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Leavitt reflects on fond memories at SNCH

For 20 years, Peggy Leavitt served as somewhat of a surrogate mom to hundreds of boys and girls and to this day, many still thank her for the love, kindness and support she gave them.

For several decades, the Southern Nevada Children’s Home (SNCH) was just that – home – to thousands of children who were court-ordered after coming from abusive and neglected households. And unlike most foster care situations, SNCH accepted siblings and kept them long-term. It was this type of atmosphere that drew Leavitt to the job.

Prior to starting with the SNCH in 1974, she worked in an orphanage, as they were referred to back them, while attending college in her home state of Wyoming.

“I just loved working there but after I moved to Las Vegas, I worked for Nevada State Welfare in the foster care division,” Leavitt said. “I was talking to a friend one day and I told her that what I really wanted to do was work in a children’s home. She asked if I knew of the opening in Boulder City. I said, “What children’s home in Boulder City?’ I got the number and the next day I was interviewed and the day after that I was hired. So, I knew it was meant to be. I had always wanted to be a social worker so for me, this was a dream job.”

At the time, there were seven cottages located at the corner of Adams Boulevard and Georgia Avenue. Each cottage housed 10 children overseen by house parents.

“When I started, I was the rookie and on the bottom rung,” she said, laughing. “But as time went on, I was the social work supervisor and then made superintendent about eight years into my tenure. The children there were consistent with those I had previously worked with in the foster system. You had to develop a way to deal with that kind of thing (abuse and neglect) or you won’t be able to stay in the business. But you never want to lose your compassion.”

When at SNCH, the goal when possible, was to eventually reunite the children with their parents but in most cases that proved to be impossible. She said many of the abusive parents were abused themselves. Leavitt said it was her job to be non-judgmental and looked at the parents as victims as well. This enabled her to establish a rapport with both the child and the parent.

“It’s funny, they’re now in their 40s and 50s but because of that bond from years ago, I still stay in touch with many of them,” she said of the children at the home. “I loved those kids. I felt like their mom and they often say they felt the same.

“I feel very blessed because I’m not good with remembering names but somehow, I always remember their names. That means a lot to them – to be remembered.”

Once the SNCH closed its doors in the mid-1990s. The property reverted back to the city, which had leased the land to the state for $1 a year.

“When it closed, I did not anticipate my response,” she said. “I literally burst into tears. It was very hard for me.”

A portion of that land, where two of the cottages sat, is now the Boulder City Library. ABC Park is located on a portion of the land while the other cottages, office and dining hall are used by the Boulder City Parks and Recreation Department.

After moving on from the SNCH in 1994, Leavitt would go on to work for eight years for Child Haven, which was the first step in dealing with abused children before being placed in a group home or foster care.

“You would see kids when they were first brought in and that was difficult,” she said. “Also, in Child Haven, we dealt with babies all the way up to kids 17 or 18 years of age. At the Children’s Home, they had to be school-aged.”

Following her retirement from Child Haven, in which she was the manager, Leavitt tried her hand at something very different, that being politics. She served on the Boulder City Council from 2011-2019.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “I learned a lot. I was always interested in politics but never imagined running for office. I had become disenchanted with politics in the city at that time but told myself, ‘If you’re that unhappy, do something about it.’ There was so much about being on council that I loved. I don’t think I will ever take for granted what the council does for Boulder City or how much work is involved.”

In addition to City Council, Leavitt served as the first female president of Boulder City Sunrise Rotary and has sat on various boards within the community including Lend-a-Hand, Boulder City Senior Center, Boulder City Hospital Auxiliary, BCMHA Museum, Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Authority, Nevada Silver Haired Legislative Forum and is a driver for Meals on Wheels.

“It’s all kept me very busy, but that’s not a bad thing,” she said with a grin.

Do you know any Boulder City residents with an interesting life story? If so, we’d like to hear about them. Contact Editor Ron Eland. He can be reached at reland@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523.

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