skills for living, hope for life

 The agency’s mentoring program encourages residents to develop friendships with adult volunteers


The Ward Home on Moffett Street was always a place where good things happened for children, whether it was providing support for at-risk teenagers or opening its basement gym to community basketball leagues.
Ward Home is no longer located in Mt. Lebanon—Family Hospice purchased the building in 2005, renovated it and opened the Center for Compassionate Care there in 2007. But with offices in Scott Township, the nonprofit Ward Home is going strong.

The agency’s mission is to offer “skills for living, hope for life” to young adults who are unlikely to be adopted or reunited with their biological families. At three supervised independent living facilities—in Friendship, Wilkinsburg and McKeesport—Ward Home provides guidance and support to boys and girls in foster care as they navigate through high school and transition into the workforce.

At left: Ninety percent of Ward residents graduate from high school, well above the average for teens living in group home. At right: A Ward Home resident with the bounty from her cooking class.

The community of Mt. Lebanon continues to play an important supporting role as well, serving in many ways, from staff and board members to volunteers. “Mt. Lebanon people remember us, but many wonder what has happened to us,” says Daryl Lucke of Woodland Drive, the executive director. “We continue to serve kids who come to us from challenging histories. All are disadvantaged for different reasons.”

Ward Home was founded in 1905 by Robert B. Ward of the Ward Baking Company as a Methodist mission “to provide a home for children who had no place to call home” and for many years it was affiliated with the Methodist Church. Lucke took the reins of the venerable institution in 2011, after having served as finance director and then as operations director overseeing human resources, finance and IT.

In the past two years, Lucke has helped raise the profile of the nonprofit through creative programming and new fundraisers. Ward Home held its first “Picture This!” event in January 2012, a cocktail party, auction and juried photography show that sold work created by its student residents. Smaller fundraisers have included the Ski-A-Thon, a Highmark Walk and the Casbah dinner.

Grant writing also has accelerated. Citizen Bank awarded Ward a $35,000 Champion in Action grant in 2012, one of the largest donations ever received by the nonprofit. The funding will support a workforce development program.
A staff of 32 runs Ward’s supervised independent living programs—one for boys, one for girls and a third for teen moms.  Unique to Ward’s supervised living is the one-on-one supervision and mentoring the staff provides the residents, says Lucke. While foster children statistically have only a 50-50 chance of graduating from high school, she says, more than 90 percent of Ward Home’s foster teens graduate each year. Seventy-five percent go on to post secondary education.

“We are advocates for these kid,” she says. “We stay in close touch with the schools and make sure they have the services that will help them succeed. It’s so easy for them to fall through the cracks.”

The nurturing environment is a hallmark of Ward Home, agrees board member Shawn Gatto, Couch Farm Road. Gatto, who also volunteers for the nonprofit KidsVoice, which provides legal services for children and youth, believes that stable, caring adults and a supportive community can make all the difference.

“In today’s culture, it’s often easy to lose sight of what’s happening in our own backyard,” says Gatto. “Ward cultivates relationships with these youngsters long past leaving the facility. There’s very much a sense of family in the organization.”

Ward Home residences in Friendship, McKeesport and Wilkinsburg.

Volunteers provide a valuable service to Ward residents—young men and women who have been bounced around by their own families, society and the system without a constant in their lives, adds Richard DiBella, Woodland Drive, a Pittsburgh attorney and Ward board member for many years.

Ward initiated a mentoring program in 2011 that offers its residents the opportunity to cultivate relationships with caring adult volunteers, perhaps by going to a movie or sports events together or sharing dinner at a restaurant.

“Many of these kids are scared,” says DiBella. “They don’t have a roof over their head they can call their own. Ward has become a safe haven during these critical transitional years into adulthood.”

“Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a kid who’s has had hardships and difficulties graduate from high school and college,” adds Gatto. “It renews my spirit and belief in the human spirit.”