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One of YSS’s First Residents Remembers Shelter House

Even though it’s been 50 years, Cheryl remembers her stay in the shelter on Burnett Street like it was yesterday. “It was a really good place with some really good people,” she says.

In 1973, Cheryl was one of the first residents of “Shelter House.” Established by Dr. George Belitsos, Shelter House the first-ever youth shelter in the state of Iowa—and a few years later would become the nonprofit Youth & Shelter Services (today known as YSS).

At 13 years old, Cheryl often ran away from home and skipped school. “I was raised by a single mom and we didn’t see our dad much,” Cheryl explains. “My mom had no education. I was having problems with my sister. It was hard back then.”

Cheryl was sent to a group home, but it wasn’t a good fit so she ran away from there, too. The next step would be the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, but her social worker stepped in and suggested a “new place” she had heard about in Ames.

When she arrived at Shelter House, Cheryl says she was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. She described it as an old house with the staff offices in the basement. Volunteers came and went, and she said the atmosphere was energetic and a bit disorganized. But soon she became used to the routine, meeting the staff and building friendships with other youth staying at the home.

“They treated me with respect,” Cheryl says. “What I said really mattered. I was able to finally get my feelings out and talk to someone who wanted the best for me.”

Cheryl has fond memories of Dr. George, as well as counselors Don and Nadine; house parents Rick and Teresa; and a social worker named Gary. She explains that the staff were all young, which helped the youth feel heard.

“I really liked Dr. George; he was always smiling,” Cheryl says. “At the previous group home, they were always putting us down and saying we would never amount to anything. It wasn’t that way at Shelter House. The staff told us we could do anything. They understood us.”

In 1976, Dr. George officially founded Youth & Shelter Services and began expanding programs and facilities beyond Shelter House. Nearly half a century later, YSS offers 40 programs in six locations across the state. YSS’s shelter in Ames is now known as Rosedale Shelter, continuing to provide a safe, welcoming place for youth in need—just like Cheryl.

After her stay at Shelter House, Cheryl stayed out of trouble. She moved into a foster home in Nevada and says YSS continued to offer her counseling and aftercare support.

At age 15, Cheryl received a scholarship to Simpson College. She moved back to her hometown of Holmes, Iowa, and over the years worked as an independent researcher for Iowa State University and then as an in-home healthcare provider.

Today, she lives on an acreage with her husband and proudly talks about her two sons, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. She also kept in touch with her best friend from the shelter.

“Shelter House changed the direction of my life,” Cheryl says. “It was just a good experience; I remember it fondly.”

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