NORMAL. A WORD EVERYONE understands, and yet most find it difficult to agree on its meaning. My favorite definition is “the usual, average or typical state or condition.” I can assure you that what was normal for me growing up as the oldest of two in the suburbs of Houston, Texas was not normal for my husband, the only son and youngest of four on a farm in North Georgia. Our children’s experiences as missionary kids crisscrossing the northern and southern hemispheres add a completely different flavor of “normal” to our family. However, there are several elements common to our individual childhoods that are strikingly similar. We each grew up with parents lovingly committed not only to one another but to the success of the family as a whole. We both attended church regularly with our families where we were taught through lessons and actions of the tremendous love of God and His care for the most intimate aspects of our lives. Our distinct families shared an important common denominator, a love for God and respect for the principles laid out in the Bible regarding family life.
At STCH Ministries Homes for Children, we strive to create that same type of normal for every child. Dr. Greg Huskey, Vice President of Homes for Children (HFC) clarifies, “We want to create an environment that allows children to enjoy a ‘normal’ faith-based family.” Which means a family-like experience complete with both a mother and a father who care and take an active interest in the lives of their kids. The eleven cottages on our Boothe Campus form an inclusive neighborhood where friendships are developed and lives are shared. Church attendance, public school and extra-curricular activities are all regular, even normal parts of life. The nuts and bolts of living are also included: chores, homework, doctor visits, dental care…even college and preparation for life as an adult are provided.
Children come to Homes for Children from both private placements as well as through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services for a variety of reasons. For many of them, the healthy, stable family-like experience provided by the houseparents is completely foreign. And that makes creating normalcy a high priority for our houseparents and the HFC staff. Beginning with their first moments in a cottage, children are given a bedroom to share with another child and are shown where they can store their personal items – a space to begin to belong. Life inside the cottages revolves around family; family meals, family chores, family outings, family devotions and even family vacations. Birthdays and Christmas are intentionally celebrated with parties and gifts for each child in each cottage.
Kelsey and Mary Motes have been houseparents for almost five years at Love Cottage. Theirs is an all-girl home where the ages range from 16 years to ten months old.
Kelsey tells me that their blended family of eleven – six cottage girls and the three Motes’ children “Live, love, laugh and cry as a family.” Just like any other family, Kelsey and Mary move at full speed keeping up with the busy girls.
This school year, five of the girls played volleyball followed immediately by basketball season. The Christmas holidays brought a bit of a break – just a bit – as there were still Driver’s Ed classes and monitoring the mandatory drive time with a parent to keep up with. Second semester has them gearing up for track and field which will keep them running through the end of the school year. A couple of the young ladies are also involved in singing and math competitions as well as Career Development Events through the FFA Chapter at school. And, these are the activities at just one cottage on campus! The beauty of the closely knit community is demonstrated through the housepops taking turns taxiing kids from home to school to ballfield and back home.
Kelsey takes care of the project animals barn on Boothe Campus. FFA and 4H provide excellent, even therapeutic opportunities for the children. Participating in stock shows allows HFC young people to experience healthy commitment, sometimes for the very first time in their lives. Raising project animals provides the possibility to take on the responsibility of caring for something beyond themselves; it also allows them to build meaningful relationships in a wider community than they have previously been exposed to. Bringing the national 4H format to Boothe Campus by chartering the STCH Ministries 4H Club this year enables Kelsey to shepherd the progress of both the students and their animals closely. For many, taking the risk of committing to the needs of an animal is a chance for healing to begin in their own hearts and lives. This year, 4H’ers participated in the Beeville Junior Livestock Show and will be showing a goat and a lamb at both the San Antonio and Houston Livestock Show and Rodoes.
In the life of a believer, God is present in each aspect of every day. When you look for them, you can find His fingerprints everywhere. Houseparents and staff are diligent to identify those godly markers in order to bring them to the attention of young hearts unused to His tender mercies. Kelsey remarks,
“Biblical topics always seem to come up and we discuss those with the girls. Often, we’ll help them look it up in Scripture to prepare and talk about what they learned.”
The Love Cottage household worships together on Sundays at First Baptist Church, Kenedy, and during the week through bible studies and activities on campus. Joel Bowden, Director of Student Ministries, describes his position as identical to any student minister at a local church except his kids are always around. And, like any minister to youth, Joel wears many hats: Bible study leader, hunting guide, Awanas coordinator, swimming pool life guard, counselor, dodge ball referee, confidant and event planner to name a few. In addition to weekly Bible education for all ages, Joel organizes the social calendar and coordinates the numerous church groups who participate in special events with our kids.
Support of our residents does not end with their high school graduation. Scholars work with staff to plan for college or trade school while they explore their career interests. Scholarships are provided to each graduate who qualify, making it possible for success in their future. Throughout the course of higher education, transitional apartments on campus are available during school breaks – although many opt to spend the weekend with their houseparents in the cottages…just like normal college students across the country.
Life on Boothe Campus is rich and full. That does not mean that it is without difficulty. Counselors, caseworkers, and houseparents conscientiously work day in and day out helping each child to process and understand their past while equipping them to be successful in the future. Maintaining normal, faith-based families empowers our purpose of healing hearts and sharing hope permitting us to witness the beauty of God changing their stories day by day.