Ashtabula Boys Residential Facility

Signature Health Thursday unveiled its new residential facility for boys placed outside their homes by the county Children Services Board, dubbed “Paul’s House.”

The about 5,500-square foot, two-floor building along Park Avenue houses 16 beds (some bedrooms have two), at least four full bathrooms, a full kitchen and cafeteria, interconnected fire alarms and security cameras. A decorative wrought iron fence is planned for the perimeter.

It also features plenty of amenities: televisions in a media room and the great room; a basement exercise room currently with a small basketball arcade, two cycling machines and one treadmill, and table tennis and cornhole setups. A full-sized basketball hoop is planned to go up behind the facility.

Signature Health CEO Jonathan Lee and Tania Burnett, Ashtabula County Children Services Board executive director, both said it was important for the facility to feel less like a box of cold cinder blocks and more like a home.

“We wanted to have something that was going to be rugged and sturdy,” Lee said. “We wanted it to feel like somebody’s house and kind of function that way.”

Burnett added, “No kid should feel like they’re in an institutional setting.”

The Park Avenue facility was the former SR Snodgrass building, and Lee said much of its framework still remains. Accounting office space was easily repurposed into bedrooms with closets or armories added.

He said the top floor’s main area was “gutted,” and two bathrooms moved back to make more space for the great room. Top floor renovations included all new tiling and carpet.

Its pending residential facility license allows the home to house boys ages 8 to 21 — and they can choose to stay after they’ve “aged out” of the county system at 18.

Signature Health already has preliminary site inspection approval, and is awaiting final word from the state Department of Job and Family Services, which should arrive in the next three to four weeks, Lee said.

“We have kids who have had to go out of our county because we haven’t had a place like this,” Burnett said, and the board already has a handful of boys in its custody ready to move in when the facility opens, expected to be later this month.

Paul’s House will be staffed around the clock by 15 to 20

"Signature Health employees," said Brenda Buchanan, Signature Health’s director of child residential services. "It’s not a locked facility, but Lee said care was given to designing it securely, such as open line-of-sight for its staffers."

The basement also has several conference rooms for social workers to meet with residents.

“Typically, when we have kids in group homes, they’ve gone through some sort of trauma,” Burnett said. “They can get their therapy (at the home). If they had a therapist in the county, they can continue with that same therapist because now they’re staying in our county.”

Children services workers can also host group sessions with residents to serve behavioral health needs, and life skills training for boys age 15 and older, who could soon age out of the system and need to become independent.

Burnett said it’s about having a “continuity of care,” as well as helping kids return to their homes sooner.

“Visitation is really difficult when kids are an hour away (at residential facilities outside the county),” she said. “We want them to be able to visit their families, we want our case workers to be able to visit them more often.”

Lee said the board has already asked Signature Health to back a similar residential home for girls. He added it would follow the same model as Paul’s House — not a “giant place where you have tons of kids,” one with a domestic feel.

The home takes its namesake from Paul Brickman, the company’s director of marketing, who has worked to help youth for the last 40 years, Lee said.

Brickman, a former juvenile probation officer in Lake County, was one of the founders of the Glenbeigh drug and alcohol treatment facility in Rock Creek and trained social workers nationwide.

“Some of the teachers and social workers that he trained were the people who got me to treatment,” Lee told those gathered for the ribbon cutting. “In a very real way, I dedicate my 28 years of sobriety to him and his work.”

It was a pleasant surprise for Brickman, a 20-year Signature Health employee, who was joined by his family.

“I am really proud to have my name on this house,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do this another 20 years. This is going to be a wonderful place.”

  • By JUSTIN DENNIS jdennis@starbeacon.com 
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