Maryville's new shelter home for girls approved in Arlington Heights
Maryville Academy is expanding its presence in the Northwest suburbs with the planned opening of an Arlington Heights shelter home for up to 16 girls who come to the United States as unaccompanied minors.
The Des Plaines-based social service agency's plans to open the girls home within the former Sisters of the Living Word convent and offices at 800 N. Fernandez Ave. took a step forward this week with approvals by the village board.
In what would be called the St. Anne Program, Maryville would take in girls ages 12 to 17 who are under the care of the federal Administration of Children and Families and Office of Refugee Resettlement. Six of the 16 residents would be pregnant or parenting,
"These young ladies -- I want to be very clear -- they're not being referred to us because of behavior problems or they victimized someone else," said Sister Catherine Ryan, Maryville's executive director. "They are themselves victims of violence in their home countries. And so they've come to this country, and we'd like to provide the home for them until we can find family members who would be their sponsors in this country."
Ryan said the girls would attend local schools; she and her staff have talked with officials at St. Viator High School and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 who said they could accommodate the students.
If Maryville case workers can't find family or friends in the United States willing to take care of the residents when they turn 18, they will be transferred to other organizations that work with young adults.
"While they're with us, we want them to have as normal a childhood as they can have, while also learning the customs and culture of our country and how they can work to become good citizens if they are allowed to stay and if they choose to apply for citizenship," Ryan said.
Ryan said the former convent is a perfect fit for the new St. Anne Program; Maryville has to build out only two new bedrooms, for a total of 16, within the west portion of the two-story, 28,725-square-foot building. Officials will also make building code improvements required by the village -- such as a sprinkler system -- but there's no exterior changes to the structure planned.
Maryville has the 3.76-acre property under contract from Sisters of the Living Word, which moved last year. A portion of the building -- the one-time Ridge Elementary School -- was leased to Northwest Suburban Montessori School until it closed in 2020.
It's because of those former property uses -- listed as "institutional" in Arlington Heights' comprehensive plan -- that officials gave the proposed shelter care home their endorsement and approval for a special use permit.
"People don't realize the needs that exist, even in our community," said Mayor Tom Hayes. "There are people in need. We like to consider ourselves a well-to-do community. But there are many, many people in Arlington Heights that are in dire need of assistance one way or another. And I think it's incumbent upon us where we can to try to meet those needs."
"I can't think of a better place to do that than in a facility that has a history of doing that for so many years without adversely affecting the neighborhood that it's situated in."
Maryville operates a residential program for 50 boys in Des Plaines and a girls campus in Bartlett and is opening a new home for girls in Berwyn. But those programs are at capacity, Ryan said, prompting the search for a new place.
Only two of the 16 people who spoke during Tuesday's village board meeting opposed the move, expressing concerns about the potential impact to property values and whether the shelter would be a good fit on the residential block.
Ryan said Maryville "looks forward to being good neighbors here in Arlington Heights."