Clairvaux House Opens To Help Families In Need

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Cornerstone’s Clairvaux House Opens
Surrounded by others who helped make the Clairvaux House a reality, Cornerstone Executive Director Helen Syriac cuts a ribbon to mark the opening of the new facility, on March 19. (Steve Smith/Courant Community)
Steve Smith Steve Smith Contact ReporterStaff Writer

The Cornerstone Foundation marked the opening of a new facility on March 19.

The Clairvaux House will serve as a temporary emergency shelter for homeless mothers and their children.

Clairvaux House is named for St. Bernard of Clairvaux, France who is the patron of St. Bernard Church. The home is owned by St. Bernard Church, but is operated by the Cornerstone Foundation.

Vernon Public Schools Community Engagement Specialist Laura Corliss explained that the house is not just a place to stay, but a program for families in need, who are actively taking steps toward more permanent housing.

“It’s more like wraparound services,” Corliss said. “If families are selected for this house, we’ve assessed them for needs, whether it’s mental health, behavioral health, linking to health or financial or employment education. We find out what the barriers are that are causing them housing issues, and we try to fill in those gaps. The idea is to get them housed and able to sustain themselves without these services.”

Counseling and assistance are stipulated as part of the program, and families must adhere to strict guidelines while using the house.

Depending on the configuration of the families, up to three could stay in the house at a time.

The house has been owned by the church for 34 years, and has served many purposes, including as a sheriff’s office, a flower shop, and other businesses.

“Then the church bought it and it was a convent,” said Fr. Rick Ricard. “After the sisters left, we turned the whole first floor into our preschool. It was also used as a youth center for teens. It’s seen a lot.”

There were some hurdles to making the program, and the house, ready for use. Brian Kenny, the business manager for St. Bernard Church said one hurdle was zoning.

“We had to get the area zoned properly,” Kenny said. “Then, we had to get the structure of the building done properly for this use. The biggest thing was the sprinkler system, which the church paid for. At the time, the town was going through a lot of transition with building inspection, so that took time also. The town was very cooperative, working one-on-one with us, so we got a clear understanding of what needed to be done.”

The idea for using the house like this came about three years ago, when Cornerstone Executive Director and Founder Helen Syriac was frustrated when she was unable to help a homeless mother and her children. Soon after, she contacted the church about using the house.

“She called me and explained the need,” Kenny said. “I talked to father and explained the need, and he said that’s what God would want us to do, so let’s do it.”

“I am happy after all the work and money we are now able to serve our homeless moms and their children,” Syriac said. “Clairvaux House will make a difference and I thank those involved with making it happen.”

Penny Kloter is the Clairvaux House’s first live-in house mom, who will be aiding the families, and overseeing that they utilize the proper resources. She also brings her own experiences to the job.

“I have been through so many of the things that so many of the other moms have,” Kloter said, explaining that she was formerly homeless and a client of Cornerstone.

“I have overcome so much,” she said. “I think about where I was a year ago, compared to where I am today, and it’s amazing. I can offer resources to the moms, and I have been a nanny to many families. I have also worked with animals.”

“I think this is what we’re all called to do – look out for those who get forgotten in society,” Ricard said. “I think we’re doing God’s work when we do something like this, especially when you’re dealing with children. You want them to have a safe place to put their heads.”