For many students, back to school means a new backpack, fresh school supplies, and a new pair of shoes for an after-school sport. But for some children-including those in foster care-such new items are often inaccessible.
That's why the Marland Children's Home in Ponca City, Oklahoma, established a Wishing Well Fund. Kay Electric Cooperative's K-UP Foundation donated $2,500 to create the fund which will provide local kids with these necessities and opportunities they might not otherwise have.
"These kids have lost so much already; we want to do everything we can to make their lives as normal as possible", Marland Children's Home Director of Development Allyson Broome says. "We want them to be able to participate in extracurricular activities; it helps them to grow social skills to be part of a team and learn to work together. We don't want to take that away too because they can't afford the extras."
The Marland Children's Home has been serving children and families in northcentral Oklahoma since 1928. It was founded as the American Legion Children's Home, a home for orphans of veterans. Former Oklahoma Gov. E.W. Marland donated use of 100 acres of land, which was later deeded to the Marland Children's Home. At times there were as many as 200 children residing in the campus' dormitory-style housing.
Over time, the needs of local children have changed. In 2018, the Marland Children's Home redefined their mission as, “Bringing children together with nurturing families.” They achieve this by recruiting, training, and providing ongoing support to foster families.
“There is a huge need in our area for foster care. When we made the change, there were 260 kids in Kay County in foster care, and two-thirds of them were living outside of Kay County. It’s still an issue, but we’ve made big gains,” CEO Jamie Phillips says.
Phillips says it’s important for kids who must be removed from their homes to retain as much stability as possible; enabling them to stay in their own communities, in their schools, with their friends helps with that.
Nationwide best practices in foster care have also transitioned away from group living to children residing in homes with families. Now, Marland Children’s Home is innovating as they create single family homes on the property. These homes provide families with a built-in support network.
“It’s really important for us to have a community atmosphere so foster parents don’t feel like they’re doing it alone,” Phillips says. “It gives them the support of neighbors and us here to help them out. If they have a question, need to vent, or are not sure how to handle a situation, there are lots of people with experience that can give feedback.”
The single family housing model also allows siblings to stay together.
“We are passionate about keeping kids together with their siblings,” Phillips says.
According to Broome, the Marland Children’s Home serves about 20 children every month. Over the past 18 months, since changing its focus to foster care, they have certified 12 new foster care families and served 60 children, including 16 sets of siblings.
Not all of these families live on the Marland Children’s Home campus.
“They don’t have to live here, but we invite them to become part of our community and come to our events. We have camps, a playground, a gymnasium and social activities,” Phillips says.
Though the mission has changed over the 92 year history of the Marland Children’s Home, the heart behind it remains the same.
“I feel like what we’re doing really fulfills E.W. Marland’s vision to care for children, by making sure we have a safe home for them when they don’t have a family to care for them,” Phillips concludes.
To support the Marland Children’s Home or to learn more about their mission, visit their website: www.marlandchildrenshome.com.