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Wesley House makes plans to help state, county manage foster care (Feb. 9, 2004)

Wesley House makes plans to help state, county manage foster care (Feb. 9, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Wesley House makes plans to help state, county manage foster care

Feb. 9, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0020}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

KEY WEST - Wesley House Family Services has come a long way since its creation in 1927 when it was founded by the Methodist Church as a settlement program for Key West's Cuban community.

KEY WEST - A balloon artist visiting Wesley House's Inez Martin Child Care Center here last October makes hats and toys for the children. The Center serves approximately 70 children from birth to 5 years old and is the largest child-care program in Key West. Most of the children are from working, low-income families who comprise the backbone of the local tourist industry. The program also serves the largest number of foster children in Monroe County. Wesley House operates two child-care programs in Key West, both of which offer full nutrition and school readiness programs. Teachers emphasize the development of fine and gross motor skills, self-help skills, social and emotional skills, and language and communication skills. Photo by Wendy Nunn, Photo #04-0005.

It has expanded its ministry to include a variety of social, religious, educational and recreational services for Key West's diverse population, but it has never strayed from its mission of promoting and enhancing the safety, well-being and development of children.

That commitment is the reason Wesley House is now applying to the state to provide services for children in protective supervision, foster care and pre- and post-adoptive homes as the state begins to privatize or transfer specific services currently performed by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Two other Monroe County agencies have also applied.

Joseph Barker, Wesley House executive director, said the collaboration of government, private and a faith-based organizations is logical.

"I look at Jesus' 'Sermon on the Mount' as why agencies like us exist," Barker said. "Our mission is reaching out. We speak for those who have no voice. We are an anchor in this community. We can bring all the resources to the table."

Wesley House is supported by the Florida Conference and the General Board of Global Ministries, as well as the state, other organizations and individuals. It hopes to help the state and county by providing prevention and early intervention services, crisis intervention for families, placement of children in protective custody with local agencies, comprehensive child and family assessments, and other services.

Wendy Nunn, Wesley House's director of development, said the agency's history of working with the state makes taking on new responsibilities logical.

"Some private agency has to take that responsibility, and due to our history, mission and goals, we think we should do it," she said. "We have been supporting foster families, training foster families to receive their license and maintain their license. Everything we have done previously is to protect the safety and well-being of children. We've just never had direct responsibility for the children."

Nunn said the facility has a long relationship with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services. In 1989 the need for affordable, quality child care had become so critical in Monroe County the state convened a meeting of child care specialists, the Wesley House board of directors and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries staff liaison to form a partnership. Wesley House signed a contract with the state to be the coordinating agency for all Monroe County's subsidized child-care services.

Even though government entities are able to provide the same services as faith-based groups, Barker said an important element is often lacking. "There is a mission factor that is there when there is a church connection," he said. "That is not there in the public sector. We are the mission arm of the church."

That arm is reaching far into the community by providing free early childhood educational resources, financial assistance for families, recruitment and training for early childhood education professionals and foster parent recruitment.

Wesley House directly operates two early childhood education centers with nutrition and school readiness programs and neighborhood centers designed to provide in-home counseling sessions for families, parenting classes for adult and teen parents, divorce workshops and counseling for victims of domestic violence and physical or sexual abuse.

Nunn said Wesley House continues to rescue people who fall between the cracks of service-related organizations. She said low-income people often find themselves in a situation where they don't earn enough money to pay for mainstream child-care services and too much to qualify for free services.

"We are helping those who don't have the means to hold themselves up," she said. "We meet them where they are, low financially, emotionally and spiritually. Our goal is family preservation."

Nunn said Wesley House has faithful United Methodist volunteers who do everything from stuffing envelopes to helping with infants in one of the day-care centers. Monetary donations from individual churches are also received throughout the year, and last year when school began a large amount of school supplies was collected from the United Methodist Women in the Miami area. Nunn said the response from one parent to that assistance especially touched her heart.

"This woman burst into tears and said her son had come home with a list of items he needed for school that were going to cost about $20, and she didn't have the money," Nunn recalled. "She kept saying this was a blessing and burst into tears. On a day-to-day basis, those are the type of things that are important. That's what we do."


This article relates to Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.