A Brief History of the Haven
- The Upper Valley Haven was founded in 1980 by five individuals who were clergy and parishioners of St. Paul’s and St. James’ Episcopal Churches in White River Junction and Woodstock, respectively.
- These community members saw that the old farmhouse located above St. Paul’s was for sale, and wanted to turn the run-down, neglected building into a place that could be used as a refuge for those in need. Over the next year, the founding group met weekly to pray and discuss their ideas for the Haven.
- Wanting to be an ecumenical organization, the founders started to involve members from other churches, including the Lebanon United Methodist Church, Greater Hartford United Church of Christ (Congregational), and St. Anthony Catholic Church in White River Junction.
- On December 14, 1981, the Haven opened its doors to its first guest family, ironically the “Bishops.” These folks came because they were homeless, and in that moment, the core of the Haven’s mission was established.
- Within the next few years, Board and volunteer involvement expanded beyond these churches to be more inclusive of the whole community.
- A Food Shelf and Clothing Room were added in 1983. In the first year of its operation, the Food Shelf was accessed by 327 households.
- An expansion of the original farmhouse in 1989 allowed space for Educational Programming.
- From 1983 to 2004, Mary and Paul Feeney were the host family in the farmhouse, guiding hundreds of families and individuals from despair to hope, with a mix of authentic welcome, minestrone soup, faith, connections to jobs and resources, and tough love.
In this stretch of over two decades, the founders of the Haven in partnership with the community, established the framework of mission and values which anchor the organization today.
- In 1999, The Board turned to one of its own and hired Suzanne Stofflet as the Interim Managing Director and leader of a campaign to raise funds to expand the Haven.
- The first action was to buy the two properties to the immediate south of the farmhouse.
- In December 1999 Board member Tom Ketteridge was named the Managing Director and Suzanne continued raising money.
- In May 2004, following five years of fund raising and planning and design work, the Family Shelter, Food Shelf and Clothing Room moved into a new building on the lot immediately south of the original farmhouse.
- The Feeneys moved into the third property, the village house next to the new building, and continued to oversee the shelter. In addition to doubling the capacity of the shelter to eight families, the new space enabled the Haven to provide its other services more efficiently and abundantly.
- By 2004, about 400 households per month were coming for food.
- While the Family Shelter provided emergency shelter solutions for families with children, the need for another shelter for those without children was apparent, and could not be ignored.
- While the Haven began the search for a place for such a shelter, another group created the 10 Bricks Cold Weather Program to provide emergency shelter in the months of worst weather.
- For six winters 10 Bricks staff, Board and other volunteers carried out the mission of protecting the most vulnerable while waiting for this new Haven shelter to become a reality.
- After three years of struggle to site the new shelter, approval of the Town of Hartford was secured in October 2008 to use the original property owned by the Haven for this purpose.
- The Adult Shelter building project which was completed in June 2010, is a renovation of the Hixon House addition to the farmhouse plus LEED energy efficient new construction.
- With ten bedrooms for twenty-one guests, seven individual bathrooms, offices for staff, and welcoming public spaces, the Adult Shelter allows the Haven to offer support and services to adults and couples needing to move forward in life.
- The name Hixon House was renewed for this building, in honor of Joan Hixon Martin, the founding Board member who provided the initial funds to purchase the property.
- In October 2008, just as the Hixon House site was confirmed and the fundraising campaign was transitioning into the public phase, two things happened. Tom Ketteridge announced his planned retirement, and the economy began its drastic downturn.
- As unemployment rose, so did the Food Shelf and Shelter numbers, because many Upper Valley community members began struggling to sustain housing and jobs.
- The recession did not discriminate; the Haven began seeing a significant number of families from the middle class who were struck by situational poverty; which differs from generational poverty; and brought with it increased demand and unique complexities.
- During this time the Board hired Sara Kobylenski to be the Executive Director of the Haven, beginning March 2009.
- In 2009 and 2010, the staff and Board listened to the community and looked at the responsibility of running two shelters and addressing many new stories emerging from visitors to the Food Shelf and Clothing Room.
- A model with 24-hour awake staff in the shelters, as well as case management staff to assist people in the shelters in defining and working toward their goals, was designed and implemented.
- In June 2010 Community Case Management services were added, to assist people with immediate solutions and brief interventions to assist them in moving forward and avoiding homelessness.
- Around this time, the main Haven Building was named Byrne House, in recognition of the abiding support of Dorothy and Jack Byrne.
- In the fall of 2010, the former family shelter host house was named the Beverly Fowle Fiertz Community Center, or Bev’s House. Its rooms were converted to offer community meeting space and foster expressive arts opportunities and support for legal services, in keeping with Bev’s priorities.
- Bev’s House has also become the home of the Children’s Program and staff
- On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene devastated the Upper Valley. This unexpected natural disaster drastically increased demand on the Haven’s staff and programs. It also brought hundreds of community members to the Haven as new volunteers, enabling the Haven to respond more powerfully to ever increasing community needs for food, case management or service coordination, shelter and education around poverty and its impact on the community.
- Between 2010 and the present, the staff has worked to build strong partnerships with local and statewide nonprofit organizations, as well as with Vermont and New Hampshire government departments, to maximize the access to resources for the most vulnerable people in the community, and to deepen the ways in which an interconnected community can be a better place for all.
- The Haven also looked at its infrastructure as it experienced seven years of explosive growth from 2009 to 2016.
- By 2014, approximately 1200 households per month were coming for food, and the shelters were no longer sufficient to address all those in need of emergency housing.
- In the winter of 2014, a Seasonal Shelter began to operate, running in that first year from January through April. Each winter since then, it has operated in the Caruso Café space in Byrne House from November through April.
- Need has grown from space for six adults in that first winter, to capacity for 18 presently.
- In January of 2014, a Health Resource Clinic was launched on the campus by Good Neighbor Health Clinic and students from Geisel School of Medicine. This continues to be a resource every other week.
- In April 2015, the Haven discontinued the Clothing Room, as community partners Listen Community Services, SEVCA and the Salvation Army all provide that service.
- Over time the Volunteer Services program grew and deepened. In each of the years since 2015, approximately 1350 different individuals spent some time in creating the gardens and landscape of the Haven, staffing the food shelf, supporting the Children’s Services team in the After School and summer programs, cooking dinners for guests at Hixon, creating healthy food in the Byrne kitchen, and so many other activities.
- The number of community groups coming for one day of service each year has reached 70.
- Demand for services has stabilized since 2016, and in 2017 the Board was ready to move past its need to be in crisis response mode. Board and staff spent the year addressing long delayed strategic planning, and a five-year plan was adopted in January 2018.
- Sara Kobylenski retired from the Haven as Executive Director and the organization welcomed Michael Redmond, previously of the Crotched Mountain Foundation, in October 2018 to fill her role.
In summary, the Haven grew from community caring and energy, and its first 20 years were devoted to creating and living a mission, principles and values. The decade from 1999 to 2009 was devoted to creating a place: establishing the campus as we know it, so that services could be provided. The years since 2009 have been about programs and networks, both in discovering the best ways to provide services, and partnering with others toward a stronger community. The time ahead will continue to build on the growth of that knowledge and strengthen the organization as a sustainable entity for decades to come.