Persistence pays off’ at St. Ann's Home, work starts on adolescent center

COPYRIGHT : Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co.
Published April 25, 2007

Persistence pays off’ at St. Ann's Home, work starts on adolescent center

By Stephanie Chelf
Staff Writer
METHUEN | Before celebrating the future of St. Ann's Home and the construction of its new adolescent facility, a former director told the story of the center's humble beginnings.

In the 1950s, when Sister Theresa Bouthot arrived as director of child programs, St. Ann's Orphanage operated with only two paid employees, a group of dedicated nuns, and just a few hundred dollars a month.
The nuns who ran St. Ann's, now a home and day school for children with emotional and behavioral issues, did what they could to provide for the children. They sought out free medical care, donations for toys and games, and received a small stipend from the community, Bouthot said.  "Despite all we provided and despite loving them dearly, we felt we were not doing enough," said Bouthot yesterday, reflecting on the students she worked with at the school for more than 20 years.

In the late 1970s, the church wanted to pull the nuns out of the home and reassign them. But five, including Bouthot, begged to stay on in order to save the orphanage from closing. The nuns worked with a new administrator and staff psychologist to transition the home from an orphanage into a treatment facility. Now, St. Ann's Home has 105 resident children, 70 day-school students, 240 employees and a $14-million operating budget. Yesterday, the nuns were applauded as part of the kick-off of a year-long construction project to build the first addition to the campus in 82 years. The $8.8 million center will add new dorms, classrooms, and a gymnasium. It's scheduled to open in April 2008.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley attended yesterday's ground-breaking, his first visit to the Haverhill Street school. St. Ann's is part of Catholic Social Services Inc., a division of the Catholic church, though the organization is independent in operation and fund-raising.  "We're very proud and so excited about the adolescent center," O'Malley said. "The needs are very, very great and growing. I'm looking forward to being back for the grand opening."  With construction crews in the background, O'Malley blessed St. Ann's during an a ceremony on the school's ballfield. Inside one of the residential areas, O'Malley looked at a history of St. Ann's as told by the center's students, which included pictures, newspaper clippings and drawings.  Bouthot marveled at how different the center looked since she had last been there many years ago.  "There was a sternness when we were there," she said. "They softened it, made it much more like home, which is what we tried to do."

Kelli McLaughlin of Salisbury, whose 12-year-old son lived at St. Ann's and is now a day student, credits the school with changing her life. McLaughlin's son had behavioral issues and couldn't read and write when he moved into St. Ann's almost three years ago. Now, her son reads to younger students and is on the honor roll, McLaughlin said. "I can live now," McLaughlin said. "There's an openness, kindness with everyone working with us. They've done a wonderful job here."

The new building project has been in the works for several years. St. Ann's secured $8.5 million in financing through MassDevelopment. The center has raised about $2 million in donations. When the new center opens, St. Ann's plans to add 20 to 25 new jobs, president Dennis Grandbois said. "It's not easy for a nonprofit to do something like this," Grandbois said. "Persistence pays off."

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