A success story for children - Martha Carr

There is a pervasive attitude in the media that once a child has reached the 'tween years their patterns are pretty much set for life. If the kid has taken a troubled turn, then more bad is most likely to follow.

Best not to get involved with such a thankless job.

Fortunately, the national statistics don't support that theory. According to CORE, www.residentialeducation.org, a national children's organization, 78.5 percent of children who age out of children's homes in this country go on to college. That's well above the national average.

Now, take into consideration the well respected 2004 Pew report, which found that children, with the same background, who age out of foster care, had less than a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school and would have some periods of unemployment and homelessness in their lives.

The difference between those two statistics isn't the child, it's the type of wrap-around and consistent care children receive in greater numbers.

The report also found that in many states a child who ended up at a residential education facility, (think boarding school with special services) had already failed out of foster care. In Illinois, the findings showed a child was rejected nine times in foster care before coming to a children's home. Nine families had said they couldn't deal with this kid, and yet, when they arrived at a campus, their odds of going to college suddenly floated upwards.

This is the best-kept secret of something we're doing well in this country. It's even better in these hard economic times, because most homes rely completely on donations from corporations and individuals. No taxpayer bailouts.

Imagine finding out there's already something that can help nearly 600,000 U.S. children in need that's working and costs the taxpayers less than foster care.

The kink in the system has always been how to spread the information to others who might want to start a children's home in their area. However, there's a children's home just outside of Dallas that wants to bridge that gap.

Happy Hill Farm Academy, which was founded in 1975 by Ed Shipman and serves 120 children, has opened the T. Boone Pickens Guest Lodge and Training Center on their campus in Granbury, Texas, just outside of Dallas. Their story was chronicled in my last book, "A Place to Call Home," along with a variety of other successful homes in America.

"We want to share the concept that makes us successful," said Ed. "I would go to a CORE meeting and there'd be four or five people there that were dreaming of doing something for kids. They often wanted to come and visit the campus."

Ed Shipman has always been the sort to approach a need as if a solution already exists as long as he's willing to work for it. The idea of creating the first place that can pass on accumulated wisdom as well as the practical points of a very complicated and exhausting project while continuing to serve their children became his next mission.

Children all across the country may end up being the beneficiary, now that the program is a reality and more people are coming to Granbury to learn how they can be a part of the solution, too.

"We have a lot of inquiries," said Ed. Applicants are screened to make sure they are serious about the commitment before they come to the home. So far, there have been over fifty visitors with three who have started the process and one in New Jersey that is well on its way to opening. "People come for a week or a month, and we work with them to teach them everything we know," he said.

The commitment from both sides is substantial, but the payoff is all of the young lives that are transformed.

Just like many other homes, Happy Hill receives 97 percent of its money from corporate and private donations. Due to the economic times, the home recently opened its school to day students, and some foreign children, in order to be able to keep serving as many children as possible. Their hope is to eventually help serve 250 students on the campus, and send them all off to college and a fulfilling life. More information on how to get involved is available at www.happyhillfarm.org, and in "A Place to Call Home."

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.