Sacramento Children’s Home celebrates its 150th anniversary

Sacramento Children’s Home in 1927, was located near 18th and L streets. Ground was broken on the current Sutterville Road facility in 1925.
Sacramento Children’s Home in 1927, was located near 18th and L streets. Ground was broken on the current Sutterville Road facility in 1925. Sacramento Children’s Home

On one sleepless night five years ago, Rayne McKenzie begged for her 7-week-old daughter to stop crying. McKenzie was a first-time mom at 40, with no stable income and no family support, and on that night, it crossed her mind to put her daughter up for adoption.

Overwhelmed and disheveled, McKenzie took her daughter to the front steps of the Sacramento Children’s Home crisis nursery near Sacramento Executive Airport.

“I was in my jammies, knocking on their door with a screaming child in my arms,” she said. “I remember the relief I felt when they brought me in. With coffee in my hands, I drew my tears away.”

Over the next five years, McKenzie used the crisis nurseries’ services on and off as she sought treatment for postpartum depression, finished college and found a stable job.

McKenzie is one of thousands of parents whom the Children’s Home has served since 1867, when it first opened as an orphanage in the area now occupied by downtown Sacramento’s historic railyard. The home later moved to its current location on Sutterville Road.

The home’s initial goal was to take abandoned children off the streets and riverbanks of post-Gold Rush era Sacramento, but it has evolved over time to meet the diverse needs of families in crisis, said Roy Alexander, the home’s chief executive officer.

On Thursday, the Children’s Home will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house to kick off its 150th year and show visitors the recently completed renovations that restored the stately brown and white structure, across from Curtis Park, to its 1925 design.

“A lot of people in Sacramento identify with this building, and the city of Sacramento was very interested in maintaining its historical character,” Alexander said.

Officials built a ramp for easy access to the home’s entrance. They raised the ceilings, making the rooms airier and brighter, and converted what was once a kitchen and cafeteria into a modern conference room with lofty windows. The plumbing, wiring and air conditioning all were upgraded.

The 10-month-long renovation project cost about $1.8 million, paid for with one large private donation and the sale of a property owned by the Children’s Home.

The home was designated as a historical landmark by the city of Sacramento shortly before renovations began last year, Alexander said.

It once housed more than 100 boys and girls. Their playful shouts and the clank of dishes in the cafeteria echoed down the hallways for decades.

In the 1960s, however, the home began offering more nonresidential social services and outpatient treatment for disturbed children. The number of children who lived at the home fell, Alexander said.

The Children’s Home now houses 30 boys, ages 6 to 19, and aims to return them to stable homes through its wraparound program, which offers an array of support and treatment services, said David Baker, the home’s chief operating officer.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids go back to grow up in their communities successfully,” Baker said. “We don’t want them to live in an institution.”

The Children’s Home offers programs and services for family members of all ages who struggle with mental illness and homelessness. It helps parents who need guidance in raising their children. And it assists adolescents by providing counseling and life-skills training, from anger management to cooking and hygiene workshops.

Its two crisis nurseries help families in need by connecting them to resources and child care. Homeless mothers looking for housing, for instance, can leave their children at the child care centers for up to 30 days while they find permanent housing or seek out mental health services.

McKenzie didn’t have to use the program for more than a week at a time, she said, but it gave her peace of mind, whether she was seeing a doctor or simply needed to sleep. One of the home’s two crisis nurseries, in the Arden Arcade area, also relieved some financial stress by giving her daughter food, clothes and toys.

McKenzie said she’s come a long way since she first arrived on the crisis nursery’s doorstep. She recently became a board member of the Children’s Home and hopes the board will benefit from her perspective as a mother who has used the home’s services.

McKenzie said she’s grateful the Sacramento Children’s Home helped her through difficult times. Even her daughter, Lyric, will miss the crisis nursery, a safe and happy place for her, the mother said. The girl is turning 6 soon and won’t be able to go the nursery anymore.

“They say it takes a village. We didn’t have aunties and grandmas, but we had the crisis nursery,” McKenzie said. “They were part of our village.”

For additional information and to contact the Children’s Home, go to www.kidshome.org or call 916-452-3981.

Alejandra Reyes-Velarde: 916-321-1005