Emma’s House, the local children’s advocacy center, has purchased the Hamilton Carriage House on Fourth Street, tripling their space to 5,300 square feet and providing room for its growing staff.
Val Widmer, executive director, said the new house provides nine offices, a multimedia conference room, and a certified kitchen, with more space in a backyard annex.
“We’ll have several counselors upstairs and the downstairs will be remodeled to have counseling space for play therapy and art groups,” Widmer said.
Joni Lubke, development director, said the new location is perfect for expanded services.
“We’ll also begin offering therapy for caregivers, which we’ve never been able to do before,” Lubke said. “It is really exciting because a lot of times we find that the parents themselves often have trauma issues that they haven’t worked through.”
The Hamilton Carriage House has private parking behind the house and fenced parking at the north end of the block. To keep “Twyla” - the specially trained canine companion for kids - happy, the house will receive a white picket fence with all the plaques of donors who purchased the pickets at the other location.
Fundraising is under way to complete the purchase, which was mostly funded by grants - including $30,000 from the Rapp Family Foundation.
“We’re more than halfway to our fundraising goal,” Widmere said. “We’re really excited to be able to do parenting classes, brown bag luncheons for doing more outreach in the community – the options are limitless. It is a great location, has a separate building and is perfect. It has everything we were looking for and will be a lot more cost effective.”
Emma’s House staff had endured cramped quarters at their 1,200-square-foot home on Second Street. The nonprofit opened for service in September of 2006 and served 17 children that first year.
“In 2017, we served 125 Ravalli County kids,” Widmer said. “While that may sound grim given the nature of our work, it speaks to the need and impact of our work in this community. Hope and healing is possible for our most vulnerable voices - our children.”
Widmer said she is proud to have met this milestone of larger house and staff enabling Emma’s House to become a trauma treatment center for children and families in Montana.
“When the Carriage House came on the market this fall, we knew it was perfect,” Lubke said. “The community has always been so fantastic for Emma’s House - December was great for year-end checks coming in. It takes a village and everyone is chipping in.”
The vision of Emma’s House is to expand critical programming that is highly specialized and not offered elsewhere in the Bitterroot. Their goal is to create a trauma treatment center to meet the increasing needs of care for children younger than 18 who have experienced physical and sexual abuse throughout Ravalli County.
At the Carriage House, the main house needs a few minor adjustments and the annex will receive some remodeling, but Emma’s House staff expects to move in this year.
With more space available, Emma’s House has hired three new employees – a family advocate, a nurse, and an additional mental health counselor.
Pete Clarkson, with decades of experience at the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Department and the county attorney’s office, has been hired as a family advocate. He will provide follow-up support to families when they leave Emma’s House, as well as help families navigate the criminal justice system if criminal charges are filed.
“The purpose of the family advocate is to ensure that people, both the child and the family, get the follow-up services that they need,” Clarkson said.
Widmer said Clarkson’s experience at the sheriff’s office gives him the perfect background to answer questions for families.
“He can help people navigate that whole process of the criminal justice system. It is so intimidating,” she said.
Emma’s House is expanding its medical unit to provide acute medical exams to children, as well as adult sexual assault victims, eliminating the need for victims to travel to Missoula to receive specialized care.
Addie Wakeman, an advanced practice registered nurse, will provide medical exams, forensic interviews, and infrastructure. Jennifer McCormick, a licensed clinical social worker, brings her years of experience working with families as well as certification in play therapy.
The new part-time staff members join Sarah Lidstrom, a registered nurse; Kierstin Schmitt, the office manager and prevention coordinator; Dr. April Weinberger, the medical director; and Julie Telfer, a clinical consultant, along with Widmer, Lubke, and Twyla.
Widmer said their staff and consultants have worked tirelessly to meet the needs and demands of trauma treatment at Emma’s House.
“The additional staff and new building will help tremendously,” Widmer said. “The long-term effects of trauma, specifically child sexual abuse, have lasting impacts that we hope to mitigate by offering comprehensive support and treatment to the family as well as the child.”
Watch for an open house and ribbon cutting event at the new Emma’s House, 310 No. Fourth St. in Hamilton later this year. For more information or to donate, visit on line www.emmashousecac.org.