Daycare for children with disabilities opens in Hyattsville
By Sophie Gorman Oriani
St. Joseph’s House, a nonprofit family daycare providing care for children and teens with developmental and intellectual disabilities, opened in June in the Oliver Street home of Natalie and Joe LaHood.
St. Joseph’s House is the only family day care in Prince George’s County specifically for children with disabilities. Families pay a nominal fee, based on what they can afford. The family day care provides after school care, weekend respite day care and summer camps.
Currently, St. Joseph’s House serves children and teens between the ages of 5 and 21. While St. Joseph’s House originally provided care to babies and preschool children, Natalie said it became apparent over time that the greatest need was for care of school-age children.
According to the LaHoods, at St. Joseph’s House, the environment is low pressure, and the pace of the daily schedule is slow. “Some people might think it’s very monotonous, but I think that it’s really in the quiet where you really find love and find true friendship,” said Joe, who spoke while tube feeding Wyatt, a smiling 14-year-old. Wyatt began to wave his arms and shout happily. “Not that it’s certainly quiet here!” Joe added, laughing.
Wyatt’s mother, Robin Williams Evans, says that her family found St. Joseph’s House when Wyatt was in fourth grade and about to age out of his prior day care. “It was clear right off the bat that [the LaHoods] were no average family,” she said.
“We try to work really hard against the typical cultural drive towards ‘you are what you produce,’” said Natalie, who emphasized the familial nature of the center. “What gives everybody value is that they have the capacity to love and be loved.”
Joe’s mother, Cubby LaHood, decided to open a day care in her home in Silver Spring nearly 40 years ago, in 1983, while pregnant with Joe, her first child. Cubby had a long history working with children with disabilities, and saw the limited child care options available to their families.
Cubby and her husband, Dan, had a transformative experience, in 1988, when their second child, Francis, didn’t live long after birth due to medical complications. The LaHoods realized that Francis, had he survived, would have been a child like those Cubby cared for. Dan quit his health care job, and together they formally opened St. Joseph’s House, responding to the great need they found in their community.
After Cubby’s death, in 2015, Joe and Natalie took over running the day care.
Natalie said that moving the day care from Silver Spring to their home on Oliver Street enables the couple to provide more care and be more flexible while still caring for their own children. Eventually, they hope to expand to provide overnight respite care, as well.
The move to Hyattsville required building an addition onto the LaHood’s house, which proved time consuming and costly. It took about two-and-a-half years for permitting and construction — the addition was completed just a few days before camp started up this summer.
St. Joseph’s House serves those with a variety of needs, ranging from children with Down Syndrome, who attend typical classrooms with support, to a child with complex medical needs, who is accompanied to the day care by a full-time nurse. Some children are nonverbal.
While the day care serves around a dozen participants over the course of a year, not more than four attend at any one time due to capacity limits for home day cares, which the LaHood’s four young children count toward.
Many of the attendees keep coming to St. Joseph’s House until they graduate from high school. Some, in fact, stay longer. Theresa Brogan, who has Down Syndrome and attended summer camp at St. Joseph’s House as a teenager, now works there. Brogan said she reads to the children and helps prepare lunch. She graduated from Vanderbilt University’s Next Steps program this spring and said she wants to be a teacher.
Williams Evans says her family has been thrilled with the care Wyatts has received at St. Joseph’s House and plans to keep him under the care of the LaHoods until he ages out. “They have been called to care for families like ours,” she said.
St. Joseph’s House is always looking for help! To volunteer or make an in-kind or monetary donation, go to www.stjosephshousemd.org.