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EAST CHICAGO — St. Joseph’s Carmelite Home has evolved over its 106-year-history — from an small-scaled orphanage to a residential treatment center and emergency shelter for Indiana’s children and teenagers in crisis.

In 2019, it remains a pillar in its community.

The original 1913 facility began as two tiny frame homes, purchased by founder Mother Maria Teresa Tauscher. Today, the nonprofit spans an entire city block and is housed in a multi-story 1920s brick building in the heart of East Chicago’s Calumet area. 

“Years and years ago, sisters would walk outside to find babies abandoned and we would take them in,” said the home's administrator, Sister Maria Giuseppe.

Today’s Carmelite Home is not an orphanage, but instead a children’s residential treatment center that accepts infants, children and teenagers abused or neglected by family and referred by the Indiana Department of Child Services.

'Want to be loved'

Some children stay a few weeks until they can transition to living with another family member who is able to care for them. Others stay for months, even years.

The facility has five wings, separating the boys from the girls and young from old. Each child has his or her own bed and with his or her name on it. The children also can bring personal toys or stuffed animals and make their living spaces feel more like home. 

“No matter how long they are here, we want to be as nurturing and friendly as we possibly can and make the children feel at home here,” Tom Dabertin, the nonprofit’s board president, said on a recent Friday afternoon during a tour of the nonprofit’s living areas, kitchen, recreation rooms, study areas, gymnasium and courtyard. 

He said some, though not all, children come from abusive homes and were neglected from infancy.

“It’s emotional. Some of these kids, as you walk through, they put their arms up. They just want to be held and want to be loved,” Dabertin said.

One misconception about the home is that the facility only serves East Chicago or Lake County. The home accepts children throughout the state — boys from infancy to age 13 and girls from infancy to age 19. Emergency shelter is provided to pregnant teenagers who may not have the support or resources at home. 

Nichole DeMario, spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said the children come from all walks of life.

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“They are often products of horrible situations, these heart-wrenching situations, through no fault of their own,” she said.

'Services are costly'

Giuseppe said many children who walk through the Carmelite Home’s doors increasingly come with a variety of special needs, including physical and mental disabilities and behavioral issues that require medical attention and specialized occupational and physical therapies.

“These services are costly. We really want to address current needs. We cannot treat these kids by just letting them live here anymore. It doesn’t work anymore, where they just come and stay here. They have to have services,” she said.

While the nonprofit is funded primarily through state DCS contracts, the nonprofit must raise supplemental money throughout the year to fill the budget gap and provide critical services, such as food, clothing, toiletries, schooling and therapy, Giuseppe said.

Next generation of donors

The Carmelite Home has launched an online fundraiser with a goal of $500,000 in the next year. 

Dabertin said the organization is doing things a bit differently this year by using Crowdrise.com — a GoFundMe-affiliated online crowdfunding platform. This will allow them to go beyond their usual large donors and reach a younger generation, he said. 

He said this campaign is really focused on reaching the home’s next generation of donors — those who may not be able to a one-time large gift, but smaller monthly contributions.

“Historically, we’ve been conservative in our approach to fundraising, relying and surviving on the generosity of donors,” Dabertin said. “You used to have organizations that had no problem supporting and making annual commitments, but now it’s gone away from that and operating dollars have to really come from individuals.”

A picture frame hanging along the wall of the home shows two sisters who were housed there decades ago. A second photo, when the women were in their 70s, also hangs on the wall. Years after they left the Carmelite Home, they returned with a large envelope of $5 and $10 bills — adding up to about $2,000, Giuseppe said. She said she was floored. 

“I’m happy when someone gives us a $5 check. I’m happy when someone writes out a $5,000 check. People give what they can,” Giuseppe said.

Demario said CrowdRise.com is an easy way for people to donate. For more information, visit crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/community-cares-for-carmelite-kids-2019.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.