By KRISTIN HARTY BARKLEY
CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — Deer feed in the woods surrounding the Allegany Girls Therapeutic Home, sometimes coming right up to the sun porch window.
House cats Jo Jo, Lelo and Bella lounge on couches and chairs, soaking up the late summer sun.
Founded in 1975 and operated by the YMCA?of Cumberland until this summer, the home is a temporary shelter for wayward teenage girls from across the state.
But its new parent organization, San Mar of Boonsboro, aims for it to be something more.
“We want to be a sanctuary,”?said Jennifer Younker, program director of the home, which has room for up to eight girls ages 13 to 18.
“We have God’s beautiful country out here. We can really be a place of safety and security. We provide a home-like environment, structure and support for the girls.”
In July, Younker, who formerly worked for the YMCA, went to work for San Mar, a nonprofit organization that operates a number of group homes and foster care programs for adolescent girls in Washington County. San Mar signed on as the home’s new parent organization after leadership at the YMCA determined it needed to step away.
“A lot of it had to do with finances,” Younker said. “The cost to operate group homes drastically increased, while rates with the state have been frozen for four years. So it really made it very challenging for the Y.”
The transition has brought changes to the home, which is tucked in a quiet, rolling hillside off Willowbrook Road.
Formerly licensed under the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, the home is now licensed under the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and offers more specialized therapeutic services to girls with mental health needs, Younker said.
“We are preventing kids from going into a locked facility, and we’re also getting kids who are stepping down from that level of care,” Younker said, adding that a majority of residents face minor criminal charges and are referred through the Department of Juvenile Services.
“Some of our girls have some drug charges. We do have some girls who have gang involvement, and sometimes placing them here in Allegany County is their saving grace. We can separate them from that gang and really hone in and provide some good treatment.”
The girls, who typically stay at the home six to nine months, are required to attend public school or work, and receive individual and group counseling, as well as life skills and anger management training. In the evenings, they rotate cooking duties and perform other chores.
“They eat meals together,” Younker said. “We function very much as a family. … They do their own laundry.”
Currently, there are seven residents. Eighteen-year-old Sarah Price, of Baltimore, arrived in April and expects to be discharged in December. She said she plans to stay in Allegany County.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” said Price, who is taking classes at Allegany College of Maryland, with a focus on elementary education. “I want to work in an alternative school because I think I’ll be able to relate to them since it’s what I’ve been through. I’ll be able to say, I was in the same place.”
Having San Mar as a parent organization has also allowed Younker to raise the salaries of direct-care workers. In addition, the home has new windows, a new phone system, a remodeled sun porch, and a new parking lot, among other upgrades.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)