Germantown resident Melanie Anderson faced a dilemma. As a full-time student, she needed safe and reliable day care for her young son Dominic during a week when his pre-school was closed.  To the rescue came the Sally Watson Crisis Nursery. “This place has helped me out
a lot,” said Anderson, who first came to the center in 2008, when Dominic was 2. “It really has been a blessing.”

The Crisis Nursery, a free program run by Youth Service, Inc. and located on the 5100 block of Wayne Avenue, has been helping local parents and their children for the past 20 years. Sally Watson, which serves more than 400 children age 5 or younger each year, is a place parents turn to when they are stressed, looking for work, seeing a doctor, encountering family problems or experiencing any other kind of emergency.“The program’s pretty unique because it’s one of only three in the state,” said Rhonda Johnson, program supervisor at the center. “One of my favorite things is that we’re here to help parents.” The nursery provides full-time care, including meals, activities, and education for the children, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

All of this in a building that is just as unique on the outside as it is on the inside. Designed in the 19th century, the house of shingles and stone was described by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1984 as “a minor pilgrimage site for architects because it has a tremendously contemporary feeling. Its design would not look out of place in next month’s architectural journals.”It stands out in the neighborhood with its unique features, including a wooden overhang extending over the front door, “a bit like the visor of a baseball cap,” said the Inquirer.

And while it may be called a “Crisis Nursery,” the environment inside feels like anything but a place in crisis. Walking into the center feels more like walking into a home, with hardwood floors and pictures and drawings lining the walls. On closer inspection, a visitor finds pamphlets, flyers and other literature that offer advice to parents. There’s an “everything” room where kids eat, sleep, play, and do other activities. Next door is the room designated for the babies. Here they receive everything from brightly colored toys to the comforting arms of a staff member. Through the kitchen is the backyard where the children can play when the weather’s nice. On the second floor are a staff office and a toy-filled living room where the children can play. In addition, a couple of rooms are dedicated to overnight care.

Though budget cuts have eliminated the overnight program – temporarily, staff members hope — the center still provides services that leave parents like Anderson enough time to get to class or even, like on a recent day, to enjoy a rare lunch date with her fiancé, city transit driver Dominic Wilson. The key to that blessing Anderson describes is the personal attention given to each child.

Every day, the center welcomes 8 to 12 kids of all different backgrounds and ages, from infants up to 5 years old. Any parent interested must simply go through a short application process.“I set up an appointment, toured, met the staff, and a week later set Dominic up to come in,” said Anderson. Once Dominic and others like him are in the center, they get to enjoy activities such as story time, arts and crafts and library visits. The nursery has a teacher on staff five days a week, like Tamika Williams-Hudson, who has been working at the center for several years.“I have two kids myself,” said Hudson, proudly showing videos of her children on her MP3 device. “I treat all the kids at the center like they’re my own.”Hudson plans many of the activities for the children. For Easter she arranged an Easter-egg hunt in the backyard, and helped them all color eggs.The kids, of course, are often like a revolving door of faces.

The center sees several hundred throughout the year, as their parents learn about it mostly through word-of-mouth.“I heard about the Crisis Nursery from another mom back in 2008,” says Anderson. “Then, Dominic started coming once a week for the past couple years. Now my best friend uses it too.”

The center has built some good community buzz despite the cutbacks.  (Overnight care is still offered at the Baring House Crisis Nursery, a sister center located in West Philadelphia.)
The center, which shares a budget with the Baring House nursery, receives funding primarily from the Department of Human Services, the United Way, and private donors.

The programs are continually looking for more private donations to support both their current services and any future activities.“We wonder if we’re going to keep getting funding,” said Johnson, who is optimistic that overnight care will eventually be reinstated in Germantown. “We just want to get our name out there.”

(Eric Donovan and Shauna McNally, La Salle University ’10, were members of La Salle’s community journalism class in spring 2010.)