Five Favorites with Catherine Friedman

The executive director of West Chester’s Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children reflects on helping homeless families and her pastimes.

In her tenure so far as executive director of West Chester’s Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children, Friedman has helped as many as 400 homeless families in the area.

1. Randall Graham.

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“I just bought a piece of his. He was my next-door neighbor—I had no idea he was an amazing professional artist.” 

2. French Creek State Park and Ridley Creek State Park.

“We love hiking.” 

Catherine Friedman

From Left: Meghan Trainor ; Randall Graham painting.

3. Meghan Trainor.

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“She’s my newest guilty pleasure. I just discovered her on the radio, when I couldn’t stand listening to election coverage on NPR.” 

4. Schuylkill River Trail.

“We go from Valley Forge into Manayunk for lunch and back.” 

5. Restaurant 51 Tap & Spirit, West Chester.

“I’ve fallen in love with the French 51 cocktail. It’s heaven.”

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From Left: Schuylkill River Trail; Restaurant 51 Tap & Spirit

MLT: What are the goals of Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children?

CF: Friends Association provides housing and services to families that are homeless or in danger of being homeless in Chester County. We have a shelter in the borough [of West Chester] for when families literally become homeless. We work with them to get them back on their feet. Our biggest program is our homeless prevention program. We find it’s easier to help people if we stop them from becoming homeless. We’ll stop evictions and we’ll work with families for up to two years to help them rebuild the relationship with their landlord and get back on their feet financially.

MLT: How did you come into this line work? Why at-risk families?

CF: My first job here in West Chester was at Safe Harbor, a shelter for single men and women. I really loved the stories of all of the residences that came through. The social narrative of who a homeless person is really doesn’t match what you meet when you speak to them. You find humor and folks who are just trying to make it, but never quite could figure it out. I just fell in love with the people and their journey, and wanted to be a part of it, help lift people up and break down some of the social systems that sort of keep people down.

MLT: That must be really rewarding. What’s the best part for you?

CF: It’s seeing a family stay together and get back on their feet. It’s a whole other thing to realize children are homeless. It’s not necessarily abuse or neglect, it’s literally the fact that parents can’t provide a home for themselves or their children. Because of programs like ours, we keep families together. We get to teach the family a new way of doing things, to work together, and see them thrive. A mom called recently and for the first time ever she could pay all of her bills.

MLT: Is there a story that’s stuck with you?

CF: A mom who was a survivor of domestic violence had finally pressed charges and her partner was sent to jail. She couldn’t afford the rent once his income was gone. She was never going to be able to earn enough money to pay rent on her own. We negotiated with the landlord to not evict. We found her an apartment that we could help support her in, knowing that by the time she was done with our program, she’d be able to afford it. By the end of the program, she not only paid her rent, she graduated from college.

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