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.
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.