SHIM opening Family Center at old Wallace School in Baldwin
When Indira Pyakurel became pregnant with twins, she knew she was going to need help.
Pyakurel, 35, who lived in a refugee camp in Bhutan for 18 years, had only been in the U.S. for three years, and needed assistance lining up medical benefits.
“I was in a new place, as a mom. I had so many questions,” she said.
Her friends in the Whitehall Place housing complex told her about nonprofit South Hills Interfaith Movement, which was located right in her neighborhood, that would provide her with help.
When her twin boys were born, Pyakurel received at home visits from SHIM staffers who helped her make appointments and lined her up for classes for new moms.
Refugee and immigrants living in the Whitehall area have come to rely on the services SHIM provides through its Prospect Park Family Center, that opened in 2007, with offices operating from one apartment in the complex.
Today, the Family Center fills seven apartments.
And with the growing need in the community, where an influx of refugees moving to the borough dates back to the early 1990s, SHIM has outgrown its space.
On March 8, the new SHIM Family Center will open inside the former hallways and classrooms at the old Wallace School Building in Baldwin Borough.
SHIM rented 6,700 square foot of space in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District owned building, up from the 3,600 square foot are they currently operate from divided into one and two bedroom apartments.
The area includes three offices and five classrooms that will allow for the expansion of programs, possibly allowing more people to join each program. Simultaneously, it will allow the Family Center to open its doors to those outside of the Whitehall Place housing complex, and branch out to the refugees living in the community, even those living in the Residences of South Hills housing complex.
“We’re excited about starting new,” said Casey Rich, assistant site director for the SHIM Family Center.
The main focus of the family center is to offer services for parents of children from birth to 5 years old. That includes home visits. There are 30 families receiving them two times a month. However, there are more than 70 families on a waiting list. Many classes and programs also are held from the center.
For the last several months, staff members and volunteers have spent hours getting the new family center ready.
A reception office in the front will service walk-ins who need help making copies or filling out forms that they can’t do on their own.
Above the reception desk will be a “Welcome” sign in Nepali, Burmese, Karen, Arabic and Turkish, to ensure that everyone who receives services there feels welcome, Rich said.
The latest U.S. Census showed that 13.4 percent of Whitehall’s 13,139 residents older than age 5 speak a language other than English at home, nearly 3 percent higher than the state average.
Lockers that once lined the main hallway were taken out and replaced with storage units and seating for those waiting to receive services.
The 15 staffers still will each share an office, but they’ll be together in the same space, something they didn’t have before.
One room will be turned into a community kitchen to allow for cooking classes.
A community lounge will be used as a large open space for women’s support and family groups to meet. They even have enough space so they can leave sewing machines out for use, instead of having to put them away each time someone wants to use one.
There also will be a classroom for adult learning, which will be utilized for parenting groups, financial literacy and homebuyers education. The teen mentorship program also will have its own space.
Over the years, they’ve seen a change in needs in the refugee and immigrant community. Years ago, they needed basic assistance, Rich said. Today, they’re seeking help with home buying.
Moving the SHIM Family Center, hopefully, will be another step toward helping the community be self-sustainable, Rich said.
SHIM is keeping one apartment and its food pantry at the Whitehall Place complex for those who only can walk and need assistance. Transportation to the new location, which is just down East Willock Road, is being worked out.
“More space means we can help more people,” Rich said.
For Pyakurel, who now works for SHIM, helping refugees and immigrants fill out paperwork and make copies — something she once received help with — she’s excited to see the nonprofit expand its space.
“Maybe we can help many other people from other areas,” she said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.