ELYRIA, Ohio — A nonprofit in Lorain County is providing a safe and loving space for children in crisis.
The word "blessing" is a noun and its definition is God's favor and protection. The word "house" is a noun and its definition is the place where a person lives.
Sister Mary Berigan tapped into the meaning behind those two words to help define her mission.
"We were called by God and we have an opportunity to make a difference," said Berigan.
Berigan is the co-founder of the Blessing House— a children’s crisis care facility for children who need to be separated from their parents.
"Our kids have seen, gosh, things that you would never think that a child would have seen," said Berigan.
Unlike when Children Services is involved, parents of the children at Blessing House retain custody.
"You can call them, you can visit them, you can be in touch with what's going on with them," said Berigan.
Blessing House goes well beyond providing the basics of food and shelter.
"We work a lot on their social, emotional needs while they're here," said Berigan.
During their stay, they place their handprint on the wall in the main hallway.
"I can tell you the story pretty much of all of those children," said Berigan.
Hailey Elsleger’s hand is among the more than 1,600 captured since 2005.
"Hailey was 8 years old the first time she was here," said Jackie Elsleger, Hailey's stepmom.
Elsleger vividly remembers that difficult stage of her step-daughter's life.
"A zipper jacket that probably would have fit our 2-year-old, shoes that had holes in them and she was broken," said Elsleger, who was broken from years of abuse.
"Living just was not, not working, and she didn't know what else to do and felt very strongly that she would be better off dead," said Elsleger.
While Jackie and Hailey's dad fought to gain custody of her, she lived at Blessing House.
"She knew that she would be safe here and that no matter how bad things were outside of these walls, she was safe," said Elsleger.
With a lot of love and counseling, Hailey, like so many other children, is getting a second chance thanks to the nonprofit.
"On the inside she was broken and she's not anymore," said Elsleger.
In June, Sister Mary and the staff at Blessing House moved into a newly built facility that can house 28 children.
"Being able to make that kind of impact is great," said Berigan.
The community helped raise $3.1 million during the pandemic to make it a reality.
"That speaks highly to the people in the area who know what we're doing, who believe that these kids need a place to be and then have stepped up to really help with that," said Berigan.