," he said.
Although the conditional zoning change will allow the shelter to have a maximum of 12 people at once, it's more likely no more than 10 would be there on a regular basis.
A shelter with more teens and babies also will mean more funding opportunities for The Highlands and a larger budget to hire two or three additional part-time workers to its 12-member staff, Dotterer said.
While the teens are living at the shelter, the staff teaches them to become independent adults that properly care for their babies. The teens are encouraged to finish high school or earn a GED, find and keep jobs, apply for government assistance, secure housing and go through counseling, if necessary.
The federal Maternity Home Grant pays for one-third of The Highlands budget, and funding from Summit County, churches and private donations makes up the remaining two-thirds, Fair said.
Now that Council has granted the conditional zoning certificate, Shelter Care will move forward with installing a sprinkler system in the building, a requirement of the Summit County Building Department, and widen doorways and install a ramp at a rear door, requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other updates required by the Tallmadge Fire Department, Fair said.
The shelter hopes to take in more teens and their babies by the end of the summer.
The private, nonprofit organization Shelter Care, founded in 1972, also has Safe Landing Youth Shelter for boys and another for girls in the Akron area that provide short-term care. Through a network of respite and shelter homes, the organization provides intermediate and long-term care.
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