The House that People Built – Seeing a need

In March 1969 Rex Smith, one of the original founders of Hearts & Homes for Youth, prepared a report called “The House That People Built: Anatomy of a Group Home in Suburbia.” The subject of the report was the Boys’ Home of Montgomery County, which is now known as Hearts & Homes for Youth. Here are some excerpts from the report.

"We appreciate very much the interest and enthusiasm of the local community without whose support as individuals, groups, and corporate citizens, there would be no home and no report." -Rex Smith

June196817Rex&YouthHistory

The history of progress in the human service area often revolves around a tragic accident…

There was in our history, a single case in point that brought attention to the seriousness of this problem, which had not yet been brought to public attention through tragedy. This case occurred in the adult court regarding a youth of nineteen years. Mr. Melvin M. Feldman, later to become the President of the Board of Directors of the Boys’ Home, was appointed to the case of the youth, who was without family or other resources.

The judge, based on Mr. Feldman’s investigation, did not want to commit the boy to a reformatory, but found himself in a quandary. Mr. Feldman, a man of action, got in touch with several people who eventually led him to Reverend David Watterworth, then Pastor of the Georgia Avenue Christian Church in Silver Spring, MD. Arrangements were made for Reverend Watterworth to take the young lad into his own home where he remained for the next several months until he went out on his own. There were no incidents of offensive behavior recorded during his period of stay with the Watterworth family.

Neither Mr. Feldmand nor Reverend Watterworth were satisfied with the facilities available for youngsters in difficulty. They both involved the Honorable Alfred D. Boyes, Judge of the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County, in an effort to develop a plan for the establishment and operation of youth homes throughout the county. These homes would be capable of dealing with youngsters who were in trouble and/or from troubled homes, who would benefit from a residential experience with other youngsters. Here they would have the opportunity for education, vocational training, and work experience.

Mr. Feldman called together a group of thirteen people on the evening of February 24, 1964 to further discuss the dilemma facing the courts. The group discussed the “half-way house” concept and set out fact-finding committees to determine how financial assistance could be developed, as well as the intent and scope of the program, which would be established in the home. Several committees were set for various purposes with major emphasis centered around the development of community interest in the youngsters and the program.

The group decided to incorporate itself as the Boys’ Home of Montgomery County on April 17, 1964. During the next few months, one of the committees developed a liaison with and a commitment from the various social service agencies in the community toward helping the Boys’ Home. These included the Probation Department of the Juvenile Court, the Department of Public Welfare, the Division of Child Mental Health, the Board of Education Pupil Services Division, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for the State of Maryland, the Family Services Agency of Montgomery County, the Probation Department of the Circuit Court, the Department of Employment Security, and the Bureau of Rehabilitation of the National Capital Area. There was little doubt that the social serving agencies who dealt with adolescent youth everyday considered this a major project.

An investigation and study of probation cases in the Juvenile Court in 1964 found that at least one hundred young men between the ages of 16 and 19 who appeared before the Juvenile Court in Montgomery County would have been referred for placement in a structured homelike setting. It was clear that many adolescent youth in the community needed residential treatment and placement outside of their own homes but not in a mental hospital or in training school settings. The Maryland State Department of Public Welfare had held a conference as far back as 1961 on halfway houses. The need to provide this type of residential treatment in the State of Maryland was cited time and time again with as yet no results. Judge Alfred Noyes stated:

“I have no doubt that it could help save many boys from a life of crime… The court in most instances is confronted with a choice offering either probation services or commitment to one of the State training schools. There should be alternative facilities such as small group homes where children could live in a homelike atmosphere under the supervision of competent personnel and receive probation services from the staff of Court.”

On February 12, 1968 we opened the doors of the Boys’ Home… We had arranged for contractual spaces, that is, four bedrooms on the upper floor of a large old home in Rockville, which was used as a boarding house for adults. A part-time counselor was hired and with the help of the owner of the home who acted as a cook and housekeeper, and the probation staff, we were able to develop a shoestring approach to the guidance and development of the youngsters who were referred to us by the Juvenile Court.

In May of 1968 we learned of the foresight and conscientious concern of the Montgomery County Council for the Boys’ Home… the County Council appropriated $30,000 in its 1968-69 budget to match the money raised by the Boys’ Home. This $30,000 would help pay for at least one half of the cost of care, per boy, per month. This single action by the Montgomery City Council was probably the most significant in our development. We were a reality, but this acceptance of our integrity by the governing body of the County seemed to push us over the hump.

At this writing, our history is in fact history. We are by no means on easy street and, as mentioned before, our existence from year to year will be as much based on the grass roots $5 membership from individual citizenry as on larger contributions from major corporations and foundations. We started on nickels and dimes raised at the Montgomery County Fair through the sale of balloons and other small but very significant contributions. Certainly we plan to better our organization and expand as part of our future. Our history as it can be read. however, makes us both humble and grateful.