Pendleton Boys Home offers hope, help, healing

Published 12:02 am Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pendleton Boys Home in Adams County offers a place where children can be alone to read a book on the front porch swing or play in a group setting.

Achieving her goal is the most heartbreaking aspect of Sonya Brown’s job.

Helping young men heal from hurts, build life skills and earn their educations means Brown will eventually have to hug them goodbye for the last time.

But until then, the staff at the Pendleton Boys Home in Natchez tries to make the house as homey as possible for the boys who live there.

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Brown, group home lead, said the home is licensed to house up to eight boys ages 12 to 15. Pendleton is a therapeutic group home of the Methodist Children’s Homes — in operation for 115 years — named for the family who donated the house to the nonprofit organization in 1992.

Judge John Hudson of the Adams County Youth Court said there was an extreme need for children’s homes locally and statewide before Methodist Children’s Homes became active. He said young people were falling through the cracks, and not much was being done about it.

“We desperately needed resources for children dealing with these issues so they could have the opportunity to live full and productive lives,” Hudson said. “There were no resources here. In the early 1990s we resolved statewide to address the needs of at-risk children, and especially teens. We were basically out there scraping to develop any resources we could to address the needs of kids here.”

Becky Dotson, CEO of Methodist Children’s Homes in Mississippi, said the Pendleton Home is probably one of the most stable homes within the organization.

Group home leader Sonya Brown helps one of the children with homework.

“They are good boys who want to turn their lives around and get back on track,” Dotson said. “And the excellent staff there is doing a great job.”

Brown said her main job is facilitating a family-like environment for the boys.

Having been an eighth- and ninth-grade educator for six years, Brown says she prefers that age group.

“With these kids, I can be direct and help them understand social skills,” Brown said. “They are changing, but they grasp what you say. If you can reach them before they are full teenagers, it works out better. I like the challenge.”

Brown said children at the home have often suffered from neglect, behavioral problems and abuse. While Brown said hearing some of the boys’ experiences devastates her, she focuses on helping them heal and become contributing members of society.

“Just when I think I’ve heard it all, they tell me something else,” Brown said. “I can’t make them forget (trauma), but I can help them cope and make the best of what’s upon them.”

Brown said the boys at Pendleton participate in weekly therapy sessions, and the staff works with therapists to continue implementing exercises throughout the week. The boys also visit a psychiatrist once a month.

Brown said the group of boys currently living at Pendleton are good kids.

“They respect and appreciate the staff here,” Brown said. “It makes you feel good about what you are doing — especially when I come in the house, and they say, ‘Hey, Ms. Sonya!’”

Brown said the home’s relationship with the community is strong, especially with the support of the courts, schools, sheriff’s office, donors and area churches.

Brown said Jefferson Street United Methodist Church and Pilgrim Baptist Church go above and beyond to support the boys.

“Jefferson Street has provided a trip to Blue Bayou Water Park, and gives them cake and ice cream on their birthdays,” Brown said. “They were recently invited on a trip to Branson, Missouri.”

Brown said the goal of Methodist Children’s Homes is to place residents in foster homes, or reunite them with family if possible.

“It’s sad on my part, but that’s the goal,” Brown said of placing children in homes outside of Pendleton. “I’m here to help them, but I have to also let them go, even though I want to take them all the way.”

Brown said a home for older boys is located in Clarksdale. She said boys attend public schools in the area, or Mill Creek Day Treatment for behavioral issues in Meadville.

Methodist Children Homes can help potential foster parents become licensed within the agency.

Dotson said since the economic downturn, a higher percentage of younger children have been taken into state custody and the foster system.

“I think the economy hurt the family so badly,” Dotson said. “People are losing jobs and feeling kind of hopeless. It’s a struggle for families now to afford to take care of kids.”

Dotson said she has worked with Methodist Children’s Homes for eight years, and while it can be a difficult job, the rewards seem endless.

“A lot of people ask me how to deal with the emotional side,” Dotson said. “When you look at kids’ promise, watch their progress and listen to their hopes and dreams, it renews your sprit to go and work as hard as you can every day for them.”

Hudson said since the opening of Pendleton, other programs have expanded as well with the ability to help that population.

“We are extremely pleased they’re here, and we are very suppor­tive,” Hudson said.

Dotson said 65 percent of the operating budget is raised through private funding and the rest is government supported.

“We do count on corporate participation, foundations, individuals and churches to help with the difference needed to fund the agency,” Dotson said.

Brown said donations are accepted year-round, but right now the boys need school clothes, accessories and supplies.

To donate financially, call the home office at 601-853-5000 or mail to P.O. Box 66, Clinton, MS, 39060, attn: Mitzi Switzer.

To donate supplies locally, call 601-442-6831.

“Maybe people don’t realize how much they can help eradicate child abuse in Mississippi,” Dotson said. “One child hurt is one too many.”