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Full Bellies, Fuller Hearts – “Morning Mom” helps vulnerable kids start the day off right

The following article was written by eBella Magazine

Naples, FL (May 9, 2021) What happens first thing in the morning when parents have kids in school? They get them up, make sure they’re dressed, have their backpacks filled with the right stuff and make sure they have a good breakfast.

But what happens when school kids live in an emergency shelter because they’ve been removed from a traumatic home situation? Who gives them breakfast, timed to coordinate with their individual bus schedules?

The answer at Youth Haven in Naples is Terri Robert.

For seven years, Robert has served as Youth Haven’s Morning Mom, getting the boys of its emergency shelter and Homeless Teen Shelter ready for school in the morning with a proper breakfast. “Morning Mom was an idea that started around seven years ago,” says Youth Haven’s Associate Director of Development, Laura Lafakis. “When the children would wake up for school, the staff on duty were working to get kids properly dressed, teeth brushed, backpacks checked and together,” she explains.

“It was difficult adding ‘cooking a nutritious and healthy breakfast’ to that every morning, as well. In the boy’s cottage, we have beds for up to 29 kids, and at the time, we were almost always full. When we met Terri, she was a perfect fit and … we hired her to be our permanent Morning Mom.”

Robert enhances the quality of care so that each child has a positive start to the day.

“I nurture. I’m at that age. I’ve had kids, grandkids … I love to cook …” But it doesn’t take long for her to express the underlying reason a full belly means so much to Youth Haven’s boys. “These kids are all different. Some are traumatized. Some are sad. Some are rascals,” she says. Seeing them in the morning gives them a familiar face, breakfast and a chance to talk. “And that’s good for them,” she emphasizes. She was making scrambled eggs and toast one day when a boy commented, “I never had breakfast. I lived in a car.” And then there was the 8-year-old — one of nine children in his family — who came to her while she was cooking and said, “My mom doesn’t want me anymore.” Despite the anguish, Robert knew she had to lighten the moment. “I told him, ‘Well, I love you! I’ll make you breakfast!’ I can do a lot of talking while I’m cooking breakfast,” she adds.

Each boy is different and has different needs, and “Ms. Terri” knows their likes and dislikes. There are Muffin Mondays and Waffle Wednesdays, fun things the boys can count on and look forward to. “They still miss their moms or grandmothers,” Robert says. “I can’t save the world, but I can do this,” she says.

She started working at Youth Haven seven years ago, serving 26 boys in the cottage. The number of boys fluctuates, and currently the Morning Mom serves 13. The boys are all on different bus schedules, but she says it is manageable. She arrives at Youth Haven Monday through Friday at 5:45 a.m. (“I get up at 4, anyway,” she says.) She checks the boys’ appointments and schedules and starts cooking right away, catering to each request till about 8:30. “I take my time, get to the boys and try to not be rushed.” “Then I prep for lunch if anyone’s home or on break, and I leave by 11.” She helps other staff members from 9-10 a.m. with students who are studying remotely.

For years, Robert served as director of convention services in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She and her husband later had their own wine business until 2008. In semiretirement, she says she wanted to do something she loves. “I love cooking and I love the kids. It can be a challenge sometimes,” she says of the behavioral complexities of the young people she serves, but she strives to leave the boys in a better emotional place than when she first met them. “You want to help them in their development before they go to foster care or go back home,” she says. “And I do love it. They’re so good to me at Youth Haven.”

And Youth Haven is lucky to have the perfect Morning Mom.

“Now the kids wake up to the smells of breakfast cooking in the kitchen,” Lafakis says. “They walk out of their bedrooms and are greeted with the bright, cheerful face and voice of Terri … such an important figure in the lives of our children.”

To read the article by eBella Magazine, click HERE.


About Youth Haven, Inc.
Youth Haven, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency, is Collier County’s only emergency and residential emergency shelter for boys and girls ages 6 – 18 who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In continuous operation since 1972, Youth Haven’s 25-acre therapeutic campus houses over 70 youth with a waking staff system that allows for around-the-clock specialized care. Also situated on its campus is Rob’s Group Home, Youth Haven’s transitional living cottage, which provides comprehensive 24-hour care, with a longer average length of stay, for homeless unaccompanied teenagers ages 16 -19. Youth Haven is a COA nationally accredited organization, a member agency of the United Way of Collier County, a Naples Children & Education Foundation grant recipient, and holds a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. Its mission is focused on protecting and empowering children and teens in Southwest Florida through comprehensive care and community collaboration. For more information, please visit youthhavenswfl.org or call 239-774-2904. Follow Youth Haven on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.