By Debbonnaire Kovacs, May 11, 2016

The last time you read of Harris Home for Children, (HHC)  in Huntsville, Alabama, was clear back in January of 2013. I thought perhaps it was time for an update, called to talk to Director Antonio McGinnis, and learned that HHC is, in fact, in need of help right now.

HHC’s mission is to “provide the highest level of foster care, therapeutic care, and educational services to help the children of Alabama achieve their maximum potential.” It’s been doing so since 1954—62 years. From the beginning, HHC staff did all they could for abused, neglected, and abandoned kids. In 1957 the home was incorporated, in 1960 licensed by the state of Alabama, and the following year, 1961, became a United Way of Madison County partner agency.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of young people between the ages of 12 and 21 have passed through those doors in more than half a century. In general, kids are at HHC because of some crisis at home, and the first goal for HHC as well as the county and state is to try to resolve issues and return them to their families. When that isn’t possible, they used to try to place the young people in foster homes, and they still do that when they can, but placing teenagers, particularly ones whose background may have left them scarred and vulnerable to the label “difficult,” is not easy. As McGinnis told me, in that case, young people are left to state custody under the Department of Human Resources, and HHC functions as a large foster home itself, where the staff do their best to provide the kind of services that will nurture the young people where they are.

“We try to be sure they’re growing and maturing in such a way that when they do…graduate, if you will…from care, they’re prepared,” McGinnis said. “We try to make sure they have a high school diploma and are in college or working.”

I asked about the upper age limit of 21, finding it surprising that care does not end at 18. McGinnis said some young people have left at 18 and then come back. “At 21 they’re not really ready to be on their own.” Some, he said, will still come back occasionally to “report in” on what’s happening in their lives and how they are doing.

At the moment, HHC has 28 adolescents, four away from being at full capacity. With that many people, you can imagine that there are issues, including stress on aging infrastructure. They have been saving to do some upgrades for some time, but, McGinnis reported, “In an incident a month ago, one of the kids triggered the sprinkler alarm.”

Worse, the damage wasn’t discovered until it had created a flood.

“This pushed us over the top to get some makeover done,” said McGinnis.

HHC began a capital campaign they are calling “100 Churches Supporting the Harris Home for Children in 2016.” The goal is to find 100 churches who are willing to make HHC one of their mission projects, and ultimately to raise $100,000. Proceeds will repair facilities, help with day-to-day needs (even meals), and also upgrade technology and provide an on-campus duplex for older residents who currently live off campus.

They began with a Fundraiser Kickoff breakfast, at which they raised $25,000, and the campaign will go on throughout the year. HHC asks for your help not only financially and in prayer support, but also, McGinnis says, they always need non-perishable food and personal hygiene items.

In the 100 Churches flyer, I found these words: “These children are OUR children, they belong to our community! They need your help!” On the face of it, this appeal is directed to Alabama, and especially to Huntsville, but I submit that all children are our children, no matter where they live. Go to the HHC website to learn much more, see photos, and find opportunities to help.