Shelter Program for Families in Temporary Housing

Shelter Program for Families in Temporary Housing

As a cornerstone of CMOM’s community outreach for nearly two decades, the Shelter Program for Families in Temporary Housing is at the heart of CMOM’s mission to provide innovative learning opportunities that promote the healthy growth and development of children and families across New York City each year.

CMOM’s Shelter Program provides children and single mothers living in temporary housing with music, art, literacy, health and parenting skills in a safe and supportive environment at the Museum. Through an intensive weekly program, the women gain tools and life skills that empower them as mothers and future job seekers, and their children develop valuable literacy and health habits. Through this unique and powerful program, these women and children envision a new future as they overcome the many challenges they face. Their hopes and needs are often guiding lights for new exhibitions and programs, joining other community voices the Museum staff members listen to every week.

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The First Lady of New York reads one of the mothers' poems at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.


Poems and Stories Written at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan by Women from the Clinton Family Inn

(Homes for the Homeless Fall 2012 and Spring 2013)


"A woman is knocking. She wants to tell a story of her pain."
How will she know how to tell it? Who will she tell it to? What will her listeners say? Will she be brave enough to speak it? At the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM), stories are woven every Tuesday by the women of the Clinton Family Inn (Homes for the Homeless) who come with their children to participate in the Shelter Program for Families in Temporary Housing. Here they find a welcome and in the welcome they find acceptance and in acceptance they find courage and in courage they find their story and in their story they find themselves.

The story begins as the women enter the early childhood classroom in the Playworks™ exhibition. It is written on their faces. Many enter with eyes alight and warm greetings as they settle in with their children. The mothers often gather around the tables for the daily art project while the children, accompanied by CMOM’s early childhood educators, explore all corners of the room specially designed by CMOM—the books, the puppets, the slide, the play kitchen; there are balls for sending down a floor-to-ceiling tube, puzzles for completing and overturning, mirrors in which babies can examine their faces.

As the mothers begin to work, their expressions carry the nuances of their feelings. Through one woman’s downcast eyes we learn that her plan to leave the shelter the week before had to be put on hold. Another mother yawns and we learn she had been up all night with her sick child. A frown means a problem with paperwork or day care. A ready smile carries the message that being at the Children’s Museum makes it a good day.

The woman are making flowers out of multi-colored tissue paper and pipe cleaners and filling pails with their bouquets. The children wander over to help, to check that mommy is still there, and then go back to exploring the classroom with CMOM early childhood educators Sarah Ackerman, Carmen Cruz, Pascale Lebrun-Gay, Susan Lim, Laura Shortt, and Candace Silva. As the women work, they talk with each other and the Museum educators about their past week, any progress they have made in the search for a job, a diploma, or an apartment. Their tenderness and respect towards each other have been building all year because of the time they spend together each week under the expert guidance of Leslie Bushara, Deputy Director for Education and Guest Services. Joining Leslie is social worker Tricia Folman from the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center, who provides a safe and supportive environment for the women to open up about their lives; writers-in-residence Catherine Barnett and Judith Hannan encourage and inspire the women to deepen the stories they want to tell.

But there is more play to be had before the moms gather together with Tricia, Catherine, and Judith. Children, mothers, and staff form a circle and the hokey-pokey is danced, a book is read, bells and drums accompany renderings of “Old MacDonald,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” the ABC’s, and other favorite hits. When the final note is sung, it’s time for a healthy communal lunch. The program is the same each week, giving the children a feeling of security and allowing the mothers, many of whom are seeking models of how to raise their children, to learn from the staff about realistic expectations, the importance of reading, establishing routines or alternative forms of discipline. Following lunch, the children are eager to join the Museum educators back in the early childhood classroom or to explore the Museum’s exhibits. As the children exit the lunch room, you can see the faces of the mothers relax and their limbs loosen; the next forty-five minutes are just for them.

Tricia begins her group discussion by inviting the women to bring up an issue they want to talk about or by introducing a topic. One woman’s face shows fear; she’s worried about the calls she is getting from her baby’s father. At another session, the faces of several women hold the shape of anger; living in the shelter, they say, deprives them of respect. Tricia opens a group by talking about self-care; many faces show confusion or resignation. Finding opportunities to care for oneself as a single mother in a shelter is like thinking you can catch a fish by walking in the forest.

Then it’s time to explore the feelings generated in the discussion through writing. A prompt is given: Describe your world at 7 pm; What can no one take from you? Write about yourself from your child’s point of view. The expressions on the women’s faces are rewritten as their pencils begin their travels over the paper. They soften as they become a screen for the work that is going on inside the body, heart, and mind. When it is time to read, to hear and be heard, to give and to receive, another transformation occurs. A woman who had written calmly about her son standing in the cold without a jacket while waiting to enter the shelter system now cries as she reads her words back to herself and the group. Another has to stop as she reads: “My parents weren’t the best parents to have.” It’s a simple statement that overflows with grief and anger. Each woman reads her own words and in doing so hears the power of her voice.

When it’s time to leave, as the mothers and children prepare to depart with their art projects and with the books they are given each week, faces begin to assume their expressions of life outside the Museum. But there is a lingering smile, an extra turn of the head to say goodbye, and a knowledge that Tuesday will come again next week: “I know now that the cloud was lifted. She gave me strength to tell my story.”

Group Poem: What Love Isn’t

Ashley, N, Taisha, Nina, Johanna, Ileana, Shauna

Love isn’t pain

Love has no conditions

Love is not obsession

Love is not a bottle of water

Love is trust

Love is not fatal attraction

Loving isn’t deceitful

Love is loneliness
Love isn’t controlling

Love is not abusive
Love is not time

Love is not desperate

Love is not sexual attraction

Love is fire

Love is ice

Love is not a game

Love is a bridge

Love is a mountain

Love is the ocean

Love is a rollercoaster

Love is weather

Love is not deprivation

Love is never the same

Love isn’t hate—

I Knew


I knew it was time to move out of my mother’s house when I had my son. I felt that it was time to take responsibility for my actions as a mother by providing and building a home for us. I knew there were going to be some struggles living on my own with him. I didn’t want my son living in an environment where there’s arguments, cursing like the sound of a dramatic car crash, like the sound of a broken home where there’s no communication and hidden feelings inside.





Breezes blow through my mind.
And the coolness has lifted my mood.
A mood of relief, crispness and subtlety.
Days filled with cold darkness’s uncertainty.
Mornings rushing. Like rivers. Whirling like hurricanes.
I am a boundless sea of emotion.
All wet with tears of years of misfortune.
I can’t get through this much of muddy filth that poor judgments have made.
I am a boundless sea of emotion.
Hot with anger. Burning in rage.
I can’t get through this unbearable time of days of torment and suffering.
I am a boundless sea of emotion.
An eruption of pain like childbirth.
Then comes the product, the baby.
Who cries out of joy.
I am a boundless sea of emotion.
A monsoon spreading over my life.
Of experiences I’d love to forget.
But I can’t because it’s been washed away.
And then what’s left … there’s fertility.
I am water, wind, heat, cold.
I am a woman. Breathing, thinking, feeling.


Love is Fire


Love is fire. Don’t play with it cause you can get burned.
Love is fire. It escalates when you throw liquor on it, feeling it burning in your chest.
Love is fire, it cools down when you splash water, seeing your surroundings all smoked up.
Love is fire, when you have sex it turns up ending with a turn off.
What is love?
Is it fire flaming all over or is it fire being cooled down?



I am the flower petal, afraid of being blown away by the wind.
I am the delicate stitching on an evening gown, anxious not to be torn or ripped.
I am the blade of grass. Whose weight will I have to carry?
I am the loosely tied apron string.
I am the fragile butterfly wings.
I am the meandering river, forcing my way through the landscape.
I am the strength of the elephant trunk.


A little play goes a long way!

Support CMOM »

Save the Date!
CMOM 2014 Spring Gala

Thursday, 15 May 2014
The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers

Schedule of Programs

Messy With Art, 10:00am

5 & younger
Explore new textures and techniques as we use art materials in unusual ways!

Movement & Circle Time, 11:00am

5 & younger

Dance along, sing fun songs and read some special stories! 

Mural Wall Painting, 12:00pm

5 & younger

Mix paint on the PlayWorks™ Mural Wall

Kamishibai Storytelling, 12:30pm

All ages

Kamishibai is a traditional form of Japanese storytelling. Join CMOM educators for an interactive telling of traditional and modern kawaii-inspired stories.

Lovely Ladybugs, 1:00pm

5 & younger
Celebrate spring by creating a ladybug from recycled materials! How many does your ladybug have?

S.T.E.A.M Lab, 3:00pm

5 & younger
Watch things fizz, tinker with some toys and explore other experiments inspired by Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math!

Movement & Circle Time, 4:00pm

5 & younger

Dance along, sing fun songs and read some special stories! 

Full Calendar