Embrace Alabama Kids doesn’t only share the love of Jesus with foster children and families throughout the state, but they make sure they feel safe. And then build on that.
“The individuals we serve have been put in
unfortunate situations, mostly caused by people who should have loved them,” said Rebecca Morris, the non-profit’s senior VP of External Affairs. “We are always looking to take down barriers for our kids, always looking for the next step – for what they’re going to accomplish next. We are a ministry that takes care of people from cradle to college.”
Embrace Alabama Kids, headquartered in Montgomery, is a non-profit, faith-based organization dedicated to serving vulnerable children and families in crisis across the state of Alabama. They also serve Northwest Florida as the founding ministry of Embrace Florida Kids.
Formerly the United Methodist Children’s Home, the non-profit realized its Alabama ministry had outgrown its name, and the ministry’s name was changed in 2021 to “Embrace Alabama Kids” to better reflect who they are and what they do.
“We have a vast amount of services including group homes,” Morris said. “No matter where they come from, there have been some challenging years. Our boys and girls group homes, they are 24/7. The dedication of our staff that cares for kids at that level is inspiring to me.
“Everything we do in Alabama, we do in the Florida Panhandle.”
Embrace Alabama Kids have residential homes in Mobile and Dothan – homes for children to stay without their parents. In the Andalusia area, children are placed with foster families.
“The foster kids know our social workers,” Morris said. “They work hard to build relationships with the foster kids, and be an extra resource for the parents, from taking them to the doctor if the parent has a conflict, even helping install car seats. They are continually working with the family.”
In Montgomery, there is Mary Ellen’s Hearth, a ministry near downtown whose mission it is to help women with children regain independence.
“Through this program, they help families obtain stability through housing, education and one-on-one care,” Morris said. “Our ultimate goal is to help them transition to an independent and safe environment where both mothers and their children are able to live out successful, purpose-filled lives.
“In addition to providing women with resources that empower them to move past the adversity they face, we also help them heal by surrounding them with God’s love. The staff at Mary Ellen’s Hearth is amazingly connected with community resources and they work extremely hard to connect the ladies according to their needs. Mentoring, spiritual development and life skills are also provided by the staff and others. We want our ladies to grow in all aspects of their life, especially so they can encounter God daily.
“That is a much-needed ministry in the River Region. We’re not a ‘shelter.’ We know there’s a need for a shelter, but this is more about teaching the family, the mother, new life skills in order to become independent.”
Those served at Mary Ellen’s Hearth are homeless women and children who have found themselves without proper housing and care as a result of one or more of the following: poverty, domestic violence, addiction, or simply minimal relational or financial resources.
The staff offers instruction on life skills, financial literacy, parenting, cooking, and nutrition, while providing the basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and a spiritual foundation. The families can stay for up to two years, allowing mothers to find employment, save money, and pay off debt.
Further north in Birmingham, and also north Alabama, there are foster care programs, including therapeutic foster care for children who have a medical or behavioral need. Embrace Alabama Kids has families specially trained to care for those children.
In Tuscaloosa and Florence, there are two college homes for students pursuing four-year degrees.
“The college homes are providing a much-needed ministry to college youth who find themselves with the ability to succeed in their academics at college, but need more wrap-around support than their peers who come from a more stable living environment,” Morris said. “This ministry started eight years ago, and we are finding great success in the outcomes. We’ve had numerous college graduates and some have gone on to obtain their master’s degree.
“This ministry is working, and we are investing in a new home on UNA campus so we can reach more college youth who need this support.”
Morris never knows what her day will look like.
Calls come in from pregnant teenage girls looking for shelter, and also a church asking what items they can decorate tables with that she could bring back to foster families.
Then there are the mission trips the teens have taken to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New Orleans.
“It’s amazing to see our teens from various parts of the state and different ministries grow in their faith and relationships with one another,” Morris said. “Our kids love doing things like this with kids they can relate to. Even though we call it a mission trip, there’s three days of fun and three days of work.
“I went on the New York (trip). We flew, and most of our kids have never been out of their county. One night we were in a soup kitchen, and someone dropped a bunch of dried beans. I thought everybody thought it was funny. But when we were debriefing, one of the young ladies said, ‘When we dropped those beans, it just made me realize that that’s somebody’s food who’s not getting it. And I know what it’s like to be hungry.’”
Embrace Alabama Kids helps up to 2,000 individuals every year.
“We usually get the kids who are severely abused or neglected,” Morris said. “They could be in their third foster care situation. We’re getting some more of the difficult cases. In my opinion, our group homes are well suited for the teens who find themselves unable to live with their mom, dad, or a relative. Most teenagers do not want to ‘be placed’ in someone’s home with a mom or dad. Our staff work hard to form bonds and connections with the youth in the home, and it usually works.”
When individuals, foundations, civic groups, and churches support Embrace Alabama Kids, it enables them to help provide a home, but also healing and hope.
“We’re not just doing the basics,” Morris said. “Our kids are not in care because of their decisions, it’s because the adults in their lives have made horrible decisions. They do not know what it means to be nurtured, to know they are a priority, and we want to change that. We will invest in them, love them, and hopefully help them build a sense of trust.
“We are so thankful when people want to donate items for our youth, but just like your kids, they want to go shopping, they want to be like other teens, do the normal things such as getting ice cream, going to dinner, going on a trip.”
Asked how the community can volunteer or donate to the ministry, Morris said finances are priority.
“Additionally, I like for people to know we strive to keep things consistent and stable for our youth,” Morris said. “We also find it important to respect the home environment of our kids by limiting who comes in the home. It’s so important for our youth to see the same people caring for them day in and day out.
“We know they have their social workers, counselors, and doctors who are important in their care, but we strive to make a lasting connection. Volunteers are important but we have to get creative as to the best way to connect with our ministry. Our kids have many people who have been in and out of their lives, and we want to eliminate that inconsistency. Therefore, most of the volunteering is helping with the ministry, which directly contributes to the care of our kids.
“I love working with individuals, or foundations or churches that want to hone their support into something. For example, if we had someone call and say every Friday night they had pizza as a family, and they want to provide a foster family or a group home with a pizza once a month, we can do that.
“We want the kids to know they are a valuable child of God. And that’s why the community should care.”
Embrace Alabama Kids
Kym Klass is a contributing writer and Communications Director of the Media Ministry at Frazer Church in Montgomery.