NARRAGANSETT—The Washington County Coalition for Children (WCCC) announced during its 15th annual Children’s Issues Forum Wednesday its champions, with Joseph Dziobek, executive director of Welcome House of South County (WHSC), honored as the 2017 “Champion for Children” and Kate Brewster, executive director of Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale, named the 2017 “Champion for Family Support.”

Dziobek and Brewster were selected based on nominations by community members.

“We really were so impressed with both Kate and Joe because they’re the epitome of the mission of the coalition, which is using individual agency resources to work together to solve a problem,” Watson explained. “Their agencies are so important and their agencies directly impact people’s lives on a day-to-day basis.”

The WCCC isn’t a service agency, Watson added, but instead offers data and provides opportunities for outside agencies to come together to solve problems.

“We’re really a coalition for change,” she said, “but it’s really moving the agencies and other people of the community to come together to support that.”

Typically, the WCCC names only one “Champion for Children.” However, the search committee was so impressed by the efforts of both Dziobek and Brewster that it decided to add this year the “Champion for Family Support.”

“It was a surprise and a true honor to be named champion in my own community,” Brewster said, “and that recognition certainly goes beyond me—I work with a great team of folks at the Jonnycake Center who also make a huge difference in the lives of low-income people in Narragansett and South Kingstown.”

For Dziobek’s part, the committee admired his efforts to provide assistance to pregnant women and single mothers.

“When people think of homeless shelters, they think for adults,” Watson said. “A lot of people don’t recognize that—especially in South County—we have pregnant women, children and moms. If they don’t have family around and they become homeless, or they become homeless because of domestic violence issues, they don’t have anyplace to go except the city.”

Uprooting children from their schools and regular doctors to relocate to a Providence shelter could be detrimental, Watson added.

Dziobek said since accepting his position at WHSC in 2015 he’s received many requests for housing for single mothers.  

Yesterday marked the official move-in day for Parkside—the Welcome House’s new housing specifically catering to pregnant women and single mothers.

“I think people see [Parkside] as innovative,” Dziobek said. “We felt that we wanted to do more for the families in the area, and there’s no shortage of need.”

A WHSC shelter for women is also currently undergoing renovations and Dziobek said he expects it to open after the summer.

“Our goal is to help people get their lives back together and move on so we can help the next person,” he said.

“People look upon homelessness and sometimes paint everybody with the same brush,” he continued. “Men and women become homeless for different reasons. When you add the additional factor of children who are homeless with their moms, it’s a very challenging situation—it’s at that point that moms can either give up or they can get some resilience from the people around them. That’s where we come in.”

Parkside, Dziobek added, has “been a labor of love.”

The new home—which boasts four bedrooms to accommodate up to four sets of mothers and their children—opened after undergoing renovations totaling around $15,000. Among several donors, Bank RI was a major supporter and supplied many of the appliances—including a washer and dryer—and the branch manager has offered to help tenants with their budgeting, Dziobek added.

Parkside was designed with children in mind. The front room is furnished with a treehouse donated by Mama Bird, and instead of a living room there’s a combined playroom and library.

“Moms can get together and interact with their children and do puzzles and games and read,” Dziobek added. “They can really get their parenting skills honed.”

Watson pointed out that scarce public transportation can make situations like finding housing especially difficult for single mothers.

“If you live in certain parts of Washington County, you can take a bus in the morning to get where you need, but the bus to get home comes at the end of the day,” she said. “If you’ve got a couple of little kids in tow, you are spending a whole day in Wakefield of Narragansett or Westerly—some place that’s not home.”

The search committee was especially pleased with Dziobek’s and Brewster’s efforts to combine their resources to make positive impacts in Washington County, Watson added.

“I think, more than anything, our goals are aligned,” Dziobek said. “We believe strongly in providing support for people but also helping people become empowered so they can get along, eventually, without needing that much support from us.”

Brewster said she and the others at the Jonnycake Center count on WHSC to help secure affordable housing for residents in need. In turn, the Jonnycake Center provides assistance to the families living in transitional housing—the Parkside cupboards and fridge were stocked Wednesday with goods courtesy of the Jonnycake Center.

Brewster also serves on the WHSC board of directors.  

“We try to brainstorm what are the needs coming down the pike,” she added. “For example, when we've seen a growing population of children and families turning to both organizations, the board has worked with [Dziobek] in thinking about what we can do to address that need.”

Following a tour of the new digs at Parkside, Watson chatted with Allison Martinez, WHSC director of transitional housing and community services, about what the budget for things like laundry detergent and dish soap looked like.

“What I was interested in was the fact that it didn’t take her five seconds to say, ‘if we’re really in tough shape, Jonnycake Center always comes through,’” Watson said. “That’s the kind of collaboration you want to see.”

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