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Casper’s Seton House adds two properties, increases housing options

June 7, 2012 in Events, Features, News, Opinion

On Friday night, they were empty. They were just walls, a ceiling and a floor. In each of the seven two-bedroom units, there were three sets of bunk beds and a sofa bed. Seven safe places to sleep. There was an oven that worked, a refrigerator and a dishwasher that had never been used in the kitchen. There were new sheets on the beds and clean towels in the spacious bathroom.

By the end of the weekend, or at the latest the first of the week, the eight apartments — seven two-bedroom and one one-bedroom — in the Ellie McMurry Memorial Home will be filled.

Across the street, in what used to be a cold, dark garage, there is a room large enough for all of the families of Seton House to be together as a community. There is a computer lab with six new Apple computers, printers and headphones. There is a classroom where children can learn social skills and be tutored in group or individual sessions. There are offices for staff members. This is the Family Learning Center.

Seton House dedicated its two newest properties on Friday afternoon, just in time for Mother’s Day.

The statue of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton overlooked the overflow crowd. In New York City in 1797, Seton established a charity for homeless mothers and children.

Casper’s Seton House was established, with three apartments in one building renovated by volunteers in north Casper, in December 1989. In 22 years, 1,074 parents and 2,051 children have found refuge from whatever demons they were fleeing.

It’s more than housing; it’s “a shelter with a purpose,” as longtime executive director Pam Kozola says.

Anne Johnson, the president of the board of directors, marveled that groundbreaking to completion for the two buildings took less than nine months.

“We consistently have waiting lists of more than 30 families,” Johnson said. “Like Martin Luther King, we had a dream. But did we dare risk expanding?”

Don and Rita Galles made a donation that made buying the old Hillcrest Water Building possible, along with the vacant land across the street to the east.

Neil McMurry said that he’d build an eight-unit apartment building on the vacant lot, in memory of his late wife, Ellie McMurry, the mother of his children. He said his four children, Mick McMurry, Carol McMurry, Susan Samuelson and Vic McMurry, would help.

The City of Casper provided funds through the optional 1-cent sales tax.

The John Martin Family Foundation donated renovation funds, Joe Scott furnished the apartments and the community room in the new learning center in honor of his mother, and Larry and Margo Bean painted the interior of the learning center.

The new apartments will increase available single-family apartments at Seton House from 23 to 31. Until the phone rings for the first time next week, that leaves a current waiting list of 33 families with 53 children needing shelter from the night.

“Those apartments are going to change people’s lives,” Melanie Cantu said. She was still in her Eggington’s shirt from her morning shift. She’s worked there 5½ years. She lives with her daughter, Addy, 7, a first-grader at Park Elementary School, in her own home. It’s a Habitat for Humanity home that she owns and has lived in for almost two years.

She lived at Seton House with Addy from November 2006 to June 2008. It’s the first real home Addy remembers. She’d like to move back. She misses the big family.

“We shared a bed when we lived here, and she has her own room now, and she’d like to move back,” Melanie said.

She is raising her daughter; she earned her GED; she is going to college, studying addictions; and she works.

“I was living out of boxes and bags, never knowing where I would be next. I thought my No. 7 [Seton House apartment] was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Thanks to Seton House for giving me structure,” she said.

Ellie McMurry was raised in north Casper, within a block of the new apartments that bear her name. Family and home were the most important things to her. She died May 8, 1983, at 58.

Now, almost exactly 29 years later, on Mother’s Day, eight families will see her plaque as they enter their new homes.

Home and family — and a shelter with a purpose.

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