Home is where your story begins… Anonymous
Just spend a few hours on the Kurn Hattin Homes campus, and you can tell there’s something special about the place.
It’s in the little things… in the small gestures of kindness, in noticing when someone needs help, in expressing gratitude for a job well done, in an encouraging smile and a kind word, in a reassuring hand on a shoulder.
Spend a few days, and you notice the uncommon level of respect and mutual appreciation between adults and adults, between adults and children, and between children and children.
Stay a little longer, and you really get it—that warmth, comfort, and sense of belonging you only find in one place… Home.
Kurn Hattin is home. A charitable residential school for boys and girls, ages 6-15, who are affected by tragedy, poverty, homelessness, abuse, or other family hardship, Kurn Hattin provides a safe, nurturing environment where children can live, learn, grow, and thrive.
Recently, Brenda Boisjolie Arce came to campus to bring her granddaughter Trinity, a new student at Kurn Hattin. Following her visit, she had this to say:
“My granddaughter Trinity just arrived on Monday. The greeting she got in her cottage was amazing. All the girls just surrounded her. One girl said, ‘Trinity, this is where your coat goes, right next to mine.’ Another said, ‘This is where your boots go. Here is your name. Right here, see?’ Everything was labeled for her already. The girls had been preparing to greet her for over a week. They were so excited to see her. For a nine-year-old, who never felt like other kids liked her, this was truly amazing.
There was a big WELCOME banner on her bed, and her room is her favorite color, pink. She sat and did a little bounce on her bed, with a smile from ear to ear. Then it was time for our goodbyes, she hugged us and said goodbye, but she was watching to see where the other girls were going. I cried all the way home with joy for what Trinity must be feeling about this day.”
Kurn Hattin’s aim has always been to set children on the right path. In one of the earliest versions of Kurn Hattin’s mission statement, a brief passage entitled simply “Our Work” written in 1894, founder Charles Albert Dickinson, wrote
“…To deliver the children of neglect and misfortune… and best of all to place their feet in paths of honesty, industry, purity, and uprightness, thus enabling them, and the community through them, to reap an invaluable benefit—morally, socially, economically, and spiritually.”
The unique warmth and welcoming atmosphere at Kurn Hattin Homes isn’t an accident. And it’s not just because the place attracts kind, caring people (although that helps!). It’s an environment and a culture that has been created and nurtured over the years by the administrators, teachers, staff, volunteers and students who have called Kurn Hattin “home” and who have each left a piece of their heart when they moved on.
Kurn Hattin’s former Executive Director, Chris Barry, knows firsthand what that feels like. Chris dedicated 40 years to carrying out the school’s mission and retired last September. Of his many accomplishments, there’s one contribution he says he’s proudest of: Kurn Hattin’s social skills curriculum.
In the early 1980s, while serving as school principal, Chris saw several reasons for placing a strong emphasis on social skills at Kurn Hattin. First, he says he had begun to notice a move away from teaching children traditional “manners” as had been done in the past. “It seemed to me the focus on teaching kids how to act appropriately in social situations had lost its way—both at home and in the public schools. Those skills really are important for success in life, so I didn’t want to overlook the opportunity to teach them at Kurn Hattin.” The need was also great, in particular, Chris says, because many of the children who come to Kurn Hattin have not had positive adult role models in their lives at home. Finally, Chris says he was looking for a way to provide more opportunities for communication and collaboration between the staff members on campus. “I wanted more synergy between the key players in the children’s lives –the triad of teaching staff, the counselors, and house parents.”
Chris began researching ways to meet his aims of setting children in need on a path to success and creating a stronger sense of community on campus. He knew he had found the right match when he attended a lecture on Skillstreaming, given by Dr. Arnold Goldstein. The Skillstreaming curriculum focuses on strategies for important life skills, such as, making new friends, coping with emotions and stress, and dealing with peer pressure. “I knew we’d really found something; it just clicked,” he says.
Chris worked to adjust the academic schedule, so that a regular time could be set aside to focus on social skills. One morning a week, staff and students came together in small groups to learn and try out ways to improve their relationships with others. They discussed strategies for successful interaction and for dealing with a range of emotions. They role played ways to react appropriately in various social situations, and they learned empathy by experiencing what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.
No one was left out. Everyone participated in the meetings, from the children, to the teachers, house parents and counselors, to the kitchen and maintenance staff. This ensured that everyone who played a role in helping support the children’s growth could model, reward and reinforce good social skills. “I give the staff all the credit,” says Chris, “They really embraced the process. I think that was that start of the true community feeling on campus,” says Chris.
After more than 20 years, the weekly social skills meetings are still part of the regular routine at Kurn Hattin Homes, and the teaching of good social skills is woven into daily life. Counseling Center Director Jennifer Jacobs says, “The curriculum has been adapted over the years to better meet the ever-growing complexity of the needs of children at risk or in need, but the goal is the same – to help the children learn empathy and other important problem-solving skills that they can carry through into adulthood.”
This aspect of the Kurn Hattin experience is what makes family members like Brenda Boisjolie Arce write notes of relief and gratitude.
It’s what makes graduates like James Morgan post on Facebook,
“The school that I owe so much to. Kurn Hattin Homes is the modern day “Cheers” for kids—the place where young people go serendipitously to learn life skills. Lessons learned and good times had are many and varied. A big thanks to the staff of KHH for being perfect for the job. Although I’d hardly call it a job. More like an adventure, or a challenge to see how many lives you can touch.”
It’s just part of what makes Kurn Hattin home.