Group Homes Multiply Back-To-School Fuss

by ANGELA RABAGO-MUSSI
Arizona Republic

Every year, the back-to-school rush quickly overtakes relaxed summer days. But with only two kids, I can hardly complain, especially after talking with some people who are responsible for getting dozens of kids off to school every fall.

They often keep a low profile in the community because of the confidential and sensitive nature of their clients’ cases, but there are about 35 group homes for up to 10 children each in Glendale and an additional 15 or so in Peoria.

The children who live in group homes range in age from 5 to 17 and have been removed from their families because of abuse, neglect or other problems and don’t have a foster home or adoptive home.

Nineteen of those homes in Glendale and Peoria are run by Simon Kottoor, who runs three more in Phoenix.

Simon and his wife, Elizabeth, immigrated from India 15 years ago with a vision to provide a home for abused or neglected children. They hoped to emulate, in a small way, the mission of Mother Teresa, who had begun an orphanage in the garage of Elizabeth Kottoor’s father’s home in India, Simon Kottoor said.

The Kottoor’s Sunshine Residential Homes is now one of the largest group-home operations in the state.

But even after many years of experience, getting 200 children off to school can be “hectic,” Simon Kottoor said, with principals and teachers needing to be contacted and school supplies and clothing prepared for each child.

Jill LaRose, who founded the Angel Society group home in Peoria in 1998, said, as in regular families, back-to-school time can also be a drain on finances.

The state provides a set amount per child for school supplies and clothing, but LaRose finds that when working with troubled children “you tend to want to compensate for their past, “So she steps up fund-raising to make sure the 10 pre-teen and teen girls in her home go back to school “not looking like group-home kids, not sticking out.”

LaRose has found that finances, including fund-raising and grant writing, are a bigger part of running a group home than she imagined.

She had a successful summer, in that respect, when she decided to send the 10 girls to a summer camp. Soroptomist International of Camelback donated $2500 of the $7000 needed to pay for the camp.

For his group homes, Simon Kottoor said, it takes careful planning and budgeting to fund summer activities solely through regular state funding.

Each summer, staff members take the children on a weeklong California vacation, including visits to Disneyland and the beach. They also hosted a two-week basketball camp, and one staff member spent 30 days at a rented campground near Show Low so that groups of kids could take turns camping, kayaking and fishing.

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An Arizona native, Angela Rabago-Mussi is a freelance writer who lives in Glendale. Send any tips about people, places and events in Glendale and Peoria to angelamussi@aol.com

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