Presbyterian Children's home opens in Columbia

Thursday, May 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Members of First Presbyterian Church spent a month this spring washing window, painting and  vacuuming in the three-bedroom houseon Sexton Road, readying it for occupants.

The congregation also provided a dining room table, chairs, toiletries, twin beds, pillows, sheets, comforters and donated more than a $1,000 toward fixing up the new Presbyterian Children’s Services home that will house boys from ages 13 to 18.

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For information on how to get involved and a list of items still needed for the new Presbyterian Children’s Home, check out our blog.

“It was just an outpouring of gifts,” said Stacy Peters, a member of First Presbyterian. She showed her support for the project by adopting the kitchen as her special task. She donated various cooking utensils and stocked the pantry with staples such as flour, sugar and pasta. The home still needs a twin bed for one of the bedrooms, dressers and end tables.

“I do have a soft spot in my heart for kids,” Peters said. “If I can make a difference in the life of a child, it’s been a good day.”

Helen Crawford, another member of First Presbyterian, carefully choose the curtains hanging in the three bedrooms.

“I was trying to make up my mind and figure out what they wanted,” said Crawford who made close to 10 trips to various stores to find the perfect drapes.

“They’re real proud of the home here,” Trueman Orson, who will be managing the home, said of the congregation. “They’re our partner in this really. They’ve been really good to us.”

Presbyterian Children’s Services is a nonprofit agency offering temporary housing for abused and neglected children in Missouri. The 95-year-old organization has homes throughout the state and opened one in Columbia last month. It is the first Presbyterian Children's Services home in the city.

“The city of Columbia has so many opportunities for kids recreationally (and) educationally,” Orson said. He said it is part of the reason why the new Presbyterian Children's Services home was opened in the city.

“There are so many more opportunities here than in some of those smaller communities that it seemed like a perfect fit for us," he said.

The Columbia home has two children currently residing in it, Orson said. At most, the home will house three children who are referred to the program by the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Missouri Alliance for Children and Families, an organization that supports community-based alternatives for emotionally disturbed children, according to its Web site.

The all-boys home was opened based on a need noticed by the Missouri Alliance for Children and Families. Presbyterian Children’s Services has an all-girl residential facility in Springfield and a co-ed residential institution in Moberly.

In total, seven staff members have been hired to provide 24-hour supervision to the children in what Orson describes as an "alternative program to larger institutions and foster care." In some cases, Orson said foster care is unavailable or the children need a certain kind of treatment which Presbyterian Children’s Services is better able to provide.

“The kids are given more one-on-one interaction so that the kids learn more life skills,” Orson said. “We’re able to individualize the care better.”

The alternative program helps children who have been in state custody transition to a community setting by using therapy, life skills training and socialization. Orson said some services — such as educational, vocational and physical — are provided through the community and coordinated through Presbyterian Children's Services.

The program also offers spiritual services if a child chooses them.

“We don’t use spirituality in our treatment, but we are a program that tries to provide treatment for all parts of a person, including spiritual,” Orson said.

Children who choose spiritual services are taken to the church of their choice.

“Religion is a choice and we want them to feel comfortable and express whatever spirituality they have,” said Orson, who is Episcopalian. “Some kids won’t go and others want to go every time the doors are open. We provide whatever we have to to get them the spiritual services they want.”

In addition, the program seeks out volunteer opportunities for the children in order to help them with vocational skills and integrate them into the community, Orson said.

The program also plans recreational activities for the residents.

“We try to encourage them to get out and get healthy,” Orson said. “That helps your mental health, when you’re physically healthy, so we encourage an active recreational program.”

Crawford, a retired physical education schoolteacher, hopes that is one way she can stay involved with the program now that the home is ready.

She said she has coached a boys’ baseball team and would like to organize and coach sports with the boys living in the home.

“I enjoy working with kids,” she said.

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