North Texas Daily

Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home near campus lifts children up after hard times

Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home near campus lifts children up after hard times

Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home near campus lifts children up after hard times
August 24
14:00 2018

Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home hides in plain sight about five minutes southeast of UNT’s campus. The nonprofit facility, which houses children and teens, as well as single-parent families in need, has been in Denton since 1932.

Katie Klein serves as chaplain, volunteer coordinator, Gifts in Kind coordinator, activities coordinator and staff development coordinator. During her four years working at Cumberland, she has become more aware of the circumstances that impact other people’s lives. 

“It allows me to be more empathetic to others in the world,” Klein said. “We all have a story that is sacred to be shared and honored.”

Cumberland has three counselors on hand to support residents who deal with a variety of different struggles.

“[Things such as] history of violence and substance abuse, cycles of systematic poverty, major life traumas or events [can lead to housing at Cumberland],” Klein said.

A substantial aspect of the assistance at Cumberland is spirituality. The home provides spiritual guidance as part of their counseling.

“We are ecumenical, celebrating each person’s sacred worth and spirituality,” Klein said. “This allows us to be more diverse and at the same time unified.”

A helping hand

The staff plays an important part in these children’s lives. Because of this, they must have experience in the field and go through specialized training.

“[Staff goes through] 58 hours of pre-service plus on-going yearly training in the areas of trauma, strength-based philosophy and more,” Klein said.

Minors who live in Cumberland often have no adult influence in their lives to teach them things that other people their age are typically taught at home prior to their arrival. Mary Dickerman, Cumberland’s director of development, acknowledges the importance of establishing these skills for the kids’ future independence.

“We do a lot of life skills teaching in the beginning,” Dickerman said. “Of course, as they are getting to be 16, we help them get a job. We are teaching them to show up, [that they] can’t no-call, no-show and [to] dress appropriately. [They also learn] how to use the bus line — for a lot of them, that is exactly what they will be doing. Financial information — that is a huge one, [along with] budgeting. All of the basics that you could think of.”

The atmosphere at Cumberland makes it feel like home to the children and families there, which is something the staff strives for.

“Their day looks just like any other youth’s,” Klein said. “We try to do ‘normal’ as best as we can.”

In addition to the staff, Dickerman emphasizes how much of an influence volunteers can be on Cumberland residents. Groups and organizations visit and help with gardening and mentoring, as well as completing mission work.

“We take for granted that we have people who are good role models around us, and you would be really surprised what 15 minutes can do — just sheer presence can make a difference,” Dickerman said.

Because the facility runs mostly on donations, it values in-kind donations and services such as hairstyling from those that want to help.

“It is just as important to do things like that [not only] for the children but also for our budget, for what I call the ‘everyday fund,'” Dickerman said. “All of that symbiotically working together to help the mission in so many ways.”

University help

Cumberland is in close proximity to both UNT and Texas Woman’s University. This has made it possible for the children there to spend time with college students and be exposed to those who are furthering their education.

“College students hanging around is a big deal,” Dickerman said. “It really shows them, ‘Hey, you are not that different than me.'”

Sophomore Scotlyn Ogle volunteered with the on-campus organization Her Campus and held an event to get kids at Cumberland to start thinking about college.

“It was really important to us because sometimes kids go through what they have, don’t think [college] is an option,” Ogle said. “A lot of them got really excited about it, which made us excited to talk about it.”

Ogle and the other participants played games with them and handed out prizes as a way to further engage the kids.

“So many of them came up and told us how happy they were to see us,” Ogle said. “It was a really cool opportunity to share.”

Some of the kids got a first-hand experience at UNT when they teamed up with Dr. Jacqueline Vickery, a professor in the Department of Media Arts, for five weeks to learn video production.

“Last year her department had our kids go over there, and her students taught them how to make a video and [they] made one,” Dickerman said. “[The video could be about] their story in a nutshell. One of them did the storyboarding, one of them actually wanted to do the green screen process — they did an amazing job. I could not believe it.”

Making the videos with Dr. Vickery inspired the kids and left them believing that they could also attend the university and be successful. The experience gave them the opportunity to express themselves, too.

“The themes [of the videos] were a lot of the time what it is like to be a foster child [and] people’s misperceptions and what they want them to perceive them as — what it is really like,” Dickerman said.

Reinforcing the possibilities available to the children and being surrounded by encouraging figures is a vital part of  them moving past the negative exeriences they have had.

“We need positive role models,” Klein said. “It takes more good people to help others heal from traumas.”

Dickerman’s job consists of fundraising and personally communicating to possible donors to help raise money for Cumberland, which can present itself as a large responsibility.

“As stressful as it is to think about, ‘I have got to raise enough money to keep this going,’ I love it,” Dickerman said. “It is so fulfilling to know that I’m making a difference in kids’ lives that really need a lot of help.”

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Nikki Johnson-Bolden

Nikki Johnson-Bolden

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