New children’s home unveiled, will help address Chatham’s foster needs

BY D. LARS DOLDER, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/4/20

SILER CITY — Ebenezer Christian Children’s Home, a non-profit organization that operates residential child-care facilities, has unveiled a new children’s home called Grace Haven, the …

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New children’s home unveiled, will help address Chatham’s foster needs

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SILER CITY — Ebenezer Christian Children’s Home, a non-profit organization that operates residential child-care facilities, has unveiled a new children’s home called Grace Haven, the organization’s first in Chatham County.

The 9,000-square-foot facility, located at 500 Crestmont Dr., sits on 53 acres and is licensed to serve up to nine children at a time, overseen by at least two staff members. The former Methodist campgrounds include a pond, a play area and an outdoor chapel.

The home is ECCH founder and Executive Director Jean Davis’ seventh project. Since 1994, she has operated six facilities in Wilkes County, where she lives. As of this year, ECCH has served 587 children through its residential program.

Since 2012, the organization has also licensed several foster families. More than 255 children have been placed in these homes, resulting in 63 adoptions so far.

“It is humbling to see how God has used Ebenezer, this group of people, to show his love to over 800 children,” Davis said. “It is not just a number; each child has a story — their own strengths and needs — and we get to plant the seeds of love that will hopefully change the trajectory of their lives.”

Davis conceived of the Grace Haven project in 2016. To raise funds, she approached Neal Jackson, the senior pastor of Beulah Baptist Church in Robbins, whom Davis had helped to adopt twin boys two years earlier.

Jackson was not immediately thrilled with the idea.

“I thought, ‘That’s nice, that’s sweet,’” Jackson said. “Basically, we’ll see what happens.”

But Davis was determined to secure funds for a new home in Chatham County, where she had identified a substantial need in the foster care system.

“Then she had a stroke ...” Jackson said. “Most people having accomplished what she had already accomplished — (six) homes up there in Wilkesboro — would have said, ‘No, I’m good. I’m done. I don’t need another challenge in my life.’ But not Jean; she called me back. She said, ‘Hey, you still up for doing that children’s home?’”

Jackson was so impressed with Davis’ zeal and commitment that he volunteered to assist in raising the bulk of the project’s renovation funds. Within four weeks, Jackson’s congregation had raised more than $220,000.

“While the supporters are too many to mention by name,” said Davis, who has since recovered from her stroke, “we do want to recognize one church in particular that spearheaded the fundraising for this massive project. Beulah Baptist Church in Robbins played an integral part throughout the process.”

After securing the land and building — about 10 minutes north of downtown Siler City — renovations commenced immediately.

“We had to start from scratch,” Davis said, “totally renovating the structure from the ground up to ensure all aspects of the home met the strict state standards for homes for children in foster care.”

ECCH anticipated the home would open in May 2018. But after some delays in construction, the project was further set back with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

“That messed up our plans a bit,” Davis said, “but we kept plugging along.”

Despite opening more than two years behind schedule, the home arrived at a fortuitous time to help Chatham County’s Social Services accommodate a rising need.

“Honestly, their case loads are just totally overwhelming,” Jackson said.

Chatham County has had between 13 and 20 licensed foster families at any given time over the last five years. It currently has 18, according to Cim Brailer, family services program administrator for the Chatham County Department of Social Services.

“Given that we averaged 113 children in foster care over the last fiscal year,” she said, “this is not enough to meet all of the needs.”

The county has intensified efforts to recruit new families into the program, but its efforts have barely managed to keep up with the churn in the system.

“We are losing families at the same rate or higher than we are able to recruit, train and license new families,” Brailer said.

Also, while the shortage of foster parents remains almost constant, more children enter the program each year.

“The challenge is that the increased demand as more children have entered foster care has outpaced the rate at which we are able to license new families,” Brailer said.

In fiscal years 2015 to 2017, Chatham County averaged 72 foster children per month. The number started rising in 2018 with an average of 86 per month, then 97 per month in 2019, before arriving at 113 this year.

“Although there is no one reason that accounts for the increase over the past few years, parental substance abuse has been the most frequent factor leading to children entering foster care,” Brailer said. “When we looked at cases over a two-year period, almost 80% of the cases that eventually led to petitions of custody involved some type of substance abuse … Due to the complexity of these issues and the time involved in appropriately treating them, the number of children and youth coming into foster care is simply much greater than the number exiting over the same period of time.”

When a child is displaced from his or her parents, the county department of social services first tries to establish housing arrangements among close family members. When that strategy fails, organizations like ECCH do their best to pick up the slack. Ultimately, if no available beds are to be found, DSS must coordinate with other counties to place children in available foster homes beyond Chatham.

“Some kids are hard to place,” Jackson said, “so they can place them here until they find foster homes, or they can stay here until adulthood if necessary.”

Grace Haven is still undergoing some final touches. Davis hopes the pond will have a dock soon from which the children can fish or launch boats. A basketball court is also under construction, and the chapel needs some final touches, but the main building is operable and ready to receive children.

“We’ll probably have kids in here next week,” Jackson said.

Davis is excited to open her doors. ECCH is not just a boarding house, she emphasized. It provides a loving and stable environment in which disadvantaged children can start new lives.

“It is our goal to provide total care for the children we serve,” Davis said. “We are not only providing a bed and meals, but working to meet the child’s individual needs physically, mentally, academically, emotionally and spiritually.”

Grace Haven’s operating expenses are covered by state and county funding, but donations are always welcomed. For more information on Ebenezer or to learn how you can contribute, call (336) 667-LOVE (5683). To learn about becoming a foster parent with Chatham DSS, call (919) 542-2759 or email safeplace2grow@chathamnc.org.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com.

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