August 29 was a momentous day for the emerging Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing of Epworth Children’s Home – but what happened less than 24 hours earlier made hearts swell and brought tears to more than a few eyes of those gathered in Summerville.
Thursday’s public launch of the institute’s Charleston Mission Outpost and Hub – right next door to Bethany United Methodist Church – marked Epworth’s first expansion beyond Columbia to provide services in other areas of the state.
On Wednesday, though, the fledgling outpost placed two siblings into a foster home – the first of what Epworth hopes will be dozens more by the end of the year. Fifteen families already are in the process of qualifying to be foster homes through the new program.
“I was blessed to be part of that placement; it’s a beautiful thing,” said McBee Zimmerman, director of foster care and adoptions at Epworth’s Charleston Hub. “They were brought home to their community of origin; they were able to be re-enrolled in the daycare they had been originally attending, back to a school where people know them, and they are doing well.
“That is why we are here, to recruit more foster families. I would like, at the end of the day, to have more foster homes than children waiting on homes, but that’s a big job.”
Epworth has set a goal of having certified 25 foster homes in the Charleston area by the end of the year, Zimmerman said, and 15 families already are moving through the certification process.
The Rev. John Holler, Epworth’s president and CEO, said keeping children with people who will love them and take good care of them is “what we do.”
“Everybody here is a part of that,” Rev. Holler said. “Your prayers, your thoughts, your energy – all the things you do beyond what we’re doing here today to help make South Carolina a place where children are welcomed and loved, and to make sure they feel extra, extra special.
“As we say at Epworth, we want every child to feel that he or she is a miraculous part of God’s creation. That’s our charter, and that’s our work.”
The Rev. Narcie Jeter, associate pastor at Bethany UMC, blessed the new offices – a renovated house donated by the church – by anointing it with oil made of frankincense and myrrh.
“Holy and gracious God, protect all who enter these doors, give them the freedom to share, laugh, play and learn,” Rev. Jeter said in her blessing. “Help those that enter feel instantly safe here. May this house be a refuge, no matter the storm.
“Let joy radiate from this home that people will see, know and be inspired to act. Lead people who need help and resources to this place of welcome and love.”
Epworth, a United Methodist-related ministry, works closely with the United Methodist Church and the state Department of Social Services in recruiting foster families and placing foster children.
“If you don’t want to foster, there are several things you can do to support a family in your congregation that does want to foster,” said Enid Jenkins, the DSS Lowcountry regional director. “Ringing the doorbell and bringing a casserole means a lot to a foster parent trying to provide for a child. So I want you to think about what you can do in our community.
“Our goal at DSS is to keep our children connected to their own community and to keep our children together.”
Epworth has launched the “Every Child Is a Miracle” campaign with the goal of raising $3 million for program expansion to provide services in areas of the state beyond the Columbia area.
Epworth plans to establish more mission outposts and hubs across the state, in partnership with local United Methodist churches and other agencies, to bring much-needed child and family services into local communities.
With the support of The Duke Endowment, a pilot launch of the Charleston area mission outpost began Jan. 1.