— On pastureland overlooking a neighbor’s grazing cows, Hope Harbor Children’s Home cares for a dozen boys and girls in two large, modern group homes.
Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the former Turley Children’s Home — which relies on financial support and food pantry donations from Churches of Christ — has provided residential care for 65 years.
has expanded beyond simply housing, feeding and educating at-risk young people on its northeast Oklahoma campus.
Embracing new opportunities to serve, Hope Harbor operates an off-site family counseling center, organizes parent training seminars at churches and even goes inside jails and prisons to teach inmates how to be better fathers and mothers.
“Our mission is to restore hope and to equip children and families for lives of meaning and purpose,” said Ralph Richardson, Hope Harbor’s executive director. “Everything that we’re doing still fits within that mission.”
Arms of Hope — formed with the 2009 consolidation of Medina Children’s Home and Boles Children’s Home, both in Texas — still houses at-risk children and single mothers and their babies in group homes.
But the Texas-based nonprofit also sponsors a sports ministry program in inner-city San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.
And, in partnership with the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas, Arms of Hope’s family outreach ministry helps indigent families meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
“By having a variety of programs and geographic diversity, Arms of Hope is truly able to put a dent in the homeless and hurting population,” said Troy Robertson, chief operating officer.
“Our driving force behind the change was simple,” Robertson added. “How do we use our financial blessings … to share the Gospel of Christ with the most people while still making a meaningful difference in their lives?”
DOLLARS AND REGULATIONS
High costs of operating group homes, particularly in poor economic times, have contributed to the national trend, children’s home administrators told The Christian Chronicle.
At the same time, group homes have come under fire in some states, as child welfare officials emphasize family reunification and frown on residential care.
“The recession pointed out that group care for children is one of the most expensive forms of care,” said Ray Crowder, executive director of Sunny Glen Children’s Home
in San Benito, Texas. “In addition, every child removed or placed outside of the home suffers a trauma with the separation.”
For homes once focused entirely on residential care, Crowder said, diversification of services not only appeals to a wider donor base but also provides “more possibilities for excellence in care to the children and families.”
As Kenny Holton, executive director of Raintree Village
children’s home in Valdosta, Ga., puts it, “Group homes like ours are having to provide a more diverse continuum of services in order to survive and serve.”
Robert Kimberly, executive director of Southeastern Children’s Home
in Duncan, S.C., sees serving families through community-based counseling centers as an extension of the home’s ministry.
However, he voices concern about the pressure to reunite families without regard for the circumstances.
“In many states, such as South Carolina, I believe children are being left in unsafe homes in the name of keeping families together,” Kimberly said.
STRETCHING LIMITED FUNDS
In the last year, Hope Harbor provided residential care to 21 children.
But the home helped more than 2,000 individuals through its other services.
“If we want to reach literally thousands of kids, the money is not there to establish children’s homes for 2,000 kids,” Richardson said. “But for a relatively small amount of funds, you can look and find other, additional ways to reach out.”
Hope Harbor has experienced a steady decline in church contributions during the recession and was forced to lay off some employees, he said.
To help with funding, the home opened a thrift store in downtown Claremore. At the store, most donated clothing items sell for $1 each. The Blue Starr Church of Christ hosts Hope Harbor’s off-site counselor, James Baumgardner.
Bill Hamrick, a longtime preacher and former Hope Harbor director, teaches parenting classes at the Tulsa County jail and a state prison in Hominy, Okla.
Misty Lemons, 36, said she was in jail on credit card fraud and burglary charges when she met Hamrick.
Lemons blames a drug addiction — “meth, cocaine, speed” — for taking her away from her young daughters and landing her in prison. As a result of meeting Hamrick, she was baptized and turned her life around.
“He’s like a grandfather to me,” she said of Hamrick. “He’s been a real blessing in my life.”
Lemons said she did not grow up in a religious family: “I didn’t know anything about Jesus or God or that there was a way for me to be forgiven. I just held all this darkness and hatred. I had been so jaded by my upbringing and just the cards that life had dealt me.”
But now she’s sober and working in the oil business. She and her husband are back together. She’s reunited with her children. And she’s a regular Sunday worshiper.
She credits God — and Hope Harbor.
“There’s just such a huge need for education and assistance with parenting,” Lemons said. “It’s just hard, and it’s not something that comes easily for some people.
“What they’re doing is definitely a good thing, and I feel blessed that we came in touch — very blessed.”