Raphael House work and the Waldorf Connection

How did the Raphael House come to be?

Raphael House was founded in 1971. This year we are celebrating our 50th year anniversary. Our Mission is to help low-income families and families experiencing homelessness strengthen family bonds by achieving stable housing and financial independence.

Raphael House was originally founded as a shelter for women and children. However, our founders quickly realized that there were no shelters for families where fathers could also stay together with their families. Soon, we became the first family shelter in Northern California.

We are a privately-run shelter for families with 31 rooms, usually serving around 31 families experiencing homelessness. Raphael House does not receive city funding, which allows us to maintain a sober facility and the flexibility to quickly respond to family’s needs with our programming. 

What services do you offer?

Raphael House has two major components: our Residential Shelter and our Bridge Program. As part of our Residential Shelter, families have access to private rooms, intensive case-management and coaching, three daily nutritious family-style meals, housing search support, career development and job placement, family wellness support, financial planning and parenting courses, K-12 academic tutoring and mentoring, and academic and summer camp scholarships. Many of our services are also aimed at strengthening family bonds that may have been impacted during the course of experiencing homelessness.

On average 85% of families successfully transition from our Residential Shelter into stable housing.

Once families move out of our Residential Shelter, they are eligible for the Bridge Program. Our Bridge Program is our aftercare program where families can receive many of the same supportive services offered in our Residential Shelter, such as career support and K-12 tutoring, for up to 18 years after leaving Raphael House. The Bridge program ensures that families can maintain their stable housing and are able to escape the cycle of homelessness permanently.

Do you know the history behind the relationship between the Raphael House and SF Waldorf School?

Our previous executive director, Father David Lowell, had two children attending SF Waldorf. I believe they are both SF Waldorf High School graduates. Although Fr. David Lowell retired in 2010, the influence of Waldorf Education on Raphael House’s programs is still evident.

What elements found in Raphael House are particularly Waldorf, would you say?

I’ve had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Waldorf School and have had Waldorf families tour here at Raphael House as well. Our Toddler Room, which serves children ages 0 to 4, looks a lot like your Kindergarten classrooms with wooden toys, chalkboard murals, and watercolor-like, sponge-painted walls.

Another similarity I have noticed is that our children’s programming revolves around art. After talking with our longtime staff, it sounds like some of our Children’s Program teachers were trained in chalkboard art or were former Waldorf teachers. We have an evening hour for the children at 6:30 each weekday where kids do art projects and other activities.

Routine is a huge component of Raphael House as well, which I think might be related to Waldorf Education. Every weekday, we have a schedule that includes storytime, tutoring club, snack, and dinnertime. We strongly encourage residents to attend dinner together!

This routine and structure helps make Raphael House feel so homelike, which introduces an element of safety for the children.

How has SF Waldorf School donation drives helped serve your families?

SF Waldorf is our major school donor and it is the only school we are affiliated with where all grades participate in a drive. I believe the Thanksgiving drive brought in around 50 boxes of food! This recent Essentials drive brought in another 30+ boxes of items for our families.

These donations of goods help both our Residential and Bridge families! Receiving items such as toiletries, new children’s clothing, and cleaning supplies helps families prioritize other important expenses such as rent and helps them maintain their financial stability long term. Last year we were able to serve 243 adults and 360 children with supportive services including providing essential items, children’s clothing, and birthday gifts!

How has the pandemic affected your organization?

During COVID, the maximum number of families in our Residential Shelter has been brought down to 12 due to distancing regulations.

The great news is that we have actually been able to increase the number of families we can serve through our Bridge program! Most families find stable housing outside of San Francisco, and it can be difficult for them to get to Raphael House for after school tutoring or in-person appointments with our Career Development Manager. 

By moving some of our services to a remote format over Zoom, more families are able to access supportive services from Raphael House. We are also serving more families in need through providing things like birthday gifts for children, rental or bill assistance finds, and grocery gift cards.  

Are there ways to volunteer and get involved as an individual?

Typically, we have both group and individual volunteer opportunities. Group volunteers can help with cleaning, sorting donations, and other organization projects around our Residential Shelter or can help prepare and serve dinner in our kitchen. Individuals can apply to become volunteers in our adult and children’s programming such as Tutoring Club, Toddler Time, or ESL Tutoring. However, due to Covid-19, we are currently not able to have any on-site volunteers, and our remote volunteer shifts are currently filled. 

You can always check back on our website for updates or to submit a volunteer application which will be held on file until on-site opportunities resume. You can find more information here or by emailing me: Kellen Sarver . ~