By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
For 25 years, Kinderhaven served as a physical haven, sheltering local kids in need as they outnumbered available foster homes. That changed in May, when the longtime institution closed its daoors in the wake of a new federal law.
Now, Kinderhaven is reintroducing itself to the community as something different — though not entirely — as Board President Kathy Chambers shared with the Reader Oct. 24 that Kinderhaven would now be known as the Kinderhaven Foundation.
“We believe we have found the opportunity in this significantly challenging moment for our organization,” she said, referring to Kinderhaven’s closure earlier this year in the face of the Families First Preservation Services Act.
The bill, passed in 2018 but not put into effect until late 2021, “was enacted to turn the focus of the current child welfare system toward keeping children safely with their families to avoid the trauma that results when children are placed in out-of-home care,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It also made group homes like Kinderhaven impossible to operate, seeing as the legislation sought to bolster family foster homes and curtail the use of congregate care settings.
“Despite every possible attempt to the contrary, we must acknowledge our inability to exist within the parameters of the new law,” Chambers shared in a statement Oct. 24.
Now, rather than providing a “safe home,” the foundation aims to provide resources to other local groups that are also seeking to support the children of Bonner and Boundary counties.
“We had the option of just saying ‘We’re done’ — selling the buildings, selling all of the assets and distributing everything around to other local nonprofits,” Chambers told the Reader. “But we thought, children in crisis — that’s not a problem that’s going to go away.”
Kinderhaven will maintain its 501(c)(3) status and continue to fundraise, most notably with its annual Festival of Trees event. The event will return to an in-person gala format at the Bonner County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Dec. 3, and Chambers said seats are filling quickly.
“We weren’t sure how it was going to go, because our story has changed and we didn’t know what kind of support we would get, being a foundation,” she said, “but from the looks of it, I think people are excited — not only to be back live at some kind of function, but also [about] this new way to support other nonprofits.”
Leadership will also look different as Kinderhaven enters its new era. Jennifer Plummer, who served as executive director of Kinderhaven since 2016, will be taking the reins as executive director of the Bonner County History Museum.
“I hope the Kinderhaven Foundation will have the indelible impact on our local community that Kinderhaven did for so many years, and that generations of children to come will benefit from our current and decades-long Kinderhaven supporters,” she said. “It is only because of the extraordinary generosity of our Sandpoint community that Kinderhaven was able to help heal so many little hearts over so many years. I am proud to be part of such a caring and supportive community.”
As Kinderhaven shifts from being a physical location to a supportive entity, its assets will also see a new future. Bonner Homeless Transitions, which provides transitional housing to families in need, is currently leasing Kinderhaven’s group home and using it for overflow housing for women and children.
“Real estate is obviously very expensive, and ongoing operations in general are expensive,” Chambers said, noting that the Kinderhaven home was move-in ready for BHT’s clients.
“Everything is there all the way down to cutlery and linens — everything that a family would need,” she added.
BHT Board Vice President Ann Gehring said there may be plans to utilize the new space as a crisis center — the first of its kind in Idaho’s two northernmost counties. Currently, BHT clients undergo an application process before securing temporary housing. Eventually, it may be possible to provide immediate shelter for people fleeing dangerous situations in the home.
“Now that we have the Kinderhaven building, we may be able to respond to an immediate crisis, depending on room availability,” Gehring told the Reader. “It will be on a future agenda. Right now, we are moving people in and hope to serve many more.”
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