By Jessica Connor
COLUMBIA — Thanks to generous hearts and a little elbow grease, families in transition are one step closer to new living space at Epworth Children's Home.
In May, a mission team from First United Methodist Church, Isle of Palms, headed to Epworth to fully refurbish a spacious cottage where mothers and their children will live together. Called the Midlands Family Care Center, the effort is a partnership among Epworth, the S.C. Department of Social Services, the Lexington Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council and S.C. Health and Human Services. It will enable mothers who are struggling with addiction to have a safe and drug-free place to live with their children while they get clean and get their lives in order.
They don t have to be separated, said the Rev. John Holler, Epworth president. They can get their treatment and can live together here on campus.
July 1 is the target open date for the pilot program, which will house five mothers and eight children. Eventually, when the full building is refurbished, it will be able to house up to 12 mothers and 24 children.
The building where these families will live was in rough shape “ that is, until the First UMC team came for their semi-annual work trip. Armed with painting materials, hammers, caulk and a plethora of other construction materials, the team of 20 missioners spent seven days fixing up the cottage and turning it into a true home.
This is where we need to be, said Mary Chason, First member who coordinated the trip, noting her Lowcountry church feels a special kinship for the children of Epworth. The work they do for Epworth is not part of the church budget; they raise 100 percent of the funds themselves and have a passion for helping Epworth.
We came not just to ˜do a project, said Cal Lipscomb, another First member helping onsite the day the Advocate visited. We won t give up on this until it s done.
The mothers and children will share communal living space “ one big common room, a kitchen and a housemother, with an individual bedroom for each mother right across the hall from her children, plus a separate bathroom for each family.
Holler said the families will stay at the Midlands Family Care Center six months, focusing heavily on job training toward the end of their six-month stay. Then they will transition to community housing as Stage Two of their recovery.
It s a new model of care for Epworth, Holler said. If it works here, then (social services) will replicate it throughout the state.
This is going to change life for generations to come, said Chason, who said First members are extremely excited about the chance to help launch the Midlands Family Care Center.
A similar care center in York is the other pilot project in this state.
Mitzie Schafer, Epworth director of development, said the team from First donated thousands of dollars in labor, plus all the materials and supplies, to make the care center possible. Epworth is exceedingly grateful for First s continued generosity, she said.
They re a pretty amazing group of people, Schafer said.