I moved to Huntsville, Alabama a little over a year ago. As I began to get my feet wet in the community, opening my eyes and ears for various ways to serve, I found myself in awe of all this city has to offer.
There are countless nonprofit, social service, do-gooder organizations in this small, but big city. I was overwhelmed! I tried out a few tutoring gigs at some after school programs. Those were great, but I had a hard time showing up consistently which hindered building relationships with the kids. I thought about serving at a soup kitchen or venturing down to “Tent City,” the well-known homeless community in our area. I thought about volunteering at an animal shelter, but that wouldn’t work since I’d probably try to take all the animals home. Nothing seemed to fit.
Though I was eager to find my place, I tried to be patient because I knew one would fit.
One was all it took.
About 8 months after I began searching for my place to serve, I found it. Harris Home for Children, a foster home and child placement agency, was the answer to my prayer of finding a way to make a difference.
The way I stumbled upon Harris Home was really quite providential (but isn’t everything?). As long as I can remember I have had a burning passion for orphans, adoption and foster children. One night, I simply decided to google “orphanages in Huntsville.” (Side note: it doesn’t seem they are really called orphanages anymore. Group home is the better term.) Harris Home for Children was the first site that popped up. I clicked on it, read a bit of their site, saw they had a Facebook page, liked it, looked for some volunteer opportunities, etc. Approximately five minutes later, a sweet friend of mine, that knew me well and knew my heart’s desires, sent me a text.
“Hey! I saw you liked Harris Home on Facebook. I was in Connect (a local leadership class) with Tony McGinnis, the Executive Director. He’s a really impressive guy. I could introduce you guys via e-mail if you want?”
She sent us both an e-mail making the introduction. Tony invited me to come take a tour and talk about volunteer opportunities. I came, I toured, I fell in love. I sat across from Tony at his conference table and told him about my desires to help, asking what their biggest need was. He told me I could be as involved or uninvolved as I’d like. Either he was extremely desperate for help, or saw the sincerity in my eyes and took a chance on a random girl, but he told me there were also some opportunities available to serve on their Board of Directors.
I now serve as the Secretary of the Board, as the Chairman of the Resource Development Committee and as a mentor to some of the girls on the campus. I am elbow deep in work for that organization and I could not be happier.
Harris Home for Children was founded in 1954 by one couple, George and Chessie Harris. Chessie, the ring leader of the start of the organization, began by taking in one homeless, hungry child. Eventually they started coming in by the dozens, and at one point, the Harris’ house was so full that she had to create a crib out of a trunk for one of the babies. Taking in one child led to caring for over 1200 children, of all ages and ethnicities, during her 34 years of service operating Harris Home.
She simply started with one child. Starting with one began a legacy that has lasted 60 years.
Harris Home for Children, now located off Church Street in North Huntsville, is home to 20 children. The number changes all the time as kids come and go. These children come to Harris Home by appointment from the Department of Human Resources and have often been neglected and/or abused. The mission of the organization is to create a safe, healthy environment for these children to grow and thrive in. Harris Home provides therapeutic care and educational services, all while giving these kids a roof over their heads. Though they cannot take children right off the streets yet — they can only provide care for the kids that are placed with them by DHR — it is a future goal to be able to provide a place for those children as well.
I have fallen in love with the kids, who range in age from 12 to 20. Every time I am in their presence I have the inexplicable desire to wrap each and every one of them in a bear hug. Which I often do. They are sports fanatics, artists, writers, music lovers, students, athletes. They are kids. But they are kids that have been robbed of a childhood. In their short lives of 13 years or 17 years they have seen more, experienced more and hurt more than an average child.
While I have been fortunate enough to interact with every child on some level, I have had the extreme blessing to work closely with one girl in particular. She is smart, sweet, and feisty.
She is also way too knowledgeable of the ugly and wickedness of this world.
When we get together, I spend my time encouraging her, motivating her and doing my best to be like a big sister to her. I always prepare my heart for these meetings with her, wondering how I can get through to her that she is a child of God and worth so much more than what she believes. And every time I leave our meetings I am in awe of the things she teaches me. She teaches me about love, about loyalty, about trust.
This whole time I’ve been trying to figure out how I can make a difference in the life of a teenager and she’s been making just as big of a difference in mine.
When I ask her to name the people that care about her and she looks me in the eyes and says, “well I know that you do,” my heart swells. That is when I know I’ve found my niche. And even though I wish I could mentor each and every child under that roof, it simply starts with one.
So I urge you: find your place to serve. Pray for the Lord to show you where He wants you to share your gifts, your love and your heart. Set out to make a difference in at least one person’s life, because one is all it takes.
[Editor’s note: If you would like to get involved with the Harris Home for Children, check out WayFM‘s Live (service) Out sign up. On June 21st, volunteers will be helping to do yard work and other cleaning projects on the Harris Home campus.]
[Featured image courtesy of Derek Daniel]