Leah Steele. Photo by Rodney Margison


Middle Way House, a nonprofit organization that provides services to survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault and their children, has helped people work through periods of crisis for nearly 50 years. It should come as no surprise that its commitment to advocacy didn’t falter with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Middle Way House offers a diverse array of support services, its Rise and Shine Childcare center typically cares for young children under the age of 5, most of whom are residents of the group’s emergency shelter or transitional housing program. But when the pandemic shuttered schools, youth programs, and many other child care providers, the center— helmed by Childcare Coordinator Leah Steele— expanded to also include school-age kids.

With Rise and Shine open, Middle Way clients didn’t have to choose between their hard-won progress and caring for their children. “Getting a job is a big deal, because maybe they weren’t allowed to work [previously],” Middle Way House Executive Director Debra Morrow says of survivors. “And to feel that independence—having a job and being able to support their family—that’s huge.”

By adopting policies to ensure everyone’s safety, such as mask-wearing, checking temperatures, and forming smaller pods of children and staff members to reduce contact, Steele and her staff have preserved a sense of normalcy for these kids. “Some of the relationships that we provide and the routines we provide are part of being a trauma-informed center,” Steele says. “Being able to continue to provide that, no matter what else was going on in the world, was pretty important to us.”

Morrow says she appreciates Steele’s patience and positivity. “A lot of our kids … have experienced trauma, and sometimes that manifests in their behavior,” Morrow says. “And that never makes her blink twice.”

Steele found a silver lining amidst the gloom of the pandemic: a chance to reflect. “It provided us time to be able to look inward and think critically about the services we provide and how to best structure those to really serve the needs of the family instead of what we might think they need,” she says.

For more information, visit middlewayhouse.org. To aid the Rise and Shine Childcare center, email Steele at [email protected].