The point of a crisis nursery, says Sister Ann Weltz, isn't how to fill up as many beds as you have — although, for the record, there are 20 for children from birth to age 5, and six for children ages 6 to 10 — at the nursery she has directed over the past three decades.
At the Concord nursery that she has nurtured since 1981, "Our main aim is to see that we always have the space available for a child in need of a safe place."
In a pair of houses on a residential street in Concord, with mature trees that provide welcome shade, the Bay Area Crisis Nursery quietly provides a safe place for parents to leave their children in caring, loving hands, while they work out a problem with a landlord, a lender, an employer, a class assignment or with substance abuse.
"I can't imagine a parent's feeling when they get to the point when they realize they can't do the best for their children because of the stress of the crisis they're going through, and they don't have people in their immediate support system that are available to help with the children," said Sister Ann.
In giving parents time to work out a problem without having to care for their children, the center's main mission is to prevent child abuse.
"It does wonders for a family that needs the support of an extended family but doesn't have it," she said.
There are only five crisis nurseries in the state of California; this is the only one in the Bay Area.
All care is provided at no cost to the parents. Last year, more than 1,200 children spent some time at the crisis nursery.
"It's not easy for a parent to come here and give us their children," said Sister Ann. "It is probably the most difficult thing they've done in their life."
When families arrive, parents are given a tour, meet the staff and see the care the children in the nursery receive. Spanish-speaking families may bring a translator with them.
"We take the child on a 24-basis," she said. "We feed them, care for them, see that they have all the love, attention and interaction they need to have a really nice stay. It's like sending a child to camp, only many of our children are way too young for a regular camp.
"They become at home here. They become children at play."
The Bay Area Crisis Nursery received some welcome publicity last month, when Sister Ann, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, was named the winner of a local Jefferson Award. There's hope the reports on the work of the nursery will not only spread the word to families who may need the nursery's services, but to those who can help pay for the 24-hour-a day care.
The cost of care adds up to about $80,000 a month. The nonprofit organization receives all its funding from donors. There are three fundraisers each year, and the nursery keeps a current wish list of items it needs to care for the children.
Sister Ann is also available to tell the story of the Bay Area Crisis Nursery to parishes and community groups.
Among the stories she can tell is about a letter she received not long ago from a mother who told Sister Ann that her daughter was graduating from high school. Many years before, the mother brought the then-toddler to the crisis nursery. Troubled by the uncertainty of how she could care for her child, she was going to give the child up for adoption. Sister Ann had encouraged her to leave the child at the nursery, and go talk with friends and make a plan.
The mother, with the support of her friends, returned for her child the next day. Each Christmas, anonymously, they brought stuffed animals for the children in the crisis nursery.
The girl had been given a stuffed animal during her stay at the nursery. "That was her security in hard times," the mother wrote. "We'll never forget you."
When they moved to another state, they continued the tradition by giving to families in need at their church, in honor of what the Bay Area Crisis Nursery had done for them.
"She had a wonderful life," she said. "We never knew that, for years and years."
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