WESTFIELD — Catherine Tansey, site coordinator for Our House, and Ann Lentini of Domus Inc. were at Munger Hill Elementary School on Feb. 16 to meet up with the school’s K-Kids, and to thank them for the food they collected for the residence for unhoused teens and young adults.

Tansey said her twin granddaughter and grandson Mairin and Finn Shea who go to Munger Hill came home saying the K-Kids, a branch of Kiwanis, were looking for a community service project to do.

That was all Tansey needed to hear. A former Westfield High School social worker, she and her colleague Carrie Fiordalice founded Our House seven years ago, with the help of Lentini and Domus, a local nonprofit focused on providing housing.

Tansey said she and Fiordalice used to go looking for homeless kids in Westfield in their cars, under bridges, until they had enough.

“It was ridiculous,” Tansey said. The duo thought they could start a home by themselves, but realized they needed help.

“We looked at a few different houses. Ann took us to the historic former Red Cross house on Broad Street. It was perfect,” Tansey said. The house now has a common kitchen, common living room, two laundry rooms and 10 efficiency apartments.

No drugs, drinking or cigarettes are allowed in Our House. The “kids” — Tansey said they’re not children, but she still calls them that — have to work or go to school. She said ideally, she likes to see them go to school, and work part-time. Public housing subsidies pay the balance of costs while they attend school.

Over the past seven years, 60 young people have lived at Our House, coming from difficult backgrounds, many placed by the Department of Children and Families. They may have aged out of foster care and had nowhere to go; experienced trauma; or come from a hospital. Tansey said it can take them five years to catch up to their peers.

“Kids come and are just thankful to have a roof over their heads,” she said.

Tansey said Our House’s administrators are careful about whom they select for the home, but added, “some of our stars have come out of a hospital setting.” Two years ago, four of them graduated with bachelor’s degrees from area colleges, including Westfield State University, the University of Massachusetts and Springfield College. One is now a nurse, another is a track and field coach at the University of Arkansas, and the other two are working in internet technology.

Tansey volunteered at Our House for a long time in the beginning, but after retiring from WHS, she went back as site manager, 15 to 25 hours a week.

“We teased it out, made some changes, [established] community norms to live by in order to have an open discussion.”

She said the house also has a live-in overnight manager who is a mentor to the tenants, and who she said is “magnificent.” A former student, she said he’s been there two years and also has a state job.

Tansey said she gave her grandchildren Mairin and Shea a description of the house, and what they do there.

“We have a pantry, and also give out $20 gift certificates to the supermarket for comfort food when tenants first arrive. They need the comfort food then,” she said.

When Mairin and Finn relayed all of the information to the K-Kids advisors, physical education teacher Nina King and Jen Kubic said, “We’ll do it!”

The K-Kids are a group of about 30 third and fourth graders. “K-Kids try to do community service projects. When Mairin came in and said grandma would like help filling the pantry at Our House, they all got excited about it. It’s something about kids helping other kids. They were blown away by the fact that not everybody has what they have — they had compassion,” King said.

She said they took the food drive on as a “Souper Bowl” challenge, with the third and fourth graders competing against each other: “They’re a great group of kids. Hopefully, they’ll have their hands in it for the rest of their lives.”

Tansey made posters for the school drive.

“The twins talked about what other kids were saying. They had an investment in doing this, and an understanding of what it was for,” she said.

Christy Roselli’s third grade class, which has several K-Kids members in it, raised the most. The class set a goal of contributing 100 cans by the 100th day of class, with the theme “Choose Love.”

“We did it as a math problem. With a class of 25, how many does each student have to collect?” Roselli said. Ultimately, the class collected 105 cans.

“They made the rest of the school look really good, and collected the most. They went above and beyond,” King said.

As representatives from Our House picked up the donations on Feb. 16, Aiden Byrne, Caleb Gallagher, Delilah Freeman and Elliana Zeszotek, all K-Kids from Roselli’s class, spoke about the food drive.

Caleb and Aiden said they were trying to collect a lot of food cans for the pantry in Our House, because they were running short on supplies. Delilah and Elliana said Our House is a home for teenagers, people who need help with jobs, food and shelter.

Accompanying Tansey for the collection was Elijah, who recently moved into Our House, and who spoke to the children.

“Our House gave me a stable, safe place to stay where I can prepare meals,” he told them. He said before when he was homeless and staying on people’s couches, he didn’t have that opportunity.

Elijah, who is from Chicopee, said his goal now is to get his GED and attend Westfield State University to study real estate and social work, working with kids.

Tansey said if people in the community want to help Our House, the staff tries to mark each tenant’s birthday with a gift card and birthday card. “We used to get a lot of gift cards, not lately,” she said.

People may drop off or send a gift card, such as a $10 or $20 Stop and Shop gift card, to Domus Inc., 4 School St., Westfield, indicating that it’s for Our House. For more information, call Domus at 413-568-4494.

amyporter@thewestfieldnews.com | + posts