Known affectionately by most as the “Children’s Home,” Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH) is in the midst of an “exciting season of growth and change,” according to ABCH leaders.
Dreams of program expansion are being realized across the state, which will enable the ministry to care for even more children and families through Christ-centered services.
In process are two new construction projects in Decatur, a recent groundbreaking in Birmingham to expand direct care programs, new staff growth, and first-year anniversary celebrations in both Mobile and Auburn–Opelika.
“So far this year Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes has served 16 percent more children than we did at this time in 2017,” said ABCH President and CEO Rod Marshall.
“Thanks to effective management by our statewide directors and supervisors, during this growth our expenses have only gone up by 6 percent,” he said. “It is prayerful and careful stewardship like this that helps us continue to serve children and families so well, 127 years into ministry.”
ABCH was founded in Evergreen in 1891 and moved to Troy in 1923. In 1970, ABCH officials opened a North Alabama campus in Decatur and took over the operations of the Protestant Children’s Home in Mobile. In 1999 the administrative service center was moved to Birmingham.
From there, a Campus Care Home was built in Dothan and a Shelter Care Home in Oxford. In the early 2000s the foster care ministry was expanded and it continues to grow.
Currently more than 200 foster homes exist in Birmingham, Mobile, Dothan, Auburn–Opelika, Montgomery, Oxford and Decatur, with more being added each year.
Counseling service growth
Pathways Professional Counseling also has grown in staff and geographically since the days of ABCH having three counselors on staff in 1999 who served the Birmingham and Montgomery areas.
Pathways now has a network of 45 counseling centers across the state. Counselors provided services to almost 4,500 individuals in 2017.
“With this kind of growth it is no surprise that we ran out of space in our Birmingham offices some time ago,” Marshall said. “On Nov. 2 at the leading of our Children’s Homes board of directors we broke ground on new construction to expand our services in the Birmingham area.
“The timing for this new construction meets a great need,” he said. “Since the beginning of 2018 we have had to turn down services to more than 60 children in foster care because there was no availability in the Birmingham area. In order to add additional foster homes it would require adding additional staff and providing appropriate workspace for them.
“As we continue to grow this expansion will provide more opportunities to do just that,” Marshall explained. “Additionally, because our Pathways counselors have full caseloads, there is a two- to three-month wait for individuals seeking counseling services in our Birmingham office.”
The renovation plan allows ABCH’s Social Services team to grow from six shared offices to 13 offices, creating adequate space to meet job demands and more effectively serve more children.
Pathways also will be expanded and enhanced with the completion of its new counseling facility on the Birmingham property. The new building will increase the counseling capacity from eight shared offices to 16 offices.
“This will be our largest counseling center in the state and is anticipated to open in late 2019 or early 2020,” Marshall said.
ABCH-related hard hats are being worn in Decatur as well with the coming Ensor Shelter Care Home currently under construction.
Michael Smith, chief operations officer for ABCH in North Alabama, said his vision for the new home is that children who need a secure place to stay in a transitional time would be given a safe place to call home.
Space for crisis situations
“Our Shelter Care homes serve as temporary Campus Care homes for children whose families are in crisis,” Smith said. “Children live here for up to 90 days while their families, social workers and courts decide on a permanent plan that would best meet the child’s needs.
“In this time options can be thoughtfully weighed without children bouncing from one home to another in the process,” he said. “In the end discovering the least disruptive, most nurturing placement possible for each child is the hope.”
Smith said that while ABCH has served children in Decatur through one Shelter Care home for many years, children often have to be turned away because of lack of rooms available.
With this new home there is now an opportunity to change that and, in turn, change even more lives for God’s good and glory, as these kids are lovingly welcomed into a safe and godly home in their time of crisis.
The Ensor Shelter Care Home will open in 2019 and will be named in honor and memory of Dr. Herman and Janie Ensor “who faithfully provided for and loved our kids in Decatur as their own,” Smith said.
The Ensors made a generous gift to ABCH through their estate plan, which was distributed upon their death. They designated that 75 percent of the gift would be used to advance the ABCH ministries in Decatur. (To learn about supporting various ministries through estate planning, contact The Baptist Foundation of Alabama at tbfa.org.)
“In addition to the Shelter Care home, we are excited to also build a duplex for house parents to stay during their off-time, for college students formerly in care to come home for weekends and school breaks and for ministry groups who would need a place to stay for weekend-long serve projects,” he added. “This multi-use duplex will have a three-bedroom apartment on one side and a two-bedroom apartment on the other side.”
Help for single mothers
Along with Shelter Care and Campus Care, ABCH also offers Family Care such as Grace’s House of Hope in Mobile, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
Grace’s House of Hope serves up to seven single-mother families at one time.
“Single moms come to us without a home for a variety of reasons, but each of them are seeking stability and hope for their futures,” said Rachel Burden, who serves as house manager.
Burden, who formerly served as an assistant in Pathways’ Mobile office, said she has seen God work in the lives of 14 moms and 20 children through the house so far.
In Family Care moms are given the chance of a fresh start in many areas of life — finances, education, home stability, child care and career opportunities.
“Our hope is to show them that they not only have the opportunity to receive a fresh start in their physical lives but in their spiritual lives too,” Burden said. “They have the chance, if they haven’t already, to experience true heart change through the power of Christ.
And once they’ve experienced salvation they can rely on Christ in their day-to-day decisions.” Some are building on a foundation already laid and some are starting anew, she added, noting two specific moms in care. “You can see a light in them. It’s amazing.
“My heart goes out to the moms,” Burden said. “When you hear their stories, you want to get involved with them and help them move to the next level. They come here with nothing and when they leave they have something.”
Burden also noted how the help of the community has made a difference. “Through sponsorships we’ve been able to gift three cars to lift the burden of finding transportation, and have provided four scholarships for finance classes held in the home this year,” she said.
A fresh start is offered each day in light of God’s new mercies and ABCH hopes to emulate this hope in a practical way for single mothers and their children who are fleeing crises and seeking safe refuge through Family Care. “God is working every day through this ministry and we are excited to be a part of it,” Burden said.
Foster families expanding
Exciting ABCH news also is happening on the eastern side of the state in the Auburn–Opelika area. In one year’s time since beginning a new program there the number of licensed ABCH foster families has gone from zero to 10.
Social worker Elizabeth Williams said the ABCH foster families have cared for 24 children during the past year.
“We have seen tremendous growth,” she said. “We’ve also been able to hire a part-time social worker to help with this growth and serve our children and families.
“Our families — they are such a sweet group of people,” Williams said. “Foster care is brand new to all of them and they are very supportive of each other. I recall many times of getting ready for when a child leaves their home — which is difficult — seeing other families step in and really help each other in that transition time. They call and check in on each other. I’m very thankful for families who get along and support each other so well.
“In addition to great relationships with our families we’ve also been blessed with an outstanding partnership through our host church, First Baptist Church, Opelika,” Williams said. “They are wonderful partners. You truly could not ask for a better group. Whatever we need assistance with they’re willing to help us with. They give us a place to have an office and a place to teach classes, and they don’t ask for anything in return. I feel like we’re a part of their church family and it’s felt like that from day one. We really appreciate them.”
Along with the expansion of services and new construction projects taking place, ABCH also has some staff updates.
Steve Sellers, who served more than 20 years as church relations manager, has transitioned into the role of development and church relations officer for North Alabama. Having previously served the entire state, Sellers is now concentrating his time in North Alabama, serving the Decatur campus and surrounding counties.
Jay Boyd, ABCH director of development, said, “Steve Sellers has been building relationships with Alabama pastors and churches to help care for the fatherless and hurting families across our state for over 20 years,” Boyd said. “Steve will continue being an excellent advocate for children and families in North Alabama as he advances the mission of ABCH.”
Marshall added, “Steve has an amazing network of friends in north Alabama. With the demand for services in Decatur and the awesome sense of ownership of that campus by Baptists in the area, it made sense to ask him to spearhead the opportunity for our North Alabama brothers and sisters to learn more about our campus activities and to invest in the construction there.”
Sellers said, “I am grateful that the Lord has placed me on the ABCH Decatur Campus to make churches and partners aware of the fatherless around them in North Alabama. Of the two buildings under construction, we are asking churches and partners to help us furnish the homes and with other needs of the campus.”
To free up Sellers to tackle this new project, ABCH has added Les Hughes to the team to serve as church relations manager.
Having served as a bivocational pastor, a grocery store manager, a college professor, a pastor of small rural churches and a pastor of a few large churches, Hughes said he feels uniquely prepared by God to serve in this new role.
Hughes most recently served as pastor of a church in Kentucky and previously served at Westwood Baptist Church, Alabaster.
“I can see how God has worked upstream in my life to prepare me to serve Alabama children and families through ABCH,” Hughes said. “I have the heart of a pastor and a heart for pastors, so I look forward to serving alongside them and the churches they shepherd to help make disciples.”
Boyd added, “Les Hughes understands the unique challenges and incredible blessings that pastors face each day because he’s been there. He pastored for 30 years — many of those years in Alabama.”
Marshall noted, “Les will be a great relay runner to take the church-relations baton from Steve and run toward the next runner. Steve will continue to be in churches most Sundays — just try to stop him! — and soon Les will be preaching in churches all across our state, helping us to get our story in front of pastors who can, in turn, make sure their churches are well-informed about the work of our ministry.
“There is indeed much to be celebrated in this season of the ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries,” Marshall said. “We are always deeply indebted to generous Alabama Baptists who make it possible for us to dream big and see what God has in store.”
To learn more, visit alabamachild.org.