Splash. Crack. Giggle.
It’s a summer afternoon at the home of Ted and Mary Jane Redington, volunteers for Jonathan’s Place. These neighborhood residents are making a difference in the lives of children by opening up their homes and their hearts.
Jonathan’s Place, located in Old East Dallas, is a 24-hour residential care center for drug-exposed children, ages newborn-11. While their parents participate in drug treatment programs elsewhere, the children are cared for at Jonathan’s Place by staff members and volunteers.
Other children live at Jonathan’s Place until they receive permanent placement with foster or adoptive families. The center, founded by Lisa Matthews and Phil Matteis, opened in 1994.
The Redingtons learned about Jonathan’s Place from a friend and have been involved volunteers from the beginning. In addition to bringing children from the center to their home each afternoon last August to swim in their pool and play baseball, they have taken children to the circus, on picnics at White Rock Lake and to Dallas Mavericks basketball games.
“We try to give as much time as we have to make their lives happier,” Mary Jane says.
Mary Jane often visits Jonathon’s Place three days a week, caring for the infants while the older children attend school. She prepares lunch and helps introduce children to their new home. Ted enjoys cooking out and playing basketball with the older children on weekends.
“They’re just there,” says Matthews, co-founder and executive director of Jonathan’s Place. “You know that Ted and Mary Jane are always there if you need anything.”
Matthews also has come to depend on Lynne Albright, a community liaison officer with the East Dallas Police Storefront. No stranger to the non-profit community, Albright served as a volunteer for eight years with Bryan’s House, a residential home for children with HIV and AIDS.
Calling herself “their connection with East Dallas”, she now helps many non-profit agencies and coordinates the police department’s Santa Cops program. In 1994, a friend told her about Jonathan’s Place, and Albright joined this new volunteer team.
She has provided safety training for volunteers and staff members and brought McGruff, the police department’s crime-fighting mascot, to visit Jonathan’s Place. She also takes children to events sponsored by the storefront.
Matthews says Albright is one of her most flexible volunteers who is available to care for the children during emergency situations.
While Albright does spend some time with the children, she focuses most of her energies on providing their needs and those of their parents. If someone wants to donate bread, blankets, shoes, toys or clothes, Albright finds a home for the donations. Her goal is “to connect the people who have stuff with the people who need stuff”, she says.
Both the Redingtons and Albright agree that Jonathan’s Place is a unique agency that helps the entire family.
“I attended a function where two mothers had just graduated from their programs, so their kids were getting to go home with them,” says Mary Jane.
“It was so satisfying to talk to the moms and know they were serious about getting their lives back together.”
“Jonathan’s Place is not just about the care and management of kids,” Albright says. “It encourages mom and dad to complete their drug programs and saves kids from repeating their mistakes.”
Matthews says that professional assistance and night volunteers are the most urgent needs at this time. Individuals with fund-raising experience, nurses and pediatricians are needed to serve on committees. In addition, volunteers are needed to care for children at the center from 11 p.m.-8 a.m.
Jonathan’s Place also has an ongoing need for food, especially children’s snacks and juice. Donating food is an ideal way for someone with little time available to make a contribution.
Mary Jane says no matter what volunteer job she is doing, the children make her work at Jonathan’s Place so rewarding.
“When you see the smiles on the children’s faces, what more can you say?”
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