When Kelita Smith gave birth to her daughter Serenity at the age of 16, she was all but alone in the world.
That’s until she found Humewood House, which is celebrating 100 years of helping young mothers find their way.
“I needed somewhere to go where I could finish my education and where my daughter could go to daycare,” Smith explained. “So Humewood offered both.”
Now 18, Smith credits Humewood for helping her get back on her feet and define a clear future for herself and her daughter. She is currently working to get her high school credits and graduate.
“I honestly don’t even know where I’d be (without Humewood),” Smith said. “They did a lot to help me…. It was hard on my own, because not many places offer both school and daycare at the same time. And plus it’s hard to (afford) daycare basically on it’s own.”
The Forest Hill institution, located on Humewood Drive, was first established as a mission of St. Thomas’s Anglican Church on Huron Street in 1911. Humewood House provides support and resources to pregnant and parenting women between 13 and 21.
It moved to its current location in 1923. Humewood’s executive director, Louise Moody, says the institution’s mandate is derived from an act of love based on Christian values.
“There was a need for a place for unmarried pregnant women,” Moody said. “They often don’t have a family who can support them, they don’t necessarily have a place to sleep, and if you think of any woman being 15 or 16 without that sense of home, it’s very difficult.
“Add a pregnancy to it, and it becomes actually very scary,” she added.
In addition to schooling and daycare, Humewood House also offers a residential program where women can stay at the Humewood location until their child is six months old, and transitional housing at Jane Street and Sheppard Avenue, where they can live for up to four years.
It also provides assistance in acquiring affordable housing, Ontario Student Assistance and childcare subsidies.
“It’s now about becoming a parent and balancing those needs,” Moody said. “(Our women) are very similar to all students, it’s just that they need additional support around caring for a child.”
But apart from monetary assistance, an important pillar of support is the emotional backing Humewood’s social workers provide.
Moody points out that while it’s not as shameful being a single pregnant woman as it was 100 years ago, it’s still not easy.
“I think there is still a stigma attached to a young woman choosing to have a child today,” she said. “Because there are more options, there are more questions as to why you would keep a baby.”
Humewood helps women cope with that decision and come to terms with their future. Moody says it also helps young mothers realize they’re not alone in their struggle.
“The women here have babies, and their world will never really be the same again,” she said. “So they need to make friends who share that common experience, and Humewood provides that opportunity.”
Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc, who lives just down the street on Humewood Drive, said Humewood House has become a cherished part of the local community. An example is when they turn into a haunted house for Halloween, which he says forms long lines.
“Sometimes you hear about the conflict that people have with living with people at risk in their neighbourhoods,” Mihevc said. “And in this case, this dispels all those kinds of claims by showing that you can be a great social service agency and still integrate well into the local neighbourhood.”
Humewood’s centennial anniversary took place on April 28 and was called From Shame to Empowerment, reflecting the role the institution has played in helping young mothers.
“I think it really shows a group of people who believe in something can have the audacity to survive two world wars and a depression,” Moody said. “Humewood doesn’t exist because of a government policy. It exists because people cared.”