Updated: Oct 8, 2021
The Bernie House, which offers a hands-up to housing for those families who have been hurt by domestic violence, has a new web presence, as well as a physical presence with a recent expansion into Anne Arundel County.
The nonprofit’s founder and current president Patricia Slaughter opened The Bernie House in Maryland over a two decades ago and expanded with a second house in Anne Arundel County in April 1, 2020, just as the pandemic hit.
The organization, which offers transitional housing to domestic violence victims offers a house to live in to families escaping domestic violence. They may stay there for up to two years. But realizing the dream for a house in Anne Arundel County was years in the making.
“We launched the campaign for Anne Arundel County in 2016,” Slaughter said. “We have the house and the families in there.”
The program is unique in not only the length of stay the transitional housing is offered to families—up to two years—but in the manner in which it is provided. Participants pay as they stay in the house, something that may seem to be a counter-intuitive way to help those in distress, but the program boasts an 80 percent success rate, Slaughter said.
And all the money The Bernie House residents give to the program during their stay comes directly back to them when they’re established enough to move to their own housing. And they also get to keep all the furniture that was provided to them in Bernie’s House by the nonprofit.
“I think we today are the missing link,” Slaughter said. “We are that bridge from the shelter to move forward and make the positive changes in their life.”
So far nine families, including 17 children, have stayed at a Bernie’s House. Slaughter sites multiple reasons for the program’s success.
“Each family is living in the dignity of their own home,” she said.
The nonprofit head noted children of the families can get off their bus after school and go to their own home, instead of heading to an institution, which may have a lot of stigma attached. And the time frame for the family’s stay is unheard of in the field of domestic violence recovery, Slaughter said. But it is needed because families usually have a great amount of work to do to make effective progress in recovery.
“It takes quite a while to peel back layers of pain and walls they put up,” Slaughter said.
Yet another reason for the success of Bernie’s House is its personal touch. Bernie’s House is designed to be the antithesis of an institution. And the families that live there get the one-one attention they need. The relationships that form through the recovery are enduring.
“They’re not just another number,” Slaughter said. “They don’t get lost in a group. Because each case is so different, we have a case manager that meets with them every week.”
The nonprofit continues to keep an eye on its participating families long after they leave. One family included a mom who didn’t receive her high school diploma and four little girls. Now that mom has worked her way up to a management position at a company and one of her daughters is a record-breaking track star with colleges courting her for enrollment.
The Bernie House is not a mission of one person. There are 10 regular administrative volunteers working for the organization, and up to 70 volunteers can show up for events. It is funded by donations for individuals, dozens of small businesses as well as grants.
"It's really rewarding," said volunteer Tracey Wells. "It is a really great group of people who work there."
The nonprofit is expanding its programming too.
Last Saturday, in conjunction with Chrysalis House, Cabi Clothing, and the YWCA, it held a business clothes exchange for area women who needed professional attire, but couldn’t afford to buy outfits, Thirty women received donated professional clothing, some of them getting multiple ensembles.
“It was a successful day,” Slaughter said.
But the main focus of The Bernie House remains housing. Slaughter founded it after her father died in 1997. The two had shared a lot of time doing service work internationally, including building irrigation systems in Africa, Honduras and Bangladesh.
“I wanted to honor him,” she said.
Today all the members of The Bernie House work to alleviate the suffering caused by domestic violence. Slaughter hopes to expand to four additional homes within five years, but she can’t do it alone. She also sees a need to more firmly establish The Bernie House so it has an enduring legacy into the future.
“We’re making permanent lifetime changes for generations to come,” she said. “We’re giving a hand up. We really want to break the chain of violence.”