Wilmette, Community

In wake of pandemic challenges, Warming House and Haven unite to continue service to local youth

With diminished participation during the pandemic, and a difficulty to replicate a youth center online, The Warming House seemed destined to be an abandoned building next to Howard Park in Wilmette.

The doors closed in 2020, and with the some funding sources in jeopardy, the Warming House joined forces with Haven Youth and Family Services in the youth center. The doors reopened as Haven’s Warming House in July of 2023. 

Since the merger, Grace McManus has served as the drop-in manager of the facility. In preparation for a youth leadership meeting, while preparing pasta for users, McManus explained her role, saying she works every day from 3:30-7 p.m. helping the local children who stop by. McManus also organizes programming.

“We connect with local agencies and schools to make connections with educators and social workers whose students could use additional support, clinical through Haven’s counseling services or non-clinical through Haven’s Warming House,” she said. “I am always planning Warming House activities, our monthly excursions, and our monthly volunteer/community services projects.” 

Open from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays for sixth- to 12th-graders, the facility welcomes at least a handful of youth to participate each day; however, the current priority of the Warming House is still to increase attendance and continue reaching new levels of success as a substance-free and parent-free environment for teens.

“I don’t know of any other safe space for teens around here that is both free and fun,” McManus said. “We have a ping pong table, pool table, a TV and kitchen, we are next to an outdoor space for many sports, and on top of that we are fortunate to have a budget for additional excursions, supplies and snacks that the teens enjoy.

“It’s very special to have access to a safe environment that’s not under a parents roof but is still safe and reliable. While I’m ‘in charge’ and I plan activities every other day, it’s the teens’ space and we are all collaborators here.”

Arin Jain is the president of the Warming House’s Youth Leadership Board. He recently secured the position in the board’s first election since the shutdown.

Jain was a Warming House participant before the pandemic and returned when it reopened. He said he’s worked with the organization’s leaders to set it up for success.

“After the shutdown, the executive director of Haven reached out to me, and every Wednesday during the summer last year I would meet with the executive director and we would discuss the future of the Warming House,” Jain said. “Haven really wanted the input from actual kids who used the Warming House.” 

Flyer for the Warming House’s upcoming 5K fundraiser

Haven Youth and Family Services is hosting its second 5K fundraiser on May 5.

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Lars Arlandson

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