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.”

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.”

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.

Family Preservation Program Strengthens AL Family

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.