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Celebrating Ward Home's Ongoing Excellence in Service to Youth

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For over a century, Ward Home has been offering a safe haven and support for young people in Southwestern Pennsylvania with no place to call home. In 2019, Ward Home joined Auberle as a subsidiary. Joining together has empowered both Auberle and Ward Home to enhance and diversify the services and opportunities we provide to young people, helping them build life skills and self-esteem to become confident and independent adults.

As Auberle celebrates Ward Home’s enduring excellence, we are grateful for the many community partners who enabled Auberle and Ward Home to combine their services — and for Ward Home’s talented and dedicated staff who change lives every day.

A Vital Community Asset

Ward Home provides supervised independent living (SIL) programs for young men and women between the ages of 16 and 20, including new mothers within this age range. More than a temporary living space, Ward Home builds young people up to reduce their risk of experiencing homelessness and poverty and to encourage successful transitions into adulthood. Youth in Ward Home participate in its Life Skills Training Program as well as a program called My Best Self, which organizes social skills workshops to promote a positive self-image and provides professional hair care services and hygiene products.

In the fiscal year prior to its integration with Auberle, Ward Home served 285 at-risk youth. This past fiscal year, Ward Home served a total of 458 youth, with My Best Self providing over 1,700 hair care services and more than 1,200 self-care bags to youth in the program.

Program Manager Tamika Simpson has been with Ward Home for over 20 years, and in that time, she said the need for programs like Ward Home has only increased in light of the hardships today’s youth face. “The trauma that young people experience is so vast,” Tamika shared. “There are instances of abuse, mistreatment, and terrible occurrences like shootings and acts of violence that young people are affected by. When these things happen in our local community, they affect our staff too. In addition to providing housing and life skills, Ward Home is a safe space where youth can connect with adults who truly understand their trauma and can provide hope that things will get better.”

Preserving Ward Home for Future Generations

When Ward Home began experiencing challenges such as the cost of operations far outweighing its revenue – a challenge common among many nonprofits – it was undeniable that this vital community resource needed to be preserved. Butch Bidula, former treasurer of the Ward Home Board of Directors, said Ward Home’s leaders saw great potential in a collaboration with Auberle. “On the Ward Home side, Executive Director Bill Wolfe and Board Chair Bill West were the driving force of the integration,” Butch shares. “They identified the need for a partnership to establish financial stability, and they capably led myself and the rest of the organization through that time of change.”

“Ward Home approached us in their search to identify a partner organization to sustain their services, and we spoke with the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth, and Families about what the connected services should look like,” said Auberle CEO John Patrick Lydon. “CYF was instrumental in helping us envision how Ward Home could be integrated in a way that would sustain the continuum of care for youth.”

Former CYF Deputy Director Jacki Hoover agreed Auberle was a “natural fit” due to its strong infrastructure for transition-aged youth. “Auberle is an established leader in supporting this age group through programs like the 412 Youth Zone and the Employment Institute, as well as services in behavioral health and housing,” Jacki explained. “If one agency were to provide all these programs in addition to Ward Home’s SILs and My Best Self, we’d have a comprehensive curriculum that not only empowers youth to live independently, but fosters success in school, at work, and in their relationships with peers and family.”

With endorsement from CYF, Auberle then enlisted the expertise of legal counsel and financial advisors to determine the feasibility of welcoming Ward Home into the Auberle family.

“In acquiring Ward Home as a subsidiary, Auberle needed to review not only Ward Home’s assets, but also its liabilities,” explained Rosemary Corsetti of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, who provided legal oversight of the acquisition. “To identify and assess any risk, we performed a process called due diligence where we reviewed all of Ward Home’s contracts, debt, and other possible liabilities so that Auberle could make a fully informed decision on whether it could move forward.”

“Financial analysis was critical to ensure the integration could be successfully carried out, and also to ensure that once the organizations joined, Ward Home had a reasonable budget and strong plan for a successful future,” said John Stockhausen, former Auberle Board Chair and current member of its Finance and its Facilities Committees. In addition to ensuring there were no unrecorded liabilities, John led efforts to perform a cash flow projection and presented the findings for the approval of the organizations’ boards and stakeholders. Since Ward Home has some endowment support from donors, he added, “we also took the steps necessary to ensure we would abide by the terms and honor the original purpose of those endowments.”

The final legal stage of integrating Ward Home into Auberle involved ensuring that the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General had no objection to the change in governance — a notification protocol that exists to protect public charitable assets from being misappropriated, ensuring Ward Home’s critical mission would continue to be fulfilled as originally intended. Auberle and Ward Home received confirmation that the Office of Attorney General had no objection to the proposed affiliation. Ward Home officially became a subsidiary of Auberle in July 2019.

Flourishing Facilities and Thriving Youth

Auberle invested substantial time, planning, and money at the outset of the integration to reduce Ward Home’s overhead, maximize space and resources, and streamline operations — with the ultimate goal of removing barriers and empowering Ward Home’s talented staff to raise the bar even higher in the care they provide to youth.

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John said the quality of Ward Home’s services has “soared,” and Auberle COO Darla Poole echoed that sentiment. “When young people leave this program, they are achieving long-term success and stability across many areas of life,” said Darla. “We’re thrilled by how big of an increase Ward Home has achieved in its positive discharge rate.”

There are many contributing factors to this growth. Auberle and Ward Home streamlined program criteria to ensure youth who are accepted into the programs are truly ready to transition to independent living. Auberle renovated an existing Auberle facility into new efficiency apartments, raised pay, and provided enhanced training. Additionally, combining Ward Home into Auberle has allowed youth easier and more consistent access to behavioral health services, workforce development, the Employment Institute, and other programs preparing them to excel at work, earn reliable income, and remain stably housed. Finally, Auberle has continued to foster the well-being and growth of Ward Home’s dedicated staff.

“Many of Ward Home’s original staff came to Auberle when the organizations affiliated. This profession sees a lot of turnover, so Auberle is committed to hearing staff voices, accepting feedback, and investing in their success,” John said. “Many staff have really flourished during and after the transition. Tamika Simpson is a great example of this, having earned promotions, and she now oversees both of Ward Home’s SILs.”

Auberle’s Rising Star Program helps pave the way for staff to become managers and supervisors, and staff have access to training, professional development, and national and regional conferences to keep abreast of best practices in the field. “For 11 years in a row now, our staff has voted Auberle a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Top Workplace, and we are delighted that this continued through Ward Home’s integration and with the addition of their staff,” John added.

This commitment to staff empowerment is reflected in Ward Home’s ability to acquire and maintain exceptional staff, even throughout the pandemic. “When Covid hit, there was already a lot of change happening in a short amount of time,” said Tamika. “Staff was transitioning and coming over from other programs. But everyone still came to work every day to come through for our kids. It really speaks to the dedication of our team.”

Auberle supported Ward Home through these transitions and made sure the staff had what they needed to be successful during a challenging time. Staff retention, in turn, has contributed to positive outcomes for youth. “We pride ourselves at Ward Home on building strong, trusting relationships with the young people we serve,” Tamika shared. “When youth consistently interact with a strong, committed, familiar staff, trust builds much more quickly, and they are more inspired to succeed. You can see it in our great graduation rate. Almost every young person who comes through our doors gets that diploma.”

“Ward Home is a wonderful program with an impressive track record of success,” Butch adds. “Its graduation rates and employment rates are remarkable. Helping every young person find strength, confidence, and individual success is so important, especially with the challenges they face in today’s world. In the future, I hope Ward Home continues to grow its enrollment, because the support they provide is life-changing.”

Building a Bright Future with Community Support

As Ward Home continues to excel in the Auberle family, Tamika and her team are always finding new and innovative ways to inspire the youth they serve. In conjunction with learning to live independently, experiences that foster creativity, fun, and peer bonding are key to building self-esteem and confidence.

Donors and volunteers play a vital role in making these experiences possible. A gift to Auberle is a gift to Ward Home. As Auberle looks to Ward Home’s future, a continuation of the generosity that Ward Home has seen over the years from its steadfast supporters and friends will be needed to help the organization thrive for the next 100 years.

Tamika said the doors of Ward Home are always open for folks to volunteer as mentors for young people; lead enrichment programming like jewelry-making, photography, or sculpture; or make monetary donations to support needs for youth like new shoes, a new photo ID, or even the uniform they need to join a football team or cheerleading squad. They can also support fun, memorable activities like picnics, holiday parties, or trips to the arcade or the movies. While they might seem like small things, all are important to cultivating a normal teenage experience.

“Ward Home has grown so much in these years since joining Auberle, and I hope everyone who believes in our mission knows they can help us grow even more,” said Tamika.

Auberle is honored to partner with Ward Home to ensure its critical services flourish for generations to come. If the last four years are any indication, the collaboration between our two organizations will continue to extend the reach of our services, uplifting more young people to become confident and capable adults. We are grateful for the collaboration of all members of the Auberle and Ward Home families for their role in making this partnership possible!