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Hawthorn Heights opens new Bryson City shelter

fr hawthorneWhile the former Hawthorn Heights teen shelter presented a number of challenges, the only challenge for teens moving into the new shelter will be calling dibs on their favorite room.

Hawthorn Heights in Bryson City has provided a temporary refuge for homeless and runaway teenagers since 1976. The old shelter house on Patterson Avenue was cramped for space and the layout created visibility problems, which made it harder to supervise the teens. 

“The kids are so excited and asking ‘when do we get to move in?’” said Debra Malloy, youth care worker at the shelter. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.” 

Since the shelter became a part of a larger organization — Children’s Hope Alliance — last year, fundraising efforts began to find a more suitable facility. The Children’s Hope Alliance formed last year when Barium Springs children’s home and the Grandfather Home for Children in Banner Elk merged to better utilize resources. 

The new shelter still houses only nine teens at a time, but now they will all have their own room instead of having a bunk mate. Instead of a small twin-size bed, they will each have a full-size bed. Instead of all nine having to share one small bathroom, the boys and the girls will each have their own bathroom. Individuals, businesses and organizations in the community have donated all the furnishings for the house.

The 6,400-square-foot house also has a much larger kitchen, living area, recreation area and a full basement. About $840,000 was raised for the first phase of the project, but funds are still needed to finish the office spaces in the basement. The offices in the basement will be used by Children’s Hope Alliance staff to provide therapy services to the teens staying there. 

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“We’ve been blessed to have the Children’s Hope Alliance come along to provide all these resources,” said Kara Long, Hawthorn Heights program manager. 

Hawthorn Heights is the only emergency runaway and homeless youth shelter west of Asheville. Teens age 12-17 come to the shelter in a variety of ways, Long said. They can be recommended there from all over the region by the juvenile court system for minor offenses, departments of social services, guidance counselors or parents who need some help. 

“Some teens refer themselves,” Long said. “It doesn’t happen all the time but it’s not uncommon to have a kid knock on our door in the middle of the night.”

Long said some teens just need a few days away from a stressful family situation while others may be in need of a long-term foster care home. Teens staying at the shelter must adhere to a strict set of house rules and perform chores in order to earn points they can redeem for different house rewards. 

“Aside from offering them a safe place to stay, we want to give them structure,” Long said. “We put them on a strict house schedule with times for studying, dinner, chores and bedtime — that alone can be stabilizing for them.”

The staff also makes sure teens staying at the shelter have all their basic needs met — medical care, dental appointments, eye exams, glasses and more.

Hawthorn Heights is only licensed through the state as a temporary shelter, which means the goal is provide the teens with a safe place to stay until a more permanent home can be found. In the meantime, the staff works to prepare them for a successful transition within 90 days. That could include teaching conflict resolution, anger management or tutoring for school. 

The teens are monitored at all times with at least two youth care workers in the home. Matthew Patterson has been employed at Hawthorn Heights for two years and loves working with the teens. He helps set up appointments for them, takes them to school and makes sure they are fed. 

“I’m also here just to entertain them — tell them stories and jokes,” he said. “I teach them new ways of doing things. We like to focus on life skills, like how to cook and how to find a job.”

Malloy, a fellow youth care worker, said she enjoys getting to know all the teens at the shelter and helping them get to where they want to be. She said it’s a bittersweet moment when they leave. 

“I love getting to know their personalities — you learn how resilient they are,” she said. “It’s not sad and they aren’t broken — they are fun and funny.”

For more information about Hawthorn Heights or services provided by Children’s Hope Alliance, visit

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