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A Place to Call Home in Nashua

By S. Mathur

Nashua Children's Home has been shelter and foundation for hundreds of children who have, for a while, no other place to call home. Founded in 1903 "for the purpose of maintaining a home for orphans and destitute children of Nashua and vicinity," it has continued to respond to the changing needs of the community. Today, it's a place for children who have nowhere else to go, says Executive Director David Villiotti: "Presently, the 46 boys and girls placed at Nashua Children's Home are referred by New Hampshire's child-protective and juvenile justice agency and are at least temporarily unable to live with their families of origin."

The Residential Program provides housing for up to 48 children between ages of the 6 and 18 years. Children are encouraged to continue to participate in family life through frequent home visits. Reintegration into family life is one of the major goals of the program, says Villiotti: "We measure success by youth being able to reunify with their families, transition successfully to alternate families, to live independently and to function successfully within public school classrooms."

Over the years, Nashua Children's Home has added to its Residential Program. The Educational Program works with children who due to special needs or disabilities are unable to attend public schools. The Transitional Living Program provides housing for young people who have aged-out of the child-protective/juvenile justice system and have to make their way in the world without any family support.

Transitional housing addresses a pressing but largely ignored social need. Young adults who have aged out of the juvenile system are a particularly vulnerable group, and the statistics from the Child Welfare League of America bear this out. A third of the homeless adults across the nation are products of the foster care system. Forty-six percent of young people from foster homes don't complete high school. Former foster youth are also at high risk for unemployment, incarceration, early parenthood and health problems. At the Nashua Children's Home, the Transitional Housing initiative is largely funded by private donors, since there is very little public money for this demographic.

Fundraising events in the community include the Club National Golf Tournament, sponsored by Club National in Nashua and the All Day Power Play, a 24-hour hockey event at Conway Arena. As well as the highly qualified and dedicated staff, the Home relies on volunteers, says Villiotti: "Volunteers serve many roles. They either assist our counseling staff or share a particular interest or skill that they have with children. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Laura Benevides at 883-3851 or at lbenevides@nashuachildrenshome.org."

Villiotti says that he values his work here, particularly staying in touch with the children after they have grown up: "Having been with Nashua Children's Home for 30 years, I'm inspired by youth, as adults, sharing with us the benefits that accrued to them at Nashua Children's Home, from hearing these anecdotes by their parents and public agency workers as well and also at seeing the day-to-day interactions with these young people by the dedicated staff of Nashua Children's Home."

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