UMCH’s Newest Partnership Provides Hope for the Homeless

Every time Ontario Johnson steps up to the door of her home, she gives thanks to God. “When I turn the key, I look toward the heavens,” she said. “I can’t get enough of praising Him.”

Just over a year ago, Ontario was living at Mary Ellen’s Hearth, UMCH’s newest ministry partner that provides transitional housing for homeless women and children. “Being in your car or on the street can be very dangerous,” the first-time homeowner said. “If it hadn’t been for this program, I don’t know what situation I would have been in.”

UMCH joined forces with the longtime Montgomery ministry earlier this year to ensure longevity for the program and stability for the families. It also allowed UMCH to expand its reach and serve more of God’s children. “Partnerships are part of our strategic plan, and this was a natural fit for us,” said Dr. Blake Horne, President and CEO of UMCH.

“Family homelessness is the second leading cause of children being in foster care, behind abuse and neglect,” he said.

“If kids enter the foster system, there’s a 50 percent chance they’ll grow up in the foster system.” That’s why family preservation – equipping families to stay together in a safe, healthy home – is an important part of UMCH’s mission.

MEH provides supportive services that help mothers live independently and provide a loving home. They offer instruction on life skills, financial literacy, parenting, cooking and nutrition, all while meeting the basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, medical care and a spiritual foundation.

The families can stay for up to two years, allowing them to find employment, save money and pay off debt. “Our goal is to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty, and you can’t do that overnight,” said Kim Bullard, MEH’s Board President. “It takes time to change patterns and habits and what you’ve known all your life.”

MEH is named for Bullard’s late mother-in- law, Mary Ellen Harrell Bullard, a longtime volunteer and a lay leader in the Methodist Church at the local, state, national and international levels. The ministry, founded in 1904, has taken many forms and had several name changes, but the focus has always been on women and children in need.

Formerly known as the Nellie Burge Community Center, the ministry most recently provided child care for families in a nearby low-income housing development. When the development was relocated in 2010, Mary Ellen’s Hearth at the Nellie Burge Community Center was born. Day care rooms became bedrooms, and the focus turned to self- sufficiency.

MEH staff help Ontario move into her home.

Ontario already had a full-time job and a rental home, but she had nowhere to go when the owner decided to quickly sell. She got on a waiting list for subsidized housing and tried unsuccessfully to find a shelter with room for her and her son. She even considered giving custody to family members. “I wasn’t going to make him live in the car,” she said. “I wouldn’t want him to go through that.”

A friend told her about MEH, and she threw herself into the program. “The money I could have spent on rent, I put it toward savings,” she said. She paid off debt and worked on restoring her credit, raising her score from 605 to 755.

She found the courage to start house hunting, dismissing several because they were in unsafe areas, before finding the perfect one. “I looked around the neighborhood and thought, ‘My child could ride a bike around here.’ And then I went inside and it felt like home,” Ontario said.

“My first night here, I cried. I looked around and tears of joy were falling out of my eyes.”

Both Bullard and Horne are grateful the new partnership will allow the program to continue to offer homes, healing and hope.

“We’re working with a like-minded group that shares our values and goals of providing these families with a place where they can better themselves and find peace, comfort and certainty when there hasn’t been a lot of that,” Bullard said. “It was definitely God’s timing.”

Ontario’s son playing in his new front yard.

 

Soldiering On: Godly Principles Armor Young Man with Resilience

The United Methodist Children’s Home has provided homes, healing and hope to thousands of children and youth for 130 years. In its early days, UMCH provided homes for orphans, but as society and issues have changed, so have the needs of the children. Today, most of the children and youth served by UMCH have been abused and neglected. Many have experienced horrors that most of us can only imagine.

Today, through the eyes of a young man named Eric, here’s a glimpse of the impact this ministry and your support of it can make.

Eric came to live at the Settlement, one of UMCH”s group homes for teenage boys, when he was 13 and starting the 8th grade. His father was dead, his mother was mentally ill and addicted to drugs, and she had lost custody of Eric and his brother and sister.

Like most of the kids who come to UMCH, Eric was angry when he arrived. After all, he was in foster care because the person who was supposed to love him the most couldn’t – or wouldn’t.

Most of us, thankfully, can’t fully imagine the emotions Eric was feeling, but we may have gotten a tiny glimpse of it during this pandemic. Since March, things have felt a bit out of control. We didn’t know what the next few weeks or months would bring, and we still don’t. We can’t imagine how we’ll be affected long-term, and we’re uncertain about the ramifications this may have on the future.

These are struggles that our foster children and youth have faced for so long – a loss of control, fear of what the future holds, feelings of uncertainty and helplessness.

That’s why UMCH makes sure that the kids in their care receive a strong spiritual foundation. They go to church, they read the Bible, they participate in Bible School, they pray – as a group and individually – and they grow in their faith.

In order to give Eric an outlet for his frustrations, the UMCH staff got him involved in sports. He played football and basketball and ran track. His grades improved. He started to bond with the other boys in the home, and for the first time in a long time, Eric felt like he belonged.

But still, he couldn’t quite find his way. After graduation, he floundered a bit. He tried community college, but it wasn’t a good fit. Since one of Eric’s mentors at the group home was a staff member who had been a career military man, Eric decided to enlist in the Army, and he has finally found his calling.

Just before he graduated from Fort Benning, Eric sent a letter to his brothers in the group home. I want to read part of that letter today, so you that you can hear, in Eric’s own words, what UMCH has meant to him:

Dear Settlement Brothers:

This whole experience has been a huge change to me mentally, physically, and spiritually.  I’ve learned that nobody in this world is ready to hand you anything, you have to work your (butt) off and go get it.

Most importantly, I found a friend that would NEVER leave my side in any situation and that’s GOD.  Whenever I had nobody to turn to, He was right there protecting me the entire time!  He’ll never leave you or forsake you, even when you reach your lowest points.

I appreciate everything that UMCH has done for me.  You all helped shape me into the man I’m becoming and ya’ll are the reason I am physically and mentally fit to be part of one of the strongest fighting forces in the world.

I wouldn’t trade you guys for anything in the world, and Mr. John, Mrs. Joy, Mrs. Lisa, Mr. Scott and Mr. Leon are the foundation of the future of every child that comes through the Settlement.  I’m blessed to have had great role models in my life.

I appreciate every punishment I received, every dish I had to soak, every dollar I was told to save, every decision that was supported, and every time they told me “no.”

I love you guys and I will see you at graduation.  By the time ya’ll get this I will be officially a soldier in the United States Army.

Love, Private White

As you can tell, the Children’s Home helped Eric grow from a scared, angry boy to a proud, God-fearing soldier  – and your support of this amazing ministry made it happen. Thank you for being a part of his story and for opening your hearts and your wallets for the many other “Erics” whose lives will be changed by UMCH.

 

A Glimpse of God’s Grace Through Cotton Candy

The United Methodist Children’s Home has provided homes, healing and hope to thousands of children and youth for 130 years. In its early days, UMCH provided homes for orphans but as society and issues have changed, so have the needs of the children. Today, most of the children and youth served by UMCH have been abused and neglected. They’ve experienced horrors that most of us can only imagine.

Chances are, each one of us has a memory about cotton candy, whether it’s eating it ourselves and letting it melt on our tongues, or having our children or grandchildren begging for it. You’ll find it at places where kids have fun – baseball games, football games, amusement parks and the circus.

That’s why one mother was surprised when David, her newly-adopted 6-old-son, told her he remembered eating cotton candy at Disney World.  She was baffled, because their son had grown up in foster care. His birth mother was 14 and had suffered a significant amount of trauma in her life. She’d been abused, neglected, and abandoned herself. She was scared, she was angry, and she was ill-equipped to raise a baby.

It’s not exactly the back story that conjures up images of happy children eating cotton candy at Disney World. David’s adoptive mother was a little worried that her son was imagining it or had conjured up a childhood experience he wished he had.

Then, by happenstance, she learned that David had spent his first 4 ½ years at Babies First, the United Methodist Children’s Home safe haven in Mobile for teenage mothers and their children. The more she learned, the more she was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Babies First, which recently moved into a brand-new home, serves young mothers ages 14-21 who are pregnant or have a young child. The staff mentors the girls, teaches them how to parent, and helps them get an education and job skills so they can break the cycle of poverty. It’s one of only two facilities in Alabama that provides residential group care for pregnant teens and young mothers, so the need is tremendous.

David’s mother, a longtime supporter of UMCH, just happened to be at an open house for the new facility when she mentioned to a staff member that David had joined their family.  The more they talked, the wider the eyes of the staff person got. “Are you talking about David?” she asked? “We raised him, and we’ve been praying for him for years.”

You see, David was UMCH’s baby. His birth mother came to Babies First when she was pregnant, and it was his very first home. The staff had loved them, nurtured them, thrown birthday parties for David and celebrated his first steps, his first words and all those other milestones. He was potty-trained there, he learned his colors and his numbers, and he grew to be a happy, healthy, loving little boy.

The staff also worked hard to get his birth mother to a place of stability and to help her heal enough to make a life for herself and her son. In this case, God’s plan for their lives was for David to be adopted by a family who could love and care for him in a way she couldn’t, so she eventually signed over her parental rights.

Once that happened, David was placed in another foster home and the staff lost touch with him, despite many attempts to remain in his life. They worried about him, prayed for him, and comforted themselves with the reminder that the Lord loved him more than anyone.

As soon as the connection was made at Babies First that day, a longtime staff member began to share with David’s mom what he had been like as a child – about his personality, what he’d been afraid of and what brought him comfort. She shared baby pictures and stories – including one about how David and his mother went to Disney World and ate cotton candy.

We live in a world that can be scary at times. We’ve all felt it ourselves during this pandemic. Things are out of our control, we don’t know what the next few weeks or months will bring, we can’t imagine how we’ll be affected long-term, and we’re uncertain about the ramifications this may have on the future.

It gives us a tiny glimpse into the struggles our foster kids faced for so long – a loss of control, fear of what the future holds, feelings of uncertainty and helplessness.

That’s why the work of the United Methodist Children’s Home is so critical. They provide children who have very little hope with a safe place to live. They give them warm beds, nutritious meals, a spiritual foundation, an education, and everything they need to heal physically, emotionally, and mentally.

But they also provide cotton candy. They take them on trips, and let them participate in extracurricular activities just like every other child. They play football and basketball. They’re cheerleaders and softball players; they’re in the band. They go to the beach and the lake. They participate in mission trips. They go to church, they go to camp, they go to prom. They roast marshmallows, play ping pong and splash in the rain.

David’s mom has said she is grateful for the strong foundation and unconditional love her son experienced at UMCH. These days, he spends his time exploring, climbing trees, catching frogs, clowning around, and playing with his two sisters who love him dearly.

David’s life is full of cotton candy. Thank you for helping to provide it.

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.

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. Plans are to open the facility, which is adjacent to the current home, in July 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.”

In March 2020, Babies First staff tour site from which they’ll care for teen mothers in foster care and their babies.

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.”

To help furnish this new home, visit BabiesFirstHome.com.

 

UMCH Graduate Writes and Directs Award-Winning Film

Timothy Skipper, who recently earned his degree in creative media at the University of Alabama, wrote and directed a short film about a mother’s love and guidance. The topic isn’t all that unusual, unless you consider the fact that Timothy grew up in an abusive home and was placed with a relative after his mother lost custody of him and his siblings.

“My film is about learning strength through resiliency and how important a mother is in a child’s life,” he said of the class project. “It’s very personal to me.”

Timothy, a Knabe Scholar who lived in UMCH’s higher education home in Tuscaloosa for four years, didn’t have the best role model in his own mother, but he got plenty of love, guidance and nurturing from a group of women he calls “Team Mom.” This special group includes his grandmother, his high school librarian, and several staff members of UMCH and the University of Alabama.

“I’ve had these women come into my life to show me what the love of a mother is like,” said Timothy, the first in his family to attend college and only the second to graduate from high school. “For the most part, my film was written from my experiences.”

The film, “The Rose That Grew from the Concrete,” premiered in February at the Black Warrior Film Festival, an annual competitive showcase of student films at Alabama. It received the “Audience Choice Award,” voted on by festival-goers.

“In my acceptance speech, I thanked all those who have supported me on this journey, especially the incredible women who have served as mother figures in my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them, and this film wouldn’t have been possible. It’s very affirming that people loved it. I’m pursuing something I’m passionate about and I’m good at, and I have the support of so many wonderful people.”

Timothy, who grew up in poverty, remembers periods of time with no electricity and very little food. His mother drank and was often angry and abusive. When he was 11, he was placed in kinship care with his grandmother.

After learning about UMCH’s Knabe Scholarship, which provides full tuition, room and board to students in foster care or other alternative living situations, Timothy was hesitant to apply. “I didn’t believe in myself,” he said, adding that his school librarian convinced him to fill out the paperwork.

“That’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he said. “UMCH provided me with a home, a family, stability, an education, and lifelong relationships. It means everything to me.”

You can view Timothy’s film, “The Rose That Grew from the Concrete” by clicking here.