By the time AAHN's Place had its ribbon cutting earlier in May, it already housed 11 children and expected more to arrive that day.
The new children’s home, located in Wellington, will have beds for 28 children ages 10 to 18.
Kids will come from across Kansas, with priority given to children from nearby in order to make family visitation easier, said Derrick Prichard, founder and executive director of AAHN’s Place.
The new home is expected to alleviate some pressure on the Kansas Department of Children and Families, which faced backlash last year after The Eagle and others reported that children had stayed overnight in the offices of foster care contractors because places able or willing to accept them couldn’t be found.
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“With more than 7,500 children in foster care, even one additional bed opening up to provide loving and structured placement for these youth is great,” said Taylor Forrest, spokesperson for the department, in an email. “We believe these additional 28 beds will provide much-needed resources and serve the children and families of Kansas.”
The department is hopeful that the opening of AAHN’s Place will be “a step in the right direction” toward meeting the needs of youth in state custody, Forrest said.
“AAHN” is the Hindu word for “pride,” Prichard said, and the goal of the home is to instill pride and hope in its residents.
“I’ve worked with so many kids that don’t have anything to feel proud of,” Prichard said. “Whether they’re with us for a day or 60 days, we want them to have something to feel proud of.”
The shelter is privately owned and funded by Prichard and his business partners Hamendra Bhakta and Yogesh Patel.
As an emergency shelter, AAHN’s Place will temporarily house children brought in by law enforcement for a 72-hour stay while their case is investigated by DCF. Other children in the foster care system who are waiting to return home or to find other placement may also stay at the group home.
Being located in a small town community like Wellington means many people eager to help, whether that means cutting the home’s grass or teaching a karate class for the kids, Prichard said.
Prichard has worked with a variety of youth and foster care organizations. In 2011, he opened a private therapy practice. The opportunity to start AAHN’s Place was “like a dream come true,” he said.
The home expects to be at full capacity within a month.
“We want them to understand that we care,” Prichard said. “We want it to feel like a home.”