Sharla Winfield says staying in a transitional living apartment provided by the Wichita Children’s Home’s Bridges program helps her focus on raising her 1-year-old daughter, Ka’Mari.
The 19-year-old single mother used to live in a home where drug use occurred, she said.
There, she worried about Ka’Mari’s safety — especially when she was away at work or finishing classes during her senior year at Wichita North High School.
Now, its not an issue.
“I didn’t want my daughter around that or risk getting her taken away from me,” Sharla said. She obtained her Bridges apartment in late July, just two months after graduation.
“I want to show my daughter that through all the struggles that she can be somebody,” Sharla said, smiling down at Ka’Mari as she sat in her lap.
“And that she’ll have support.”
In a few weeks, Sharla will be among teens and young adults who will relocate into the Bridges program’s new apartment building at 3765 N. Inwood, just west of 37th North and Rock Road in Wichita. The 20,000-square-foot complex — the first on the Wichita Children’s Home’s new campus — features 31 fully-furnished apartments, on-site daycare, offices for case managers and classrooms so residents can hone educational and life skills necessary for living alone.
For close to two years, the Bridges program — short for Building Responsibility and Independence through Developing Goals and Empowerment Skills — has rented rooms on the third floor of a nearby Value Place for its participants, said Jessica DeCavelle, site coordinator for the program.
Before that, many of the teens and young adults lived on the streets or were forced to focus on scraping by rather than on education, careers and parenting, she said.
“Where we’re at now has been awesome, but it’s small and we don’t have a lot of room,” DeCavelle said.
When everyone moves in Nov. 25, “we’ll have room for our residents and their children to play outside and sit around together and be a community,” she said. “That is pretty exciting.”
Four of apartments in the new building are studios, two are two-bedroom units, and the rest have one bedroom. Residents are between 16 and 23 years old and usually stay 12 to 24 months.
About half are single parents.
The campus will also eventually include a new main building for administrative offices and residential housing for younger children removed from their homes, as well as a separate multipurpose gymnasium facility.
Construction on the main building is scheduled for completion next fall.
Currently, the children’s home is housed at 810 N. Holyoke.
“You dream a dream for a child, and this community makes it happen,” Wichita Children’s Home CEO Debbie Kennedy said.
“I think this (building) is what hope looks like,” she said of the Bridges complex. The children who receive services “know that somebody cares about them and that they have worth.”
Sharla said Friday that, in addition to mothering, she’s working to improve her financial budgeting skills so she’ll be prepared to start classes at Butler Community College next year and eventually move out on her own.
Like all the program’s residents, she pays bills. Ten percent of her monthly income goes toward rent.
“We have done a lot of work on budgeting and what she’s able to save so that when she is ready to leave here, she is actually ready to do other stuff,” said Lindsey Brittain, Sharla’s case manager.
“She’s doing really good.”
The public is invited to tour the new Bridges Transitional Living Apartment Building, 3765 N. Inwood, on Sunday. An open house will be from 2 to 4 p.m.
For more information on the Wichita Children’s Home or to apply for help through the Bridges program, go to www.wch.org.