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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




The New COMPACT

By John W. Kennedy
July 13, 2014

Dan and Cindy Fredrickson are in the kitchen for their usual Saturday morning routine of making the family breakfast. Some of the children in the household help with the preparations.

Pancakes, sausage and bacon cook on griddles. Fruit is sliced, juice poured, plates set. While a few of the kids eagerly assist, others don’t get involved. One girl is obsessively texting on her iPod; another is slow to respond to repeated promptings from other children to get out of bed.

While this is a similar scenario for many large families at weekend mealtimes, the Fredricksons are hardly a typical dad and mom. They are the houseparents of Wilmoth Cottage at Hillcrest Children’s Home in Hot Springs, Ark.

Dan and Cindy are in charge of seven high school-aged girls. This Saturday morning custom provides structure and a sense of security for displaced youths who may be struggling with attachment and abandonment issues.

The Fredricksons are two of the 35 employees under the umbrella of what is now called COMPACT (Compassion in Action) Family Services. The Hillcrest Children’s Home part of the Assemblies of God Family Services Agency provides care to abused and neglected children in age- and gender-based housing on a 65-acre campus.

Like many staff members, the Fredricksons answered what might appear to be an unlikely call from the Lord to a city of 35,000 in the Ouachita Mountains.

Dan had been a project manager for The Home Depot in northern Minnesota. Cindy was a paraprofessional working with autistic children in elementary schools.

Both had thriving careers, but Dan lost his job in a 2012 company downsizing. The couple subsequently examined their lifestyle, which included living in a four-bedroom house on 37 acres.

“God gave us the word to simplify,” Cindy says. “We had a big garage sale.”

Beyond reducing material possessions, Dan and Cindy say the Lord directed them to Hillcrest two years ago. They had plenty of experience caring for foster children, as well as their now-grown three children who were home-schooled.

“God spoke to us clearly about the Parable of the Treasure,” Cindy says. “We sold our dream home and our possessions to find the true treasure here. We have great joy.”

Not that there aren’t challenges, foremost being the lengthy days. Dan, 57, and Cindy, 53, can be drained by the end of the evening.

They are full-time parents around the clock, six days in a row, until getting three consecutive days off. On weekdays during the school year, Dan and Cindy often are up by 5:30 a.m., yet not in bed until nearly midnight. Quite frequently one of the girls wants to stay up to talk after others have retired.

And so Dan and Cindy are re-energized by their mission. While houseparenting may be a difficult ministry for people to engage in for the long haul, it seems a perfect match for sacrificial empty nesters such as the Fredricksons. Dan is good-natured and gregarious, yet protective. Cindy is attentive to details and nurturing, but firm.

While they look forward to their regular three days of rest, much of that time customarily is spent thinking about how they can better help the girls. Because they have self-contained living quarters in the cottage, the Fredricksons can come and go undisturbed while not on duty.

When they are working, their days are full. They make breakfast for the girls, hold devotions, distribute medications, and transport the children to and from public school. After an evening meal in the dining hall, the Fredricksons oversee chores and homework (on new iMacs purchased with Title I funds). They go to home games of the girls involved in sports. Wednesday evening means youth group, and Sunday morning and evening the whole crew attends Hot Springs First Assembly of God worship services.

Summer isn’t much of a breather. Dan supervises maintenance for a couple of horses children are allowed to ride on the grounds. Weekly, the girls go to a local water slide park, thanks to the generosity of a donor. The campus also includes a ball field, indoor swimming pool, and gymnasium.


TRANSITION TIME

COMPACT Executive Director Jay Mooney spends much of his time traveling around the country to raise consciousness — and finances — for the ministry.

Currently, 97 percent of all revenue comes from private donors. Mooney is grateful the institution has no debt, but wary that there isn’t a sufficient savings cushion.

Foster care and adoption have changed significantly since Hillcrest began 70 years ago. Mooney — a learned, energetic and passionate leader — knows COMPACT must adapt to changing times in order to fulfill its mission. The ministry is in a transitional phase, going national in scope. Although there will be more regulations and responsibilities, Mooney believes COMPACT must work with the state, where three-fourths of placements originate.

Mooney arrived in 2012, after serving seven years as director of AG National Youth Ministries in Springfield, Mo. Despite his soft-spoken and polite Southern manner, Mooney exudes an intensity that ensures problems will be resolved. It’s apparent Mooney has the respect of his staff as he interacts with them. He isn’t a distant boss.

Mooney wants COMPACT to be at the forefront of foster group home care. Group homes are still needed, Mooney says, for large sibling groups, as well as for kids who may have special behavioral issues. In traditional foster care, siblings might end up living in separate homes. Some cottage homes on campus will strategically serve displaced sibling groups, Mooney says.

Seven residential buildings could be filled by working with the state on such a plan, Mooney says, because no other entity in Arkansas is so equipped to fill the need. But first comes financial matters. More staff members are needed if there are to be more children to receive care. And more workers can’t be hired without more funds.

The other chief factor in transitioning involves galvanizing individual families for caregiving.

“The state looks forward to us deploying the unique agency-based community foster care plan we have been developing with our ministry partner, FaithBridge,” Mooney says.

Mooney believes COMPACT, working with FaithBridge Foster Care based in metro Atlanta, can model a leading national role in local churches responding to needs of foster children in their community (see Pentecostal Evangel, April 21, 2013, p. 20). By the end of the year, Mooney expects COMPACT, in partnership with FaithBridge, to have implemented foster care services in Arkansas, Georgia and Florida.

But for now, the task primarily is to redeem children at the Hillcrest site. Social services are available in the administration building, and kids can meet with a counselor, caseworker and staff nurse.

Will Ford, 34, is one of four case managers on campus. He handles anywhere from nine to 15 cases concurrently, seeing each child during weekly individual sessions. He also supervises on-site family visits and goes to court frequently.

Ford has been a caseworker for nearly three years. He and his wife, Keri, came to Hillcrest as houseparents in 2009. The couple are raising four children, the oldest of whom is 5 years old.

Because most of the children living on site don’t have a father active in their lives, Ford knows that part of his job is to be a healthy role model.

“They need to see how a male treats his wife with respect,” Ford says. “Many have a twisted perspective of love.”

While couples such as the Fredricksons are indispensible, so are “relief parents.”

Dale and Christine Schaffner fit that role. They move into a spare separate bedroom of a cottage for three consecutive days to give parents who have worked six straight days a breather. They also are available to fill in during an illness or emergency.

Dale and Christine moved to Hillcrest from Oregon last November. Dale, an ordained AG minister, has a well-rounded background for the task. He has been a pastor, hospital chaplain, foster parent, intensive case manager and therapist for mentally ill adults, and drug and alcohol counselor for adolescents.

The Schaffners welcomed the opportunity to serve at Hillcrest as a way to simplify their lives after their youngest of three children graduated from high school. Dale says he is impressed with the amount of training the couple received upon joining the staff.

“COMPACT is committed to nurturing these kids and giving them the care, support and love they may not have had before,” Dale says. “The goal is to give the kids as much normalcy in a family unit as possible.”

That can be a tall order if a child has been removed from a home because of physical or sexual abuse. In addition to the bodily or emotional pain a boy or girl may suffer, there also is the trauma of being removed from the family of origin. Some kids are in survival mode when they arrive.


TRANSITIONAL LIVING

When a child in foster care turns 18, many struggle with the transition to independence. Of the 30,000 who age out of the nation’s foster care system annually, research shows that up to 70 percent end up homeless or incarcerated; less than 4 percent ever earn a college degree.

But a recently implemented COMPACT program is trying to better prepare Hillcrest residents for adulthood. There are two dozen units in the Transitional Living Center, an independent dormitory. Residents must be enrolled in college or in a career development plan. They can stay up to four years.

Brian Chaffin has been living on campus for six years. When he aged out at 18 two years ago, he moved into the TLC.

Chaffin says he had attended 17 schools by the time he reached seventh grade. He was placed in foster care to escape a home life of drug addiction and abuse.

Soon after he arrived at Hillcrest, at age 14, Brian accepted Jesus as his Savior. Even if he didn’t care for all the rules of the children’s home, he welcomed the stable routine.

“I preferred the safety of here to the chaos of my ow n home,” Chaffin says. “I didn’t have to worry about why the police were storming the house, why somebody was demanding money, why we had to move again, or where my next meal was coming from.”

Whereas his evenings had been filled with watching television and playing video games before, at Hillcrest Chaffin began doing homework. He started playing guitar and placed first in the state Fine Arts Festival sponsored by the Assemblies of God. He now teaches guitar lessons at First AG in Hot Springs.

Next year Chaffin will earn an associate’s degree from a community college. Tuition is assisted by the E.E. Murry scholarship for students aging out of Hillcrest in the TLC program. Chaffin is sales manager at a local Pier 1 Imports store, and he has started a homemade soaps and bath products business on the side.

Chaffin also learns financial responsibility at the TLC. He pays $80 a month rent, but the money is deposited into an account that will be returned to him when he ventures out on his own.

“I’m doing what normal people do,” Chaffin says. “I have a grasp on what I need to take care of, and I have a lot to look forward to. I didn’t have a future without Hillcrest. I couldn’t have gone to college.”


HIGHLANDS

Another branch of COMPACT is Highlands Maternity Home, which relocated to Hot Springs from Kansas City, Mo., in 2006.

Highlands Director Ashley Grant notes the agency still handles adoptions, but not nearly as many as in the past because many girls are apt to keep their babies.

“We’re transitioning with the change in culture that doesn’t see a stigma to being young and pregnant anymore,” says Grant, 25. “Some high schools even have day care centers.”

For most of Highlands’ history the home served unwed teen mothers during their pregnancy and delivery. With the need for a traditional maternity home gone, Highlands has begun catering to pregnant teens in foster care or state custody. Rather than dismissing the mother four weeks after giving birth, Highlands now allows the girl to stay a year to learn hands-on parenting. Up to 20 residents can stay in the beautiful two-story brick building. Yet, as with Hillcrest, Highlands continues to serve traditional private placement needs.

Expectant single mothers receive prenatal care and Christian counseling while living at the maternity home. Highlands covers housing, clothing, food, and medical costs of the young women when they dwell there.

While living at Highlands, the girls, depending on their age, must find a job, complete their General Educational Development tests, or enroll in college. After their stay, Highlands residents have the option of moving into the TLC.

Even though he has been at the COMPACT helm just over two years, Mooney already has overseen a remarkable change in the organization.

“At the time I started I didn’t see all the future possibilities,” Mooney says. “There are times when God asks us to follow Him in things we don’t understand. The understanding followed obedience. All children in need should receive the loving compassion of Jesus Christ.”


 

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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