Board Chair Glenda Allred passes torch to Charlie Adair

Answering the call to serve as UMCH’s new board chair was easy for Charlie Adair. He believes in the mission, he’s in awe of the staff, and he’s amazed at the resiliency of the children and youth in the ministry’s care.

“Every time I come home from a board meeting, I can’t stop talking about the good things they’re doing,” said Adair, a board member since 2014. “Organizations like ours are desperately needed. There are a lot of children who are hurting through no fault of their own.”

Adair, who lives in Tuscaloosa and is director of business development for Promus Holdings, is grateful for the groundwork set by Glenda Allred, immediate past chair. “Glenda has done and will continue to do so much for UMCH,” he said. “She has always put the children first and foremost. That’s what I admire about her.”

Allred, Deputy Finance Director for the State of Alabama, served as board chair for two years and as a board member for six. She continues to chair the Strategic Planning Committee, which has recently focused on the ministry’s infrastructure. In addition to divesting long-held real estate properties and using the proceeds to directly benefit programs, UMCH leadership is working to make improvements at its many group homes, including the construction of the new Babies First home, she said.

“My hope is that the last few years of improving our infrastructure and building new programs will position us to provide children and youth more opportunities for a better life for another 130 years,” she said.

UMCH is blessed with generous donors and partner churches, and Adair wants to continue to ensure the strong financial foundation of the ministry.

The love demonstrated by UMCH staff, leadership and supporters makes that task easier. “The passion they have for helping children is just tremendous. They never waver from that.” Adair said.

College Degrees Grant Bright Futures to UMCH Graduates

A college graduate, Meredith has a full-time job she loves, an apartment of her own, a 401k, insurance, and a support system she never could have imagined. “It’s everything I’ve worked for and wanted,” she said.

Now 26, Meredith (pictured right) was the first graduate in UMCH’s Higher Education program, which started in 2013. The program, funded largely by a planned gift by Mary Whetstone Knabe, allows students affected by foster care or alternative living situations to attend college at no cost while living in a UMCH group home. In its first six years, the program has seen 10 students graduate, with three more on track to finish in 2020.

“This program has been more successful than we ever imagined,” said Dr. Blake Horne, President and CEO of UMCH.

“That population of students typically has a graduation rate of two to five percent, but we have a 60 percent retention rate. A lot of agencies pay for kids to go to school, but the wraparound services we provide have a tremendous impact in ensuring their success.”

UMCH operates two Higher Education homes – one for men in Tuscaloosa, where most of the students attend the University of Alabama; and another in Florence, for women attending the University of North Alabama.

“One of our goals at UMCH is to prepare our kids for life so that their adulthoods will be much more stable than their childhoods,” said Rebecca Morris, Senior Vice President of External Affairs for UMCH. “College is a big part of that and kids from unstable backgrounds have benefited greatly from the extra support our group homes provide.”

In addition to providing a place to live, the staff prepares meals and offers transportation, strong shoulders and a listening ear. Tuition, books and other expenses are also provided.

“I graduated debt-free,” said Joey, who finished at Alabama in May with a degree in Communication Studies and hopes to pursue a career with the U.S. Army. “I don’t think I can fully understand the impact of what they have done for me.”

UMCH graduates work in a variety of fields, including business, nursing, music ministry, fine arts, and communications. “This program has had almost a mainstreaming effect,” Horne said. “These kids have always just wanted to be normal, and when they finish college it changes their sense of themselves.”

The opportunity was a game-changer for Meredith, who graduated in December 2017 and works in accounting at a national health care company. “I have a future now,” she said. “I never thought I’d be able to go to college, much less a four-year university. If you’re willing to try, they’ll be right there with you.”

For Felicia, who earned a management degree in 2019 and works for a home health care company, that support was invaluable. “They’re like my second family,” she said of the UMCH staff. “I never want to not be a part of UMCH. It’s my home. It’s a part of me.”

Babies First Staff Foresees More Lives Being Restored

When the Babies First program in Mobile started experiencing growing pains, UMCH staff decided to take the same advice they give the young mothers in their care: Look for ways to turn challenges into opportunities.

The building was aging and repairs were becoming cost-prohibitive at the same time the demand for services was at an all-time high. That’s why UMCH leadership made building a new home for the program a priority for 2019. The ministry broke ground on the new 9,600 square foot home in August of that year with the facility having been completed a year later in 2020.

The Babies First home in Mobile serves mothers ages 14-21 who are pregnant or have a young child. The staff mentors the girls, teaches them how to mother their babies and helps them get an education and job skills so they can break the cycle of poverty and move on to independent lives, caring for themselves and their baby. The new facility, one of only two in Alabama that provides residential group care for pregnant teens and young mothers, will allow the ministry to serve twice as many girls and their children.

UMCH staff and supporters tour the new Babies First Home as finishing touches are applied in June 2020.

“We’re evolving to help our mothers evolve,” said Janet Rawls, director of residential programs for UMCH. “I think it’s important for us to model the kind of atmosphere we want them to aim for and to let them see that we value them and that they should value themselves. We want them to live in a comfortable, safe, warm, homey environment because that’s what we want them to aspire for themselves and their children.”

“Many of our girls don’t know what it means to live in a safe, loving environment,” Rawls said. “We have to teach them that.”

Feelings of self-worth and value don’t come easily for the young women, many of whom are in foster care because of abuse and neglect. “Many of our girls don’t know what it means to live in a safe, loving environment,” Rawls said. “We have to teach them that.”

The exterior of the Babies First Home makes good progress in May 2020.

In order to give the mothers and group home staff a voice during the process, UMCH leadership asked for their input in deciding how the home should function. The girls wanted a play area for their children, and the new home will feature a beautiful fenced-in backyard and playground. The staff requested – and got – a covered outdoor area, which will allow everyone to enjoy meals and spend more time outside.

“We’re always looking at ways to teach our young moms to interact with their babies that don’t involve television or technology,” Rawls said. “We’re setting up all the common areas in ways that will encourage reading to their babies and interactive play. We’ve put a lot of thought and a lot of love into the design of this home.”

The new Babies First Home is completed by August 2020, reaching max capacity of ten mothers and their babies/children within weeks.

In addition to mentoring the girls, the Babies First staff transports them or their babies to doctor’s appointments and daycare, as well as to school or part-time jobs. Counseling and other services are also provided to help the mothers achieve self-reliance, emotional stability, and spiritual growth. Long-term goals include helping the moms become self-sufficient, strengthening the bonds between mothers and children, and preventing repeat pregnancies while single.

“This program makes a tremendous impact on two generations, and this new home will allow us to better minister to the needs of the girls and their children,” Rawls said. “It will help us provide the nurturing and loving atmosphere they need to thrive.”