Hale, Lorraine 1926(?)–
Lorraine Hale 1926(?)–
Humanitarian, educator, cofounder of Hale House
When Lorraine Hale stopped at a street corner in Harlem one bright April day in 1969, to offer her help to a drug-addicted young woman and her tiny baby, she had no idea that this one magnanimous gesture would change the course of her life. Years of working as a teacher, guidance counselor, and school psychologist in the bureaucratic jungle of the New York City public school system had left her frustrated and disillusioned. “I wasn’t making a difference in the lives of those I wanted to help,” Hale recalled to interviewer Joseph Younger in Amtrak Express. The chance encounter with the homeless junkie opened her eyes and jolted her back to earth. On impulse, she stopped her car and handed the woman a hastily written note. “Here, go to this address,” Hale told her, as she later recounted in Hale House: Alive With Love. “My mother will help you. She loves babies, and it would give you a chance to get yourself together.”
The following day the woman arrived at Lorraine’s mother’s door, clutching her baby, and Mrs. Hale agreed to take in the infant. Word soon got out that the babies of drug-addicted women could find a loving home in Harlem, and within three months, the tenement apartment on West 122nd Street was wall-to-wall with cribs. Later that year, Lorraine and her mother, Clam—affectionately known as “Mother” Hale—founded Hale House, the first nonprofit agency in the nation dedicated exclusively to the care of children born to drug-addicted mothers.
Since that time, Hale House has cared for more than 1,000 children born addicted to heroin, methadone, cocaine, alcohol, or other hard drugs. Close to 90 percent have been reunited with their families. In recent years the Hales’ work has expanded to include a housing and education program for recovering mothers and their children, a respite facility for mothers and babies suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) or infected with the related human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and an apprenticeship program that brings together troubled youngsters and adult mentors from within the community. In 1993 the foundation had an operating budget of more than $4 million, 98 percent of which came from individual and corporate donations.
Until her death in 1992, at the age of 87, Mother Hale provided much of the day-to-day care for the ailing infants in her charge. But it was Lorraine, with her professional training in child development and psychology, who served as the organization’s principal administrator and driving force during
Born c 1926, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Thomas (a businessman) and Clara (a foster parent and domestic; maiden name, McBride) Hale; married Jesse DeVore. Education: Long Island University, BA, 1960; City College of New York, MS., 1964; attended Bank Street College of Education, 1965-67; University of Ghana, certificate in African history, 1970; Western University, Ph.D., 1974; New York University, Ed.D, 1977.
New York City Public School System, teacher, guidance counselor, and school psychologist, 1960-69; Hale House Center for the Promotion of Human Potential, Inc., New York City, executive director, 1969-89, president and chief executive officer, 1989—. Served as adjunct professor at City University of New York, 1972-78, Bronx Community College, 1985-89, College of New Rochelle, 1987-88, and College for Human Service, 1989-90. Member, advisory council, New York Division of Substance Abuse Services, 1984—; board of directors, Harlem Urban Development Center, inc., 1984—; Joint institutional Review Board, 1985—.
Member: Minority AIDS Commission, National Commission on Drug-Free Schools, Mt. Saint Ursuela Speech Center.
Awards: Eva Sawyer Appreciation Award, 1976-83; Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, 1986; John Hunter Memorial Camp Fund Humanitarian Award, 1986; I. S. Humanitarian Award, 1987; Children’s Defense Fund Award, 1988; District of Columbia Honorary Citizen Award, 1988; New York State Prenatal Association Award, 1988, in recognition of unique contributions to maternal and child health; Business and Professional Women’s Award, 1989; Fortitude Award, Urban Institute, 1990; Frontrunner Award in the humanities, Sara Lee Corporation, 1993.
Addresses: Office —Hale House Center, Inc., 152 West 122nd Street, New York, NY 10027. Home— 320 Sprain Road, Scarsdale, NY 10583.
its first two decades. As co-founder, then president and chief executive officer of Hale House, she worked to expand the agency’s services beyond the care of drug-addicted babies, initiating innovative programs designed to nurture and educate mothers and stop the passage of drug and alcohol abuse to further generations.
One of many manifestations of Lorraine’s commitment to care for suffering infants was her willingness to work at two jobs in order to keep the babies clothed and fed during the agency’s early years. “My heart’s desire has been, and always will be, to see the work of Hale House continue,” she wrote in Hale House, published in 1991 to raise badly needed funds for the agency’s programs. “Hale House must continue … until pregnant women stop taking drugs … until venereal diseases are eradicated … and until a cure is found for AIDS. Hale House must continue to help the innocent victims of these life-threatening forces. As long as there are babies in need of love and care, Hale House must be here to meet their needs.”
Lorraine Hale was born in Philadelphia, but moved with her family to New York City when she was still an infant. Her father ran his own floor-waxing business while her mother worked as a domestic. Hale was only six years old when her father died of cancer, leaving her mother, Clara, to support her and her two younger brothers. For a number of years, Clara Hale struggled to make ends meet by cleaning homes during the day and theaters at night. She soon grew dissatisfied with this arrangement, however, for it meant leaving her children in a day-care facility where she felt they received inadequate attention.
Clara found a way to remedy the situation—give up her domestic work, and return home to her family. In addition to looking after her own children, she took in the babies and children of full-time maids, unwed mothers, and other women who could not—or would not care—for them. “In those days, women came from Southern towns or the Midwest because they didn’t want anyone to know they’d given birth,” Lorraine explained to Younger. “So they brought these children to Harlem, to Mother, who kept them Monday through Friday, or until the mother made the determination that she would tell her parents that she’d had a child.”
By 1940, Clara Hale had become an official foster parent, licensed to care for wards of the city as well as the children of working women. Over the next 28 years, her three-bedroom apartment was home to more than 40 children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds—as many as seven or eight at a time. This early and intense exposure to dozens of troubled children filled her daughter with a sense of duty and commitment, as well as an enduring love for young people. “I always knew that these children were very needy, and their parents were unable to care for them,”
Lorraine told Younger. “Sometimes they wanted to go home, but could not. So we had to make our home as comfortable as possible. That was the charge Mother gave my brother and me—to make them want to come to our home….” Every one of Mother Hale’s foster children completed high school, and most went on to earn college degrees.
While acting as “big sister” to an ever-changing family of foster children, Lorraine was a highly motivated, conscientious student who, despite her responsibilities at home, never missed a day of school. She also contributed to the family income by developing a song-and-dance act with her brother, Nathan, which they performed at local clubs. After she completed high school, Hale worked briefly as a dancer, but gave it up to pursue a college education. For a number of years she worked full time at local day-care centers while attending evening college classes. She received her B.A. in psychology in 1960, and four years later completed a master’s degree in special education. She went on to earn doctoral degrees in child development and developmental psychology.
Unsure of how best to help the legions of troubled children attending New York City’s public schools, Hale spent the next several years moving from job to job within the school system. She began her career as a first grade teacher, then worked as a teacher of mentally handicapped children, a guidance counselor, and a school psychologist. But it was not until the incident in April of 1969 that she stumbled upon her true vocation.
As Hale recalled in Hale House, she had just stopped off to visit Clara—to share her professional frustrations and solicit some motherly advice—when she had the now-legendary encounter with the homeless junkie and her baby. “In her usual manner, [Mother] gave me gentle but straightforward advice,” Hale wrote. “Actually, it was the same advice I’d heard all my life. As I waited at the red light, I could hear her voice as clearly as though it was coming from the car radio. ‘Lorraine, God put you on this earth for a reason. He’s going to reveal that reason to you. Just wait. And keep your heart open so you’ll see it when He puts it in front of you.’”
Clara Hale was 65, and had just retired after nearly three decades as a foster parent, when that first drug-addicted mother and baby appeared on her doorstep. Although angry at first, she soon relented and agreed to keep the baby—provided Lorraine would help pay for its care. Within a few months, some 22 drug-addicted babies had found a new home in Harlem, and Lorraine, along with brothers Nathan and Kenneth Hale, were working overtime to help pay the bills. For the first 18 months they provided all of the financial support for the undertaking.
In 1971, a grant from New York City’s Office of Economic Opportunity allowed the organization to expand; two years later it incorporated to become Hale House Center for the Promotion of Human Potential, a voluntary child-care agency licensed by New York State’s Department of Social Services. In 1975, a federal grant made it possible for the Hales to purchase and renovate the vacant, five-story building at 154 West 122nd Street that became the residential center of Hale House.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, little information was available on the physical and psychological effects heroin, alcohol, and other drugs had on an unborn child. Even medical experts were loathe to accept the idea that babies could be born addicted to drugs. “We were definitely a first,” Hale recalled in Haie House. “No one had gone before us to show how it was done.” Yet, she continued, there was one ingredient that they had plenty of—love. “I’m talking about the kind of love that outlasts weeks of torture a baby goes through while ridding its body of drugs received in the womb,” she wrote. “Fever and tremors rack their tiny frames. They have constant diarrhea and vomiting. The endless hours of screaming, day and night, deny them any real sleep. Patient love, persistent love, unconditional love … It was all we had to offer them; it was everything we had to offer them.”
Before long, however, Lorraine recognized the need for a diagnostic and remedial program that would help these high-risk children develop the cognitive and social skills they needed. A psychologist, an occupational therapist, and a speech pathologist were brought in to provide professional care and assessment, and both staff and volunteers were taught how to teach the children manners and social skills. Three chiropractors were added to the staff to massage the children’s bones to help foster growth and development.
From its beginning, the goal of Hale House has been to nurse drug-addicted babies through the harrowing process of withdrawal, care for them while their parents undergo rehabilitation, and finally, reunite them with their natural families—the fact that very few children required placement in adoptive homes testifies to the program’s success. In the mid-1980s, the need to provide additional support for such families prompted Hale and her associates to form a new program: Homeward Bound. Operating under the auspices of Hale House, Homeward Bound provided transitional housing, education, and supervision for dozens of recovering mothers and their drug-free babies. It also offered special programs and facilities for older children.
Around the same time, a new and even more terrifying enemy appeared on the streets in the form of AIDS. Thanks to their experiences with one small, desperately ill baby, the Hales rallied their forces to combat it. “Many people thought the crisis of caring for these children was approaching our nation’s doorstep,” Hale recalled in Hale House. “But we knew firsthand that children had been crossing the threshold of our nation’s door for years. Thousands were dying inside hospitals throughout the country.”
In 1985, not long after then-President Ronald Reagan described Mother Hale as a “true American hero” for her selfless work with drug-addicted infants, Lorraine resolved to open a home for mothers, babies, and children infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS. “I sometimes refer to it as the Respite, but it doesn’t really have a name,” she told Younger. “We didn’t put a label on it because we didn’t want it attached to us that way. We wanted to empower the mothers despite their illness.”
More recently, Hale’s desire to keep at-risk children out of trouble with the law prompted her to develop an innovative apprenticeship program known as Children Helping Children, which uses peer group workshops and adult mentors to motivate troubled children and help them redirect their lives. In the spring of 1994, Hale House planned to open a new facility called Hale Haven, designed to house and educate teenage mothers and help them care for their children.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Hale House received much of its funding from the New York City Child Welfare Administration. But in 1990 a change in state regulations favoring individual foster homes over group care resulted in a dramatic cut in city funds. To keep its doors open, Hale House was forced to embark on a massive, private fundraising campaign. Despite the generosity of wealthy individuals, corporations, and charitable organizations, keeping the agency afloat—and extending its reach to meet the needs of an ever-increasing number of infants and mothers—remained been an uphill battle. Yet, one of the agency’s greatest strengths has been its independent, trailblazing approach.
“All these years we’ve been charting the course of child-care for these special children and discovering their unique needs,” Lorraine wrote in Hale House. “Our foundational knowledge is firm and vast, thanks to experience we’ve gained in caring for hundreds of children over the past two decades … We firmly feel and believe that to fully implement our knowledge of how to care for the whole child, we must be an agency that is self-governed…. It’s no secret that bureaucratic policy tied to government funding tends to encumber and erode effectiveness and performance. We don’t want that to happen at Hale House. The children we help are too deserving, too needy, too precious, to receive anything less than the best we can give them as a care agency.”
Because of her devotion to Hale House, Lorraine spends most of her time in New York City. But she loves the peace and tranquility of the country and commutes to the city from Westchester County, where she lives with husband Jesse DeVore. One of Hale’s greatest dreams—and her final promise to her mother, Clara—is to find a way to bring the beauty of the country into the lives of city children dying of AIDS. “They [dying children] need to be in a place where people are hugging and kissing and wearing street clothes, not nurses’ uniforms,” she told Younger. “They need to be in a place where they can see the sun, hear the birds, feel the dirt in their hands. They need a hospice, not a hospital.”
The hospice Hale envisions is a circular building somewhere in New York City, with an atrium and a garden in the center, so each child can look out and watch the seasons change. Although the Hale hospice project is still far in the future, Lorraine Hale is determined to bring it to fruition. “Once you have the dream, you’re always on the way,” she told Younger. “A goal is just a dream with a deadline.”
Hale, Dr. Lorraine E., Hale House: Alive With Love, Hale House, 1992, originally published as Hale House: The House That Love Built, 1991.
Amtrak Express, January/February 1993.
Daily News, November 14, 1983.
Ebony, June 1992.
Mainliner (Hale House newsletter), autumn 1993; Christmas 1993; January 1993; summer 1993; winter 1994.
Manhattan Spotlight, August 1992.
Newsday, January 29, 1985.
New York Times, December 20, 1992.
—Caroline B. D. Smith