Members of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church serve up lots more than barbecue, camp stew, and all the fixings during their annual community-wide fundraiser. They also provide hope, healing and love to children in need.
Proceeds from the annual Fall BBQ, which the church in Enterprise, Alabama has hosted since 1947, have benefited the United Methodist Children’s Home for 71 of the past 72 years. “The first time they had it, the money went toward their education building,” said Dan Baughman, pastor of the church, which averages about 75 members each week. “Every year since, it’s gone to the Children’s Home.”
The BBQ, which raises about $10,000 a year for the ministry, is a wonderful way for the church members to work together for the common goal of sharing God’s love with the children and youth in UMCH’s care. “This church has a real heart for children, especially children in distressing situations,” Baughman said. “It’s part of our DNA, and this is one more way we can make a difference.”
Church members start preparing on Friday afternoon before the Saturday event, and the youth group has a lock-in that night so they can lend a hand. The children help decorate bags and about 45-50 adults help with cooking and serving. That’s a pretty tall order, considering they sell about 1,000 plates piled high with barbecue, hash, camp stew, rice, coleslaw and white bread.
Dr. Blake Horne, President and CEO of UMCH, has attended the event for the past several years to share about the Children’s Home and its important work.
“Everyone knows why we are doing this, and I think that’s what has helped this take such seed in this community,” Baughman said. “It’s really everybody working together, and it looks like
a picture of the kingdom of God. It’s all ages, all walks of life working together for this one thing. It’s awesome.”
A mother at 16, Lateskia Turner figured she had two options. She could stay at home with her drug-addicted mother and face a future as bleak as her childhood, or she could step out in faith and try to find a better life for herself and her son.
“I didn’t want him growing up in the same situation I grew up in,” she said. “It was scary, but just looking at my son I knew I had to do better. I had to think about more than just myself.”
Lateskia found her way to Babies First, a ministry of the United Methodist Children’s Home. Today, 21 years later, she’s happy and proud of the life she and her son, a college student, have made. “I’ve struggled a lot,” she said, “but I keep getting up every day. I keep praying every day, and it works.”
Making a decision
Lateskia, now 38, was 17 when she boarded a bus with her 11-month-old baby, Antonious, and headed for the Department of Human Resources. “I let them know my situation and they gave me some options,” she said. Babies First, a residential group home for teenage mothers and their children, was the one that felt right.
“I wanted to raise my son, but I also wanted to go to school,” said Lateskia, who was an A/B student. “I really didn’t want to leave my mother because of the shape she was in, but I wanted better. I always did. I knew what I was capable of.”
Lateskia and her son stayed at the group home, located then in Selma, from 1996-99. The program, now in Mobile, provides nurturing and support for young mothers juggling school, jobs, day care and doctor’s visits. Long-term goals include strengthening bonds between mothers and their children, building self-esteem, and preventing repeat pregnancies while single.
“I knew it was the place we needed to get our start in life,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about food or shelter or clean clothes for me and my child. All I had to do was achieve my goals while watching my child grow up happy.”
A supportive family
She earned her GED and enrolled in community college, making both the Dean’s List and President’s List. Antonious was in day care, and Lateskia worked as a receptionist. Eventually, she qualified for transitional housing. “The Children’s Home afforded me the opportunity to get well mentally because I had been through so much,” she said. “It allowed me to flourish and rise above what I needed to rise above. They made me feel like I had a family.”
Life hasn’t always been easy for the mother and son in the years since leaving the group home. There have been struggles and set-backs, but they draw on the strength they found at UMCH. Antonious, 23, is a student at Alabama A&M, earning a major in construction management and a minor in business. Lateskia, who lives in Phenix City, Alabama, works in a hotel and conference center in Auburn.
She still keeps in touch with some of the staff members who were at Babies First when she was, and they have continued to be sources of strength and support. Most recently, she met a UMCH Board member at the hotel, a chance meeting that didn’t surprise her at all.
“Every time I’ve struggled or am at a pivotal point, God always brings the Children’s Home back in my life,” she said. “It’s like He’s saying ‘You have someone. You have family. I’m watching you and I’m here for you.’”
Did you know?
The Babies First program serves mothers ages 14-20 who are pregnant or have a young child.
Since 1986, more than 400 mothers and children have received some 97,000 days of care. The average stay is 243 days.
In order to meet the need, UMCH is growing the ministry in Mobile and building a 9,600 square foot residential facility that will house up to 10 mothers and their babies. Each room will have its own bathroom and plenty of living space for a young mother and up to two children.
For information or to donate, visit BabiesFirstHome.com or contact Rebecca Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205.837.0141.
For Alexis and Tyler, a day of fishing with their family is about much more than fish. It’s a time to celebrate being together and overcoming the obstacles that nearly drove them apart.
In 2019, after some poor decisions and difficult circumstances, their children were placed with relatives for five months. With the help of UMCH’s Family Preservation program, an in-home intervention program for families in crisis, the couple is grateful to have their children home again.
“It’s one of the worst things you can be faced with as a family, and we made it through that,” Alexis said. “The program allowed me to truly have my family back together. I can’t even put into words how grateful I am.”
The Department of Human Resources got involved with the family last February due to the couple’s past substance abuse history. Their son, who is from Alexis’ previous relationship, was placed with his grandparents, while their daughter went to stay with hers. “It was very hard having them living in separate places,” Alexis said. “They’re very close, and not only were they away from us, they were away from each other.”
Faced with losing their children, Alexis and Tyler met all of their goals, had clean drug tests and worked hard to reunite their family. Before the family was reunited, however, the couple was hit by a drunk driver. Both were injured and Alexis faced multiple surgeries. “They were both out of work for several months,” said Amanda Freeman, the couple’s intervention specialist. “There were a lot of stressors.”
The wreck meant the family was apart even longer. “It was supposed to be a short separation, which is why we agreed to let the kids go to separate homes,” said Alexis, who was in a wheelchair for months. “Because of my injuries, I couldn’t take care of my kids and they didn’t come home until July.”
Not long after the children returned home, Tyler turned himself in for a prior probation
violation and went to jail for 60 days.
“I couldn’t have gotten through it all without Amanda,” Alexis said. “She made sure I kept calm and sane.”
The Family Preservation program is designed to keep families together in safe, loving homes. Staff members meet with families at least twice a month for several months and help parents develop the necessary skills to parent more effectively and to keep their children safe. The program, offered in Alabama and Northwest Florida, has a 95 percent success rate.
“Knowing that there is someone out where who actually cares enough to spend the time with them and teach them makes all the difference.”
“A lot of times when families are in a bad situation, people just talk at them instead of with them,” Freeman said. “Knowing that there is someone out there who actually cares enough to spend the time with them and teach them makes all the difference. To have someone listen and give feedback is one of the biggest reasons for the success rates.”
Alexis and Tyler love their children and were already doing a lot of things right, Freeman said. She helped them identify triggers that led to the drug use and taught them coping techniques. They also focused on parenting techniques, setting boundaries and establishing routines.
“All the things she taught us were very helpful,” Alexis said, adding that she and her husband have grown stronger together. “Amanda and UMCH always had our best interests at heart. She didn’t focus on the negative parts. She helped our family be the best version of us.”
Photo Caption: Former participants in UMCH’s Family Preservation program Tyler Hines and Alexis Campbell and their two children.
The widely popular social media platform, Facebook, receives both praise and criticism.
However, among the long list of pros is one function that has significantly aided children served by the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH). Since made available to UMCH in November 2019, many supporters have used their birthdays as opportunities to benefit kids in UMCH’s care.
“The birthday fundraiser is a selfless act of kindness that we would not expect but are regularly receiving now,” said Rebecca Morris, Senior Vice President of External Affairs. “The fact that anyone would redirect the attention most of us enjoy receiving on birthdays toward vulnerable children, who often go under the radar, is simply remarkable and selfless,” she added.
Facebook is generous in its administration of the birthday fundraiser capability as well, waiving any administrative fees for the transfer of funds. For charities such as UMCH, a contributor’s entire gift goes directly to the charity benefited. Prompted by an appreciation for the care UMCH provides vulnerable kids, Alex Alewine set up a birthday fundraiser on Facebook to benefit UMCH — the first one hosted since UMCH acquired approval for the function.
“I think the Facebook fundraisers work because they reach so many people, and a lot of people can give just ten dollars, and before long you have a fair amount of funds you’ve raised,” Alex said. “My husband and I believe that it is the Church’s responsibility to serve the needs of our communities,” she added.
“This is a ministry we feel good about donating to, we see that the needs are there, and we think UMCH is meeting those needs.”
Photo Caption: Alex Alewine and her husband, Hank, are passionate supporters of the United Methodist Children’s Home.