Former Resident Credits UMCH for Life Lessons, Meeting Future Husband

Pat Cone has never been in the care of the United Methodist Children’s Home, but the 130-year-old ministry has had a profound effect on her life. In fact, she wouldn’t be here without it. “I’m a product of the Children’s Home in Selma,” she said. “My mother, father and uncle grew up there, and it’s where my parents met.”

It’s also where Mary Frances Holland, Cone’s 94-year-old mother, felt safe and learned lessons and skills that would carry her through her adult years. “It helped shape my life,” she said.

The story began in 1934 when Holland’s father died in an accident. With three of six children still at home, her mother struggled financially. She eventually remarried, but her new husband was an alcoholic and things got worse. “It was a bad situation,” Mrs. Holland remembers. “Every time the rent came due we moved. We missed a lot of school and the welfare people came out and put us in foster care.”

Released to the care of relatives, 10-yearold Mary Frances Talton was taken to UMCH’s Selma campus by her grandfather and uncle. Her younger brother, Julius, joined her about a year later. “I was happy to have a stable situation,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have survived what I was in.”

The Selma campus, which served children for 100 years, had a swimming pool, 10 cottages, as well as tennis and basketball courts. There was a nearby farm, and the children helped care for the animals and tend and harvest the garden to keep food expenses down.

“We all had chores, and I helped in the kitchen and laundry,” said Mrs. Holland, who now lives with her daughter in Prattville. “We went to the public school and we went to church in town. On Saturday mornings, we went to the movies. I had a happy childhood.”

Many of her memories involve John Moore, who came to the Children’s Home after his father abandoned the family and his mother was hospitalized with mental illness. “They had very strict rules about dating,” Mrs. Holland said. “We could go to the picture show when everyone else went to the picture show. We would see each other on campus and at the swimming pool. Sometimes we’d sit on the same bench and hold hands.”

A classroom setting in the former Selma campus where Holland resided and met her future husband.

John, who was a few years older, eventually joined the Navy, and she stayed at UMCH until graduating from high school. “I was the first one of my siblings to finish school,” she said. “I got a lot of other meaningful education there, too. I learned to make biscuits and I became a very good cook. I got my religious education, and every Sunday after lunch, the superintendent would put on classical music. To this day, I find classical music most entertaining.”

After graduation, Mary Frances kept the books for a children’s clothing store, served as a typist and “did a little bit of everything.” She and John married in 1945, and the Assistant Director of the Children’s Home, who had been close to Mary Frances, served as the witness. “She played an important part in my life,” said Mrs. Holland, who was 19 at the time.

Sadly, Mary Frances became the sole support of the family after John eventually developed mental illness and hospitalized himself. While raising two children, she took college-level accounting classes and worked at a construction company for 16 years before becoming an auditor with the State of Alabama, where she worked until her retirement.

Although she’s had a lot of heartbreak – she buried her second husband as well as her son – Mrs. Holland said the foundation she got at the Children’s Home helped carry her through the hard times. “I was blessed to be able to do so many things because of the training I got there,” she said. “It gave me my start in life and helped me recognize that there were people who cared.”

Cone said her mother has been an inspiration. “She has never said an unkind word about anything that happened to her, and she was always all about the family,” Cone said. “My mother is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever known.”

UMCH Provides Connections to the Past for DJ and His New Family

Not long after Jamie and Daniel Kertis adopted 7-year-old DJ, their new son told them about the time he ate cotton candy at Disney World.

They were surprised since DJ had been born to a young teenage mother and had grown up in foster care, but after learning that he’d spent his first four years at Babies First, a UMCH group home for young mothers and their children, the Kertises began connecting the dots.

“They took the moms and their babies to Disney World and Gatlinburg and did lots of things to help them bond and experience some of the joys of life,” Mrs. Kertis said. “He had a solid foundation there and it made a big difference in his life.”

The Kertises, who live in Mobile, long believed their family’s calling was to serve children who need care and love, and the Lord eventually put the idea of adoption on their hearts. After several potential matches didn’t work out, however, they grew discouraged. “We began to think maybe this wasn’t God’s plan for us right now,” she said.

Then Mrs. Kertis saw DJ’s photo on a website that features Alabama children looking for forever homes and she and her family fell in love. The adoption process moved quickly, and just weeks after it was finalized last July, Mrs. Kertis received an invitation to the groundbreaking for UMCH’s new Babies First Home.

The Kertis family commemorate the adoption of their newest family member, Demarkis Jamal, with a family photo.

Although she has supported UMCH financially for years, she’d never gotten involved with the ministry and didn’t know much about it. Something kept telling her to attend the groundbreaking, though, and that’s where she met Rebecca Morris, UMCH’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs.

“I told her we had just adopted a boy named Damarkis Jamal,” Mrs. Kertis said, adding that the more they talked, the wider Morris’ eyes got. “She finally said, ‘Do you mean DJ? We raised him.’ Rebecca told me they had lost touch with him after he left Babies First, but they had been praying for him constantly,” Mrs. Kertis said.

DJ was born to a 14-year-old mother who had been placed at Babies First when she was pregnant. “She experienced a significant amount of trauma in her personal life and was unable to cope with raising DJ,” Mrs. Kertis said. After 4 1⁄2 years, she signed over her parental rights, and DJ was placed in a foster home.

Burke shared that DJ has always been a fan of the Ninja Turtles.

Figuring out her son’s connection to Babies First was a game changer, Mrs. Kertis said, because they met Blondine Burke who had recently retired after 15 years at the group home. She told them about DJ’s early years, shared baby photos, and gave them insight into his personality.

“It was invaluable,” she said. “A lot of people who adopt know nothing about the child, other than what they read in the clinical file. She was able to tell us that he loved Ninja Turtles, that he’s always been silly and that he’s fearful of loud noises. “We felt so lucky that we were able to hear from someone who knew and loved him from the beginning.”

DJ, now 8, is thriving in his new home. His sisters, 10-year-old Kate and Claire, 7, have welcomed him with open arms – smelly clothes, dead frogs and all. “It’s been one of the greatest blessings of my life to see how our girls took him in without missing a beat,” Mrs. Kertis said. “They have loved him from the start.”

Burke continues to be a part of DJ’s life by cheering him on at soccer games.

After reconnecting with DJ, Ms. Burke became a “surrogate grandmother,” Mrs. Kertis said, adding that she’s come to soccer games and other events. “She has such a sweet, maternal energy about her,” she said. “We felt like it was important for him to have that connection to his past.”

Mrs. Kertis said she is grateful for the love and support DJ and his birth mother received at Babies First and for the impact it made on his life. “The amount of love in that place, you can feel it,” she said. “It’s a ministry born out of love and care. DJ is definitely a testament to the fact that they are providing a loving, nurturing foundation for the children in their care.”

A History of Embracing Kids Through Multiple Pandemics

By K. Blake Horne, Ph.D., UMCH President & CEO

In 1890, when the orphanage that would later become known as the United Methodist Children’s Home first opened its doors, the world was in the middle of a global flu pandemic. Known as the Russian flu, it would ultimately kill more than 1 million people.

As newspaper headlines chronicled death tolls and fears, the focus at the Alabama Methodist Orphanage in Summerfield, Alabama was on children with no family to care for them.

Here we are in 2020, and as UMCH celebrates our 130th anniversary of loving God’s children, we find ourselves in much the same situation as the founders of our ministry. There’s fear, confusion, sadness and sickness in the world, but our focus remains on providing homes, healing and hope to the hurting children and youth in our care.

Much has changed in UMCH’s history over the past 130 years. There have been name changes, building changes and operational changes, but through it all, one thing has remained constant. The United Methodist Children’s Home has always been committed to providing a safe, loving Christian environment so thousands and thousands of children could find new beginnings.

Since 1890, we’ve stood in the gap for the most vulnerable of children. The kids we serve have experienced hardships most of us can’t even fathom. They’ve been abused, neglected and abandoned. We can’t change the wrongs they’ve experienced in the past but we can do what’s right in hopes of changing their futures.

Just like everyone raising children, we’ve had to find new ways to do our job during this pandemic. It’s not unchartered territory for us, though. Throughout our history, we’ve loved children through wars, depressions and terrorist attacks. Long before anyone heard of COVID-19, we kept them safe during outbreaks of the Spanish flu and polio.

We may not be the traditional family that most children and youth dream of, but if the definition of “family” is a group of people who love, care and support you no matter what’s in the news, our kids are covered. Thank you for being an important part of their family and ours.