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Changes in approach, funding afoot at Gwinnett Children's Shelter

Gwinnett Children’s Shelter executive director Maureen Kornowa, right, gives board members and other supporters a tour of the Buford facility Monday. The shelter has cut ties with the state and is changing its philosophy for helping local children. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

Gwinnett Children’s Shelter executive director Maureen Kornowa, right, gives board members and other supporters a tour of the Buford facility Monday. The shelter has cut ties with the state and is changing its philosophy for helping local children. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

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Executive director Maureen Kornowa, board chair Brand Morgan and board member Karen Hill cut a ribbon Monday outside Gwinnett Children’s Shelter in Buford. The shelter has retooled its approach and is launching a new “Next Step” program. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

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Seven children and three adult women moved into the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter Monday. They will live in a family-style environment in rooms like this one. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

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Seven children and three adult women moved into the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter Monday. They will live in a family-style environment in rooms like this one. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

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Gwinnett Children’s Shelter board chair Brand Morgan speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

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A dry erase board in the kitchen at the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter welcomes new residents into the facility’s retooled program. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

BUFORD — The mission is largely the same.

For 26 years, the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter has done pretty much what the name suggests — help local kids in dire, sometime dangerous situations. At one point or another, the facility tucked away off a discreet Buford street has provided a home for some 6,000 kids.

None of that is changing, at least on a big-picture scale. The approach, however, is. The paper trail is, too.

“We really can go about what we’re trying to do in a more efficient manner,” board chair Brand Morgan said. ” … We can execute the way we need to execute, rather than having to go read state guidelines on how to execute. Which I think really is a freedom we didn’t have before.”

The Gwinnett Children’s Shelter has severed all ties with the state of Georgia, meaning it’s no longer affiliated with the Division of Family and Children Services or the Department of Juvenile Justice. It will no longer receive state funding, meaning it will depend solely on the kindness of the community.

Kids will still be served, but the type of child is different. The shelter’s population will now consist primarily of homeless children accompanied by their mothers, as well as young, homeless women who have aged out of foster care.

It’s a significant departure from the last 15-plus years, when the shelter cared for wards of the state between the ages of 13 and 17.

Monday marked the official start of the “Next Step” program.

“We have the opportunity to be a results-driven program to end homelessness,” executive director Maureen Kornowa said. “It’s not a 30-day Band-Aid agency but a life-changing agency.”

Every resident at the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter will now meet with the facility’s licensed therapist to develop a customized “life plan” aimed at helping them get back on their feet and creating a better future. With further guidance from a resident advisor —a house mother, basically — and a client advocate, residents must adhere to strict guidelines to remain on campus.

It’s a largely results-driven program with weekly and monthly checkpoints.

“Every 30 days you earn your next 30 days,” Kornowa said. “It’s a tough love program.”

The shift in philosophy will bring less red tape and allow the organization to be more nimble, Morgan said. None of the children being served under the new system are wards of the state, enabling the shelter to surrender its statewide licensing and end its relationship.

Morgan said the departure had nothing to do with DFCS’ well-publicized issues regarding oversights in investigating child abuse cases.

“(The decision) didn’t have much to do with DFCS other than the direction DFCS was going was foster care,” Morgan said. “And we, by definition, are the opposite of foster care.”

The other major change going forward will be a reliance exclusively on private and corporate contributions. Dan Burgner, the shelter’s fund development director, was confident in that model’s sustainability.

“There’s so many businesses out there that are looking for places to donate,” Burgner said. “So it’s my job to bring them in, educate them and let them know what’s going on. Once we educate them, it’s really not that hard from that point on.”

For more information on the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, visit gwinnettchildrensshelter.org. For more information about donating, contact Burgner at rdanielburgner@gmail.com.