Somerset Home - History

History of the Somerset Home



The founding board of the Somerset Home for Temporarily Displaced Children (Somerset Home) were members of the evening membership division (EMD) of the Somerville Civic League. The EMD formally disbanded in 1990. The EMD were the core board members from 1970 until the first program of the Somerset Home, the Somerset Youth Shelter, opened in March 1973. At that time, the board became more diversified with a cross section of members from the community.


Garretson Road - Bridgewater, NJ

The Somerset Youth Shelter was first located in a rented, historic home (a former inn) on Garretson Road in Bridgewater. The owners of the house, Larry and Kathy Martin, shared the house, living in an apartment on the first floor, and were the first set of "house parents". The capacity at that time was twelve. Often, because there were no domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters or other support systems all ages were welcome including infants, children with extreme cases of autism, and their mothers. The Board of Social Services (then the Somerset County Welfare Board) and DYFS (then the Bureau of Children Services) were the primary referral sources.

In 1974, the Martins, no longer interested in being "house parents" because of the long hours, resigned and moved out but continued to rent to the Somerset Home. Over the next few years, three sets of "house parents" held the job.

Then in 1975, two major changes occurred. First, the Somerset Youth Shelter abandoned the house parent model in lieu of around the clock child-care staff. And second, the Martins decided not to renew the Somerset Home's lease.


North Bridge Street - Somerville, NJ

In 1976, the corporation rented a single-family house in Somerville and began to pursue purchasing a building for the shelter program. This rented facility was located on North Bridge Street.

Also in 1973, the State of New Jersey deinstitutionalized status offenders (youth who ran away from home were no longer able to be locked up in detention). There became a great need for programs for youth who were running away from home because of family dysfunction including abuse and neglect. The board decided to specialize in providing shelter to abused and neglected adolescents. The capacity was lowered to eight and children below the age of twelve were no longer admitted. DYFS had adequate foster homes for the younger kids and inadequate resources for older kids.

Later that year, a house on Cliff Street in Somerville was purchased where major zoning issues and several months of Superior Court litigation were encountered. The final ruling was against our plan. The building was later purchased and converted to law offices.


Cliff Street - Somerville, NJ

After unsuccessfully attempting to convert a house on Cliff Street in Somerville for the shelter program, a property in Bridgewater was purchased. It was known as the "Palazzo Boarding Home". This building, also the former Bradley Gardens Firehouse, was purchased for $77,000 and is the building at 49 Brahma Avenue where the Somerset Youth Shelter remains today.


Brahma Avenue - Bridgewater, NJ


In 1982, the Somerset Home's board of trustees conducted an in-depth "role study". This study examined the role of the Somerset Youth Shelter program in the community to determine the continued need for its services. The report documented there was a community need for the program and found a need for new leadership as well. A search for a new executive director was underway and in May, 1982, Jeffrey Fetzko, was hired.

Once program operations were stabilized, a yearlong assessment of the facility took place. Program stabilization was a priority from 1982 to 1985.

A facility study took place from 1985 to 1986. This study concluded repairs to the facility were needed and a comprehensive renovation project began in 1987 and ended in 1989. The total cost of the renovation was $250,000. During this same period professional social workers and educational staff were added to the shelter program.


In 1986, after extensive research about the needs of the adolescents being served by the Somerset Youth Shelter program, it was determined a program for older adolescents was needed. Pathways and Passages programs were envisioned to focus on life-skills issues for youth that would be turning 18 and moving from the "substitute care system" to the community. Since the agency was not in a position at that time to begin another residential program, Pathways Life-Skills Education program was implemented. It was the first nonresidential, in-house support program for the agency. A life-skills education curriculum is taught through workshops, outreach, newsletters, and life-skills retreats.

PASSAGES (1987-1991)

Clark Street - Somerville, NJ

The next five years were consumed with fundraising and planning for a permanent agency owned facility for Passages, the residential component of the life-skills program. In 1987, Passages opened in a rented house on Clark Street in Somerville for five young women. During this initial time, the program was fine-tuned and a set of detailed policy and procedures were developed.

PASSAGES (1991-today)

Fourth Avenue - Bridgewater, NJ

In 1991 the Pathways/Passages building was constructed at 16 Fourth Avenue in Bridgewater. The following year, Passages moved from Somerville to Bridgewater and expanded it capacity to five young men in addition to five young women. The Pathways program, which was located at the Somerset Youth Shelter, relocated to the new facility as well.


Recreation Area Expansion (1999)


Counseling Office Expansion (1999)

Once the Pathways/Passages building was finished the need for additional space at the Somerset Youth Shelter became the next priority. In 1995, $65,000 was spent on capital improvements once again to the shelter facility. That same year, the board of trustees approved a plan to expand counseling office space at the shelter and to purchase the house next door at 47 Brahma for additional recreation and parking space. A $550,000 capital campaign was initiated and split into two phases. Phase I consisted of purchasing adjacent property and completing the necessary site work to use the property for parking and recreational space for youth. Both phases of construction were completed by the end of 1999 accomplishing several of the major goals included in the Vision 2000 Strategic Plan.


In 1998, a pregnancy prevention initiative was awarded to the Pathways program. This program has both an adult-to-youth and youth-to-youth mentor component. Pathways has expanded its life skills expertise into peer counseling and mentoring with the goal of reducing teenage pregnancy under this initiative. This program was abandoned after three years and Pathways returned to focus on the broader issues of life-skills education and housing.


The Passages residential facility will also be the recipient of a major renovation during 2000-2002 with a capital investment of more than $100,000 to upgrade kitchens and fire safety equipment.


In 1998, our street outreach program was begun and has identified 100 homeless youth (16-21) each year since its inception. So many youth have been identified that the need for transitional housing for older youth has become evident.


The passage of the "Homeless Youth Act" in 1999 by the State of New Jersey has provided increased funding for basic center, transitional living programs and street outreach programs. The effect of this new law has significantly affected the capacity of the agencies throughout New Jersey to serve the "walk-in" population and will also expand services to older youth ages 16-21. The increase of federal funds in the area of Transitional Living Programs and the IVE (Chafee) Independent Living initiative will bring new dollars in new funding into New Jersey for the types of services provided by the Somerset Home.


One of the major steps in the history of organizational development is the accreditation by the Council on Accreditation in 2001. This accreditation was part of an 18-month process and accomplished one of the major goals outlined in the Vision 2005 Strategic Plan.


The second major goal included in the Vision 2005 is the expansion of transitional living services. My Place is envisioned as two group homes (My Place I and My Place II) serving, serving ten older youth (18-21) who are in need of transitional housing and life skills education.

My Place - Third Avenue - Bridgewater, NJ (2005-current)

Whitney House - Whitney Drive - Bridgewater, NJ (2005-current)

Youth (18-21) live at My Place and Whitney House for up to 18 months while learning life skills and preparing for independence. My Place opened in May of 2005 to five young men and Whitney House opened to five young women in March of 2006.

BRAHMA HOUSE (2005-current)

Brahma Avenue - Bridgewater, NJ

In 2005 the Somerset Youth Shelter changed it's name to Brahma House. Brahma House provides assessment, crisis intervention, family therapy, basic skills education, recreation, outreach and family stabilization in a residential treatment milieu.


In 2010 an expansion of services in the form of a new service was begun. Bridge House is a residential, supported-housing program for young adults, ages 18 – 21 at the time of admission that makes available all the services needed to support the tenant living independently, enabling them to realize their full potential. Bridge House fills a need identified as a result of Somerset Home’s experience providing transitional-living services since 1988. The homeless older youth Somerset Home has served are the driving force for this project. These older youth have progressed beyond the need for 24/7 supervision and are ready to take the next step toward adulthood. Most have aged-out of the state’s child welfare system. Without affordable, long-term independent housing options, they will likely be unable to build on their successes and go on to reach their goals, such as completing college or vocational school, finding full-time employment and becoming part of the community.

An interim Bridge House opened December 11 as the ultimate goal is to build a 10-unit apartment building at agency-owned property at 8 Third Avenue. Three apartments were rented at Brookside Garden Apartments in Somerville and two tenants moved into the home on 8 Third Avenue Bridgewater (between My Place and Passages).

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