When UMCH began expanding its programs in Northwest Florida, “Embrace Florida Kids” seemed like the perfect name for the growing ministry. After all, the United Methodist Children’s Home has been wrapping its arms around children in need of homes, healing and hope in Alabama and Northwest Florida for nearly 130 years.
“The name and the logo are changing, but our focus remains the same, and our ministry will function the same,” said Kristin Alberda, Executive Director of Embrace Florida Kids. “In response to God’s Word, we’ll continue embracing and nurturing vulnerable children and families by providing homes, healing and hope.”
In Northwest Florida, that means providing foster homes, group homes, family preservation services, and support for the growing number of vulnerable children and families. “We work with hundreds of children and their families on any given day,” Alberda said. The kids we serve are victims of choices made by adults in their lives. Too often, they have endured unthinkable childhoods through no fault of their own.”
“While we would love to see fewer children needing to be placed in foster care, we know our services will continue to be needed next week, next month and next year,” says Charlotte Thomas,
Director of Programs for Embrace Florida Kids. “Knowing this, we really strive to build effective programs because some kids may not need us right now but they will certainly need us in the
future – we want to be ready to give them the best care and support possible,” Thomas adds.
Here’s a look at how Embrace Florida Kids provides homes, healing and hope:
- EMBRACE FOSTER CARE. With an office in Pace, the Embrace Foster Care staff recruits, trains, licenses, supports and retains foster families to provide temporary homes for abused, neglected or abandoned children and youth. In 2018, the ministry provided 15,121 days of care to 116 kids in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. The average number of families is about 30, but this number is expected to grow to meet an ever-increasing demand.
- EMBRACE MILTON GIRLS HOME. Embrace Milton Girls Home provides 24/7 care to girls ages 12-18, who have experienced significant trauma. Last year, 2,469 days of care were provided for a total of 18 girls.
- EMBRACE FAMILY PRESERVATION. The Embrace Family Preservation program aims to keep families together by helping parents who have lost or are at risk of losing their children. The intensive in-home treatment provides them with the necessary skills to handle challenges in a healthy way and provide safe, loving homes. The agency works with up to 28 families at a time. The program has a 95 percent success rate with no recurrence of abuse. In 2018, UMCH served 389 individuals in 92 families.
- EMBRACE TEEN CENTER. The center serves youth who have been impacted by the foster care system and their caregivers. Services include tutoring, study skills training, interview training and assistance with job applications and resumes. Students also participate in enrichment and social activities. Caregivers have access to a clothes closet, supply room and food pantry to help offset expenses. Last year, 29 teens were empowered at the center.
“Our programs are life-changing,” Alberda said. “There is nothing more rewarding than watching the children and youth in our care begin to heal. When kids have a loving home, regular meals, structure, and a safe place to rest, they begin to blossom. The transformation is not overnight but it’s a joy to watch it unfold.”