The Berks County facility will add 111 staff members in the government effort, which seeks to reunite immigrant families.
Bethany Children’s Home will add 111 staff members for a government program offering temporary shelter to unaccompanied immigrant children.
The newly created positions at Bethany in Heidelberg Township are to be filled by the end of April. The three-year program, called Helping Hands, is funded by a federal grant.
Bethany is one of 10 organizations nationwide to receive funding for programs providing shelter with the goal of reuniting children with family members already residing in the United States or sponsors within 30 days.
Ranging in age from infancy to 18, the children have been identified by the government as having crossed the U.S. border without adult accompaniment, said Kevin Snyder, CEO of Bethany, noting that most children come from South American counties seeking to join relatives.
“Many of these children are victims of human trafficking and/or have come from very dangerous environments,” he said. “They come to us for basic shelter. Our job is to reunite them with their families.”
Snyder also said Bethany will accommodate up to 65 immigrant children at a time with the potential of serving 780 or more a year.
Staff will provide on-site classroom education in addition to health care, socialization/recreation, mental health services, case management and family reunification.
Five years ago, Bethany successfully reunited 188 children with their families under a similar program.
“Staff at Bethany will tell you that working with these children was one of the most rewarding experiences in which they have been involved,” Snyder said. “Typically, we found people were thrilled to be reunited with their children, parents, siblings or other family members.”
If reunification is not possible, he said, the federal government will find a sponsor for the child.
Snyder called the plight of unaccompanied minors “one of the greatest humanitarian crises that the United States has seen since the Civil War.”
“These children are in desperate need of help,” he said. “Many come with just the clothes on their backs, haven’t slept in a bed for a year and are so appreciative of the little things.”
The program, he noted, is an extension of Bethany’s 156-year history of providing shelter and residential services for abused, neglected and abandoned children.
“This is what Bethany has done since 1863,” he said, noting the organization will continue to provide short-term, independent, transitional and other residential programs to more than 300 local children annually. Its mission is to provide a safe place of nurture, protection and supportive care.