BIRMINGHAM, AL - About 80 church leaders, volunteers, Board members, staff, children and community friends attended the August 26 groundbreaking ceremony for a new Transitional Living Home in Cottondale, AL. The home will be located on the grounds of the United Methodist Children's Home's Tuscaloosa Group home and will house four young men who have aged out of the foster care system.
Rev. Vickie Cater, pastor of Jennings Chapel United Methodist Church (UMC), coordinates a core group of church leaders who have been planning since August 26 of last year. The group's hard work has brought in commitments from building professionals and other volunteers to donate much of the labor and some of materials for building the home.
"It's a responsibility for us," said Cater. "One we take very seriously. And once you meet the boys, it becomes personal." She is referring to the boys living in the Tuscaloosa Group Home, some of whom will be moving in to the Transitional Home when it is completed.
The groundbreaking ceremony took place exactly one year from the date of the group's first planning meeting for the home.
Rev. Charles Lee blessed the service and made comments about the late Rev. Milton Booth who began the planning effort to build the home. Lee is District Superintendent for the Southwest District of the UMC's North Alabama Conference where the Cottondale facility is located.
Dr. Judy Manning, Children's Home Regional Director, also remembered Rev. Booth. Speaking to the group, she said, "He put a deadline to the dream," referring to his ability to get things done and not just talk about a good idea. Linda Booth, the late reverend's wife, read a scripture verse during the ceremony.
Once the home is built, young men who have been in foster or group home care will have a place to be more independent. Apartment-style living that is close to counselors and other caregivers will help them as they begin college or work.
Shayla Smith, who was present at the groundbreaking, is the Resource Developer for the Tuscaloosa County Department of Human Resources. She is the coordinator of the county's independent living program. She says that a child's successful discharge from foster care is dependent on them having a good knowledge of basic living skills like paying rent and getting to appointments on time.
"We don't have a program [like this] here in Tuscaloosa," said Smith. "To have that available here will be just awesome." She said that the Tuscaloosa area's need for the program is tremendous and is grateful to the Children's Home for its initiative.
The ceremony very closely resembled a United Methodist service. The Children's Home's Chaplain, Rev. LuAnne Wages-Smith opened with a prayer and later led the attendants in a call and response.
"We are an outreach ministry of the United Methodist Church, and throughout our history, we ask God to bless what we are doing," said Wages-Smith. She said the call and response affirms the involvement of those present. "It isn't just something the United Methodist Children's Home is doing," she added.
During the service, Wages-Smith read, "We break this ground today that our young people may have the opportunity to continue to grow in God's grace in a place not independent of worldly pressure, but dependent upon God's strength and wisdom."
And those attending read back to her, "We break this ground today."
Rev. Joe Lisenby closed the service with prayer. Lisenby is the Interim President & CEO of the Children's Home, an agency that administers programs helping children and families in fifteen locations throughout Alabama and Northwest Florida.
Jarvis, a current resident of the group home who will be one of the first to move into the transitional home, was among those working the shovels. Alongside him was Pat Brasher, Children's Home Board member from McCalla, AL, herself a former resident of the agency's Children's Village in Selma.
Tuscaloosa City Councilman Kip Tyner joined the diggers, as did Assistant Chief Mike Simpson of the Northport Fire Department and Tuscaloosa County Extension Agent Michelle Mobley. Simpson and his coworkers volunteer and provide help to the boys at the group home. Mobley works closely with the boys on a volunteer project that provides fresh vegetables to helping groups in the community.
Also breaking ground were Rev. Paul Peeples of Union Chapel UMC; Kristy Goodman, Tuscaloosa Group Home's Program Supervisor; Jim Byrum, Children's Home Assistant Executive Director; Rev. Lee; Rev. Lisenby; Mrs. Booth; Rev. Cater; Ms. Smith and Dr. Manning.
More information and pictures can be found online at www.umch.net/tuscaloosa.