Despite the pandemic, Presbyterian Home for Children paves a path of hope
January 13, 2021
It’s a common sight from the window of Doug Marshall’s office at the Presbyterian Home for Children in Talladega, Alabama: A care worker accompanies a new girl from the administration building to the cottage that will be her new home.
She is overwhelmed, perhaps crying. The care worker, who has made this trip across campus countless times, quietly walks with her.
“To me, it is the beginning of walking that path of hope,” said Marshall, president and CEO of the home.
Now in its 153rd year — and in the midst of a global pandemic — the home is finding new ways to keep that path clear and to open more avenues of healing.
It does so while hitting all the marks of ethical, financially responsible and compassionate operation, said Dr. Cindy Wilson, moderator of the Board of Trustees.
“It is a very faith-filled organization,” she said.
A shared ministry of North Alabama, Sheppards and Lapsley and South Alabama presbyteries, the home began after the Civil War by serving widows and orphans. The children and families now served have had their lives upended by poverty, abuse and abandonment. Many arrive with nowhere else to go.
Yet it’s not the end of the road.
“They’re not homeless when they’re here,” Marshall said.
The home’s Secure Dwellings program provides transitional housing for boys and girls up to age 17 and their female caregivers, usually mothers. Young women from 19 to 24 who have aged out of foster care receive room, board and support through Transition to Adult Living. Moderate Care, a state-recognized residential treatment program, serves girls ages 13 to 17 who have previously been subject to extreme abuse or neglect.
Family Bridges, in conjunction with the Alabama State Department of Human Resources, gives parents a chance to keep or regain custody of their children through intensive in-home services.
All children who reside at the home, as well as some day students, receive fully accredited education through Ascension Leadership Academy (K-8) and Hope Academy (9-12).
When COVID-19 reached the United States, the home put its existing pandemic and influenza plan into action. Access to and from campus was restricted, new residents underwent isolation and volunteer workdays were canceled. Staff received specialized training and tried to balance truthfulness with assurances of safety.
A large apartment was set aside for quarantine. In-home services and daily classes moved online as all parties sheltered separately in place.
Much of life at the home slowed, but it couldn’t stop.
Over the past year, the Presbyterian Home for Children has also expanded its base of engagement into the business world. A new junior board of young professionals is working on leadership development, service and fun.
One of its projects was a “Sweet Home Soirée” (“I wasn’t sure about that name at first,” Marshall admitted) gala in Birmingham, which brought in $57,000 in net income. Sweet Home Soirée Huntsville raised $38,000. Both will be held again this spring, with Sweet Home Soirée Mobile added.
Marshall, whose background is in corporate accounting, frequently shares the work of the home with congregations. “I’m a financial guy who can preach,” he said with a laugh.
The home operates on a balanced budget, he said. “Our goal is to leave our money at the Presbyterian Foundation and let it grow.”
Those who invest in the home can be sure not only that their money will be used wisely, but that the home will not rest on its laurels, board moderator Wilson said. It has changed as society has changed. Its leaders have made sure of that.
“They don’t get stuck in ‘We don’t do that’ or ‘We’ve never done that.’ It’s ‘This is who needs us, so let’s see how we can make that happen,’” she said.
It’s all about creating, and re-creating, that path of hope.
“I tell people all the time we were birthed in the heart of God and planted in Talladega,” Marshall said.
Nancy Crowe, Writer for the Presbyterian Foundation
Morning Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11
First Reading Isaiah 41:1-16
Second Reading Ephesians 2:1-10
Gospel Reading Mark 1:29-45
Evening Psalms 1; 33
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Home for Children
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Ricky Blade, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Michele Blum, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation
Let us pray:
Compassionate God, we acknowledge your powerful presence in your outpouring of love and generosity as we reach across to our brothers and sisters under pain and suffering, in obedience to your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.