Second in a series
It was the Great Depression. Times were tough, but families took care of their own, taking in cousins or nieces and nephews temporarily when their parents couldn't provide for them.
Some 70 years later, a strange man on the doorstep may be arrested for vagrancy. The children -- now termed "economic orphans" -- risk homelessness, or enter foster care.
That's the space Homes of Hope of Bedford County hopes to fill in the community -- accepting children from overwhelmed parents temporarily, until the parents can recover, get on their feet, and bring them home to a safer and healthier environment.
"When God laid this initiative on Missy's (Parsons') heart, I was there simply to listen, support, and encourage her in what He was showing her to do," said local pharmacist and business owner David Brown, who was part of a six-member committee created to explore the initiative in 2010.
Now president of the organization's board, Brown's passion for children is clear.
"Kids deserve to be loved and protected," he said. "It is hard for me to imagine how difficult it must be for a child to be taken out of a home and thrown into 'the system.' The many emotions that go along with that: fear, embarrassment, guilt, pain, uncertainty -- are all undeserved."
As parents often do, Brown thinks of his own three children and wonders, "what if?"
"It's heartbreaking," he said. "The one thing that is certain is that these children didn't create the situation."
Homes of Hope is built on the Safe Families model.
The Chicago-based national organization was founded in 2002 and has since been successfully established in 13 states. In each city they serve, partnerships are established with local churches, ministries and communities to intervene in the lives of children and families which might otherwise be forgotten.
The Safe Families website cites state welfare emergency hotlines throughout the nation as receiving more than 5 million calls each year regarding suspected child abuse or neglect.
"Of those calls, about one million meet the criteria for state intervention," said Parsons. "The system is so bogged down, the people are so overworked. It has become so much more than it was ever intended to be."
It's not just economics that place children in these situations.
"In cases of adoption, when a mother has made an excruciating decision to give up her baby -- because of the lag in paperwork, she needs someone to take care of that baby for a few weeks until the new parents can take custody," said Parsons.
If a parent gets in trouble or is incarcerated for a weekend, a month or more, Homes of Hope can step in to take care of the children until they can be reunited.
Sometimes parents are doing everything they can to keep the family going.
"One case in particular, the dad had to go out of state for work. He's away, and the 16-year old son isn't going to school," she explained.
In this situation, Homes of Hope could step in to cure the truancy issue, by having a family stand with and support the father, and make sure the son gets to school.
In all cases, biological parents maintain full custody. It is not a precursor to adoption, but an alternative to child welfare custody.
It's neighbors helping neighbors.
Parents receiving help from Homes of Hope will be given a coach to help in navigating available resources.
"That's why this organization is so important. Homes of Hope will provide stability for the child," said Brown.
"Our goal isn't to be the long term solution for the child but rather to help create a long term solution for the child and the family."
For more information, call (931) 205-6869, go to http://www.safe-families.org, http://www.bethany.org/nashville, or the Facebook page Homes of Hope of Bedford County ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/Homes-of-... )
Tomorrow: Becoming a Homes of Hope Host Family