News

An Interview with Blake Horne: United Methodist Children's Home Director

published 1/24/2013

(Rebecca Morris) - The United Methodist Children's Home welcomed a new director in 2012, Dr. Blake Horne. As Dr. Horne transitions into his new role, he explained his vision and direction for this worthwhile agency. 

What led to you pursuing the leadership vacancy at the United Methodist Children’s Home?

Foremost, I strongly believe in UMCH’s mission: To follow the example of Christ, by caring for all God’s children…..one child, one family at a time. Sixteen years ago, I briefly directed a group home cottage at the Methodist Home for Children and Youth of the South Georgia Conference in Macon, Georgia. I left the home to pursue doctoral work in marriage and family therapy at Florida State, but the experiences there really stole my heart for Methodist Children’s Home ministry.

Second, I felt like it was time for a new professional challenge in my life. After 12 wonderfully rewarding years directing The Samaritan Counseling Center in Montgomery, I found I had become more passionate about leading an organization than direct delivery of clinical services. UMCH stands at an important crossroads in its development – we are in many ways having to rethink and re-invent the way we carry out our mission. I felt like my experiences leading and growing The Samaritan Counseling Center made for a nice developmental intersection between where UMCH is as an organization and my emerging strengths as a leader.

You say that UMCH is re-thinking and re-inventing, and it stands at an important crossroads? Can you say more about that?

UMCH made the very difficult – but necessary – decision to sell the Selma campus over 2 years ago. That was a little bit like losing “the temple” for many of our United Methodist constituents and employees. We are still very much engaged in group home ministry for abused and neglected children in 8 different locations in Alabama and Northwest Florida. Yet the child welfare landscape is compelling us to learn how to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.”

We find ourselves in many ways where we were 75 years ago when there was very little assistance from government to care for lost and forgotten children. As recently as 5 years ago, UMCH was paid $35 per day by the state of Alabama to care for children in our group homes. This wasn’t enough to cover the full cost of caring for the child, but when we put that alongside the overwhelming generosity of our United Methodist laity and churches we could make ends meet. Today, UMCH receives a mere $11.80 per day to care for these same abused and forgotten children.

I wouldn’t be interested in leading UMCH if we didn’t do group home ministry, and do it well. However, we need to be a little more creative about how we deliver group home ministry. We also need to diversify our services in ways that are more privately supported than they are dependent upon state contracts.

Can you give an example of what you mean by “creative” when it comes to delivering group home ministry?

One example would be what we are doing with our Tuscaloosa and Florence group homes. Our group homes – though vital to our mission and near and dear to my own heart – are very expensive programs to run. They take a very large toll on the financial health of UMCH, forcing us to draw down at present more than is prudent on our unrestricted endowment.

We also have a restricted endowment designated for higher education. We have been only marginally successful in the past using these funds to provide a college education for children at different schools and universities around the state. Foster children can be very academically capable but tend to need more support services than your typical child from an intact family to succeed at college.

In a partnership with the University of Alabama and University of North Alabama, we will transform our Tuscaloosa and Florence group homes solely for the purpose of providing a college education for our children and other foster children around the state. By focusing our higher education efforts exclusively with the Tuscaloosa and Florence group homes, we believe our kids will have higher graduation rates and more fulfilling college experiences.

With the established support services in place at both Universities, along with our caring staff, the foster kids will have a better chance of success in a college environment. It will also help us save hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs that strain our unrestricted endowment.

When I look at my own life as a first generation college graduate, there were three key factors that maximized my life course – a loving family, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a college education. By converting our homes in Tuscaloosa and Florence in this manner, we are providing young men and women with an opportunity to experience all three.

You mentioned diversifying the services offered by UMCH. Can you talk about that a little more?

I’d like to see our agency develop outpatient mental health services for children and families. We are already involved in family preservation services with families who are in jeopardy of losing custody of their children. However, these services take place in the home and are referred almost exclusively by DHR. We are often very successful with this program, but if we are not successful removing the child from the home is the next step.

I’d like to see UMCH not only diversify its services but also diversify where it meets children and families on the continuum of functioning. I’d like to see us offer counseling and therapeutic services that have a multi-generational impact. When a child enters one of our group homes, it’s often the result of a multi-generational process where each successive generation of the family has functioned just a little less effectively than the last. I’d like to see us offer outpatient family therapy and other mental health services on a large scale across our state that elevate access to care and get out in front of that multi-generational process. I’d like to see us develop as a mental health care provider as much as we have developed over the years as a social service agency. In this way, we’d be able to give back to our United Methodist churches and their members through these kinds of services.

Anything else happening with UMCH that you would like for us to know about?

I’m really excited about some developments taking place with our spiritual care program with our kids. Rev. Lonna Lynn Higgs, our Director of Spiritual Care, is the right person at the right time for UMCH in this area. She has a very difficult job – finding a way to meet the spiritual needs of over 200 children and staff who are spread out in 12 different locations all over the entire state of Alabama and Northwest Florida. She is putting together a volunteer team of clergy and lay leaders in the areas where we have group homes and programs to offset our geographical challenges and heighten the level of spiritual care in all of our programs.

In addition, we are in the early stages of planning our first foreign mission trip here at UMCH. I want our children to have the opportunity to both travel abroad and serve others in need. This may be the only opportunity some of our children have ever had to leave the country, and I think it’s important that they have a broader perspective of the world and where they fit into it.

Also, we are implementing new partnerships and seeking ways to “give back” to those people and churches that support the Children’s Home. For example, you will soon hear about our partnership we are working on with Driver’s Way, a car dealership in Birmingham, to implement a car donation program. We are also seeking to partner with churches to hold “Better Family” seminars in their churches or community, where we will provide credentialed speakers for these programs.

This is an exciting time for the Children’s Home and we are looking for ways to be an innovative leader in foster care and residential group homes. I know the direction I want to lead the Children’s Home will benefit the kids we care for and continue to fulfill our mission….To follow the example of Christ by embracing all God’s Children…one child, one family at a time.

 

 

 


 


Bryan to Serve on General Board of Pension and Health Benefits

published 1/18/2013

The Alabama-West Florida Conference would like to congratulate Dr. R. Lawson Bryan, senior pastor at Montgomery First United Methodist Church, on being named to the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits. Dr. Bryan replaces Judge Dawn Hare after her selection and naming as the General Secretary for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Dr. Bryan was named by the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops at the recent Council of Bishops meeting per the 2012 Book of Discipline ¶712 stating, "a vacancy in the jurisdictional conference or central conference membership shall be filled by the corresponding College of Bishops (the replacement must be a member of the same annual conference of the person being replaced)." His service to this board is effective immediately.

Bryan expressed his gratitude by saying, "Because of wise and faithful leadership the UM pension has become the largest denominational pension fund in the world. This is especially significant to us all during challenging economic times. I thank God for the confidence this imparts to the clergy and lay participants in the fund. To maintain a fiscally responsible pension fund is a glory to God and a strong witness to our society. I am grateful to represent the Alabama-West Florida Conference and to work with our own bishop who is the current president of this General Board."

Please join the conference in praying for Dr. Bryan as he embraces this service to our conference and the general church.

 


 


We Remember: Newtown, Connecticut

published 12/17/2012

"A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more
." (Jer. 31:15)

(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) - Unbelievable. Unspeakable. Shock.

Our nation prays with the families of Newtown, Connecticut, in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The unanswerable questions of "why", "how", and "could it have been prevented", do nothing to alleviate the sudden horror unleashed upon these innocent children. No attempt on our part will help to explain the evil in our world. Once more we see the spirit of Herod and the Death of Innocents. In this moment, we know our world is broken and far outside the Love and Will of God.

Any attempt to speak of the mystery of suffering and evil will prove to be unsatisfying. Personally, I wish Jesus had said, "Come unto me and I will spare you from these things." But He didn't. Instead He said, "I am with you always." How we need the assurance of His presence now! How we need to hear him say once more, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

My mind races to all the people impacted at this moment: parents, grandparents, family members, those who served these children lunch at school every day, bus drivers, neighbors, and the list goes on. I find myself praying for them. And I find myself praying for the young man who committed this atrocity and his family. They also need our prayers.

I can't help but hear the words of Romans 5 that keep coming to my mind: "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces courage, and courage produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been shed into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." It is far too early to understand the words of the Apostle Paul when he reminded us, "All things work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose." How can this be? Can this moment be transformed by God? Perhaps it is enough to know GOD IS WITH US even in these unspeakable moments.

I certainly know God does not desire evil and hurt. Yet when it comes He knew we needed to be guided in what to do. And so I continue to think about His Sermon on the Mount – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God; Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

I will think on these things for a long time.

But first we cry.


A woman holds a child as people line up to enter the Newtown United Methodist Church near the scene of an elementary school shooting on Dec. 14 in Newtown, CT Photo by Douglas Healey/Getty Images.

A woman holds a child as people line up to enter the Newtown
United Methodist Church near the scene of an elementary
school shooting on Dec. 14 in Newtown, CT.
Photo by Douglas Healey/Getty Images.


A Christmas Letter From the Leelands

published 12/14/2012

This Christmas letter is written specifically to all who, for whatever reasons, have been pushed to the periphery of life; to those who deeply desire their lives to be better - filled with more joy; to those who long for the safety and happiness of loved ones; and to those who wish to love and be loved by others.

In the stark reality of our world, the words of Psalm 96 capture our hope: The Presence of The Lord comes, God comes to rule the earth. For this reason we can "Proclaim to the nations: 'God is King.'" This is a powerful word to all the nations of our world.

With the assurance of His coming, we also have the absolute certainty of His promises:

  1. To show mercy to us
  2. To set us free from the hands of our enemies
  3. To be free to worship Him without fear
  4. To be holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life

Perhaps our Christmas could be an expression of our daily prayer that God might come to rule the earth, that God's will be done on earth just as it is in heaven, and that our lives reflect the Kingdom of God now because we act in faithful obedience as if we were already in heaven.

In the Presence of this Divine Shepherd, Emmanuel, God with us, we "shall not want." This is the one who "restores and renews our soul." In the Presence of this One we do not fear, no matter how dark the valley. The promises and blessings are given with such love - it is as if our "cup overflows" with thanksgiving.

St. Paul pointed out, "The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all." (Phil. 4:5,6). The Psalmist also sings, "Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One." (Psalm 12:6).

These Christmas Holy days will be celebrated in many ways: some families will be together; some individuals will be alone; and some hope to connect with loved ones across long distances. There is a yearning within each of us to be connected. This internal longing reflects the same desire God has toward us - to be connected. While the days approaching Christmas are properly moments set aside to reflect on our anticipation and waiting, it is also a time when God waits for us. God waits for us to change our hurtful habits. God waits for us to offer sincere acts of contrition. God waits for us to recognize the hunger we have for the Divine, for the Words of Life, for The Word made Flesh.

Our prayer for you is that this Christmas season offer a "time out" from the busyness of our personal routines so the Mystery of God's Spirit may fill us with newfound wisdom, compassion, generosity, forgiveness and gentleness. We truly seek the kingship of God over every decision of our lives and to walk in the way of holiness.

The Prince of Peace is among us! "In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78,79)."

"You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before The Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins." Luke 1:76

Jesus Christ is born. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. Come! Let us adore him.

Merry Christmas,
Paul and Janet Leeland



Mitchell Named New Controller

published 12/11/2012

The Alabama-West Florida Conference is pleased to announce that Heidi Mitchell has been named the new controller in the fiscal office. Mitchell has already begun her work at the conference headquarters.

Ms. Mitchell’s previous work includes employment as a fiscal officer in the non-profit sector for eight years managing a $12 million annual budget. She has five years of experience in the banking industry working as both a corporate loan examiner and branch manager for Regions Bank.

“I have a love for the non- profit sector and enjoy working in a positive environment that makes a difference in peoples’ lives,” says Mitchell.

Frank Dunnewind, AWF Treasurer states, “After an extensive search and interview process, the members of the search committee of the council on finance and administration were unanimous in selecting Heidi as the new controller for the conference. We are excited that she has chosen to join the fiscal office staff and look forward to a long, productive working relationship with her.”

She is a graduate of Auburn University, Montgomery with a bachelors degree in finance and will receive a degree in accounting this month from AUM and is currently working on completing the CPA exam.

Ms. Mitchell lives in Wetumpka and has two children, Dinah and TJ, and is the proud grandmother of Sadie Grace and Myles. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family and long walks outdoors.

###


 

Heidi Mitchell


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