Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Reminder of a Time Past

Guest post by DCF ACCESS Community Partner Liaison for Circuit 6 Phoebe Quarterman in honor of Black History Month.  

African American girlCelebrating Black History Month reminds me of my own challenges growing up in the South.  I was one of the first blacks to attend Pasco High School in rural central Florida.  My parents wanted me to receive the best education possible and Pasco afforded me that opportunity, despite its predominately white status.  Although it was frightening, I knew that backing out was not an option, and that I could not just quit and return to my old school.  I stuck it out, and I am better for the experience.

Having excelled in music, I was offered the chance to attend an event in Miami with the school band.  Little did I know that other parents had signed a petition claiming that they did not want me, a black girl, sharing a room with their daughters.  I instead sat outside of the hotel room in the hallway until a caring chaperone invited me into her room.

Phoebe Quarterman at a speaking engagement

Phoebe Quarterman at a recent speaking engagement.

While travelling by bus to Miami, the band stopped for dinner at the local Biff Burger, where I was told that I couldn’t order at the counter. Instead the food was brought to me to eat on the bus.  To ease the pain, I told myself that I was being served by the restaurant, and that I was special because they brought the food to me.  Throughout these trials I often wanted to give up, but I knew that through my faith and the upbringing I was given by my parents, I could overcome these and any other challenges that came my way.

I am honored to lead the Black History Month celebrations in DCF’s Circuit 6, and I cherish the opportunity to share our rich history with my co-workers.  The emphasis of these events has always been one of unity, and seeing our staff and other local agencies come together for these events never fails to make me proud.  I still remember the hard times, but in dealing with both my successes and my struggles, I can truly say that it is not the action that matters, but the reaction.

Learning what true love is

Guest post by Merrilu Bennett, Communications and Media Coordinator at the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in Central Florida, one of DCF’s community-based care organizations. The Children’s Home has been in existence for more than 100 years and provides residential, therapeutic, emergency shelter and foster care to hundreds of abused, neglected and troubled children from across the state each and every year.

Allen’s mother was a drug addict who had abandoned him numerous times during his young life. She would leave him with friends or relatives for months at a time. The last time she left him, she didn’t return.

When she was finally tracked down and contacted by authorities, she said she didn’t want him back and then she disappeared.  Authorities could find no friends or family members willing to take care of him. His father, who Allen has never met, was in prison.

Florida United Methodist Children’s Home

Florida United Methodist Children’s Home

So at the age of 7, Allen was placed at the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in our residential care program in the hopes it would provide him with much-needed structure and stability. “Stable” and “structured,” however, are the last two words that could be used to describe Allen’s initial behavior. During fits of anger he would shove rocking chairs, benches and even a bicycle off the front porch of his cottage.

One morning, one of our staff members sat with Allen when he refused to attend school.  She explained to him that she wanted him to go to school because she cared about him and his future.  Between sobs, he exclaimed, “My momma cared about me, and she never made me go to school!”

Living with a drug-addicted mother who didn’t care if he went to school was all this fragile little boy had known as love. And he also knew that “love” had been taken away from him.  He didn’t know his mother’s behavior and his childhood weren’t normal.  It was all he had ever known. Our job here at the Children’s Home was to teach Allen what “normal” really was.

The transformation did not take place overnight, but over weeks and months noticeable differences in his attitude began to take shape.  He began to attend school without argument and also began to participate in on-campus activities like sports.

Today, two years later, Allen plays football with a league in the community.  He not only enjoys school, but also helps other young residents understand the material.  In January he was recognized as our “Resident of the Week” because of how helpful he is.

Allen is just one of the hundreds of children we serve who just need to know they are loved. It takes time and it takes patience.  It also takes an unwavering belief that we can make a difference. But seeing the children grow emotionally – and learn what true love is – is more powerful than any bumps in the road along the way.

If you are interested in mentoring a child, donating time or items, or becoming a foster parent, please contact me at Merrilu.Bennett@fumch.org. It is an honor and privilege to work with these children and to share their stories. We welcome all volunteers who want to make a difference in their young lives.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in mentoring or fostering in other areas of Florida, please visit www.fosteringflorida.com to find a local fostering agency. 

The “Stranger Danger” Message Must Go

Guest post by Jeff Griesemer, President and CEO of Child Rescue Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, abduction, and victimization. www.ChildRescueNetwork.org. 

holding hands“Stranger Danger,” a phrase once believed to save children, is now thought to do more harm than good. The daunting expression was first spoken with the best of intentions more than 30 years ago and parents were terrified their children could be abducted at any moment.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 93 percent of children who are victimized actually know their abuser! By putting the focus on “strangers,” children are actually MORE susceptible to silently endure abuse from those they already know and trust. Instead of scaring children into silence, let’s help kids make safe, positive, self-esteem building decisions whether they are dealing with a cunning stranger or responding to a familiar face. Empowerment, not fear is the answer.

We must teach our kids how to recognize potentially dangerous situations and provide them with specific action plans on how to react if the need arises. We must also stress the critical importance of instilling a sense of confidence in our kids and give them an understanding and respect for personal boundaries.

Some basic tips to teach your kids:

  1. Don’t keep secrets: If an adult or older child asks your child to keep a secret, your child should say, “No, I don’t keep secrets from mom and dad.” That simple statement can actually stop a predator in his tracks as they often use secrets to test the boundaries of a child they are “grooming” for possible abuse.
  2. Family code word: At some point you may have to have someone pick up your child, as in the case of an emergency. By having a “family code word” you can empower your child to make the right decision. They simply keep their distance and ask for the code word. If the person knows the word, your child can feel safe knowing you sent the person. If that person doesn’t know the code word, your child should run to a safe place and tell a trusted adult. 
  3. If Lost, Play the Freeze Game: Have an action plan for those inevitable moments when you and your child may get separated, say in a crowded mall or theme park. Your child should simply stop, stay put and never go anywhere with anyone! As the parent, you should simply retrace your steps and you should find them quickly. This plan also eliminates the need for your child to try to determine who is good and who might be a threat. It doesn’t matter. If someone offers to help, your child should say, “I’m playing the Freeze Game until my mom and dad get back. Can you stay with me?”
  4. Alert others around them: Take the lost scenario one step further and teach your kids that if someone does ever try to force them to go somewhere to yell, “This is not my daddy, HELP!” A crying or even screaming child can be misinterpreted as a tantrum, but a child yelling for help will trigger a reaction from anyone nearby. 

You can discover more specific action plans you can teach your child to help protect them from sexual predators at www.ChildRescueNetwork.org