What makes these two ladies stand out from the rest is the calling that was placed in their hearts many years ago.
Williams and McKinney are house parents at the Free Will Baptist Children’s Home in Eldridge. The home has provided for more than 850 children since its opening in 1947 and remains a staple in the little town today.
“It’s pretty much what any parent would do raising their kids, pretty routine,” said McKinney, who has worked at the FWBCH for the past 24 years. “We just have more kids than most.”
Currently, 21 kids are living at the children’s home and range in ages from 12 to 17, although kids are allowed to live at the home from age 5 (if they’re registered in school) to 18. Workers at the FWBCH also converted the director’s cottage into three separate apartments known as the bridge house.
“We were finding that as the kids were graduating, they still didn’t necessarily know what they wanted to do and a lot of times they didn’t have a place to go to,” said Williams, who has worked at the home for almost eight years. “One of the visions was to provide them a place. ... So, if they graduate and have no place to go but they want to work or go to Bevill State here, they have a place to still call home yet still have some kind of supervision.”
According to its website, www.fwbhome.org, “Children are directed to the Home by parents, family members, friends, pastors, court officials or child care professionals. Our children come from homes broken by separation, divorce, neglect, family crisis, substance and/or physical abuse.”
It’s more than just a safe haven or a temporary home, it’s a Christian ministry with family morals and values where the kids are given a chance to learn about the love of Jesus. Children are referred to the FWBCH for numerous reasons other than troubled family circumstances; for example, if a grandparent has custody of a child but they are not financially stable to provide for the child at that given time, then that child may be referred to the children’s home.
The women agree that at times it can be hectic and stressful, but it’s all a part of their 24-hour, 7-days a week, “calling.”
“You really have to want to spend your life working with kids,” McKinney said. “It’s not at all like a job you go work eight hours a day and come home and you’re done. It’s all the time, and you don’t always know what you’re doing from one day to the next. We have to be very flexible.”
“It’s not just a job; we believe it’s a calling because it is a full-time ministry with these children. You’ve got to have a lot of patience and ask the Lord’s help for mercy and grace every day,” Williams added with a laugh.
Williams is originally from Michigan and has been married to her husband, Dick, for 32 years. Both of them are professional educators who live on the campus and work with the home’s young boys. They have one son who lives in Tennessee and two grandsons. McKinney moved from Russellville when she was 27 to work at the home in Eldridge, knowing that she was meant to work with children in some way. She is the FWBCH senior house parent and is officially the relief parent, but she is currently serving as the girls’ house parent.
The children’s home is ran solely on private donations that it receives from various outlets throughout the year, such as churches, the annual Toy Run, businesses, etc. One church group came and provided a makeover of the cottages. The cottages (two girls and two boys) are cozy and consist of different bedrooms that fit each child’s personality.
For example, the girls’ cottage contains six renovated bedrooms upstairs and three bathrooms. Down the hallway on the lower level is an apartment complete with a living room, bedroom and bathroom for the house parent(s), along with a common area and kitchen.
When asked to describe the home in a few words, Williams said the children’s home is a home for “children who need a safe, loving place to come to. Our ultimate objective when they come here is to lead them to the Lord. That’s the biggest part of our ministry that we can minister to not only their physical needs but their emotional and spiritual needs as well.
“ ... That’s our main goal, and in the process, giving them a family-like atmosphere. We got a great bunch of kids.”