By Mike Pound
The little girl with the dark curly hair looked up from her coloring book when I walked into the room, and greeted me with a loud “Hi!” and a big smile.
I liked both the “Hi” and the smile.
The young boy sitting next to the little girl didn’t say anything. He was too busy concentrating on a coloring project of his own to stop and chat.
I didn’t know what was going on in the lives of that little girl or that young boy that brought them to Children’s Haven, and really, I didn’t want to know. What I wanted to know was if the kids were safe and if they were happy. The fact that they were at Children’s Haven told me they were safe. As for happy, all I could do was go by what I saw, and what I saw was two happy kids.
Children’s Haven of Southwest Missouri is a private, not-for-profit organization that provides a safe, temporary home for kids, from birth through the age of 17, whose families are going through some sort of crisis. The sorts of things that bring a child to Children’s Haven include homelessness, unsafe living conditions, and lack of utilities or food. Sometimes the crisis could be a medical one, with parents temporarily unable to care for their children or with parents seeking mental health or substance abuse treatment.
Stephanie Theis is the executive director of Children’s Haven. She said the organization serves about 450 children a year. The average stay for a child is seven nights, but some children may stay only one night and others may stay 30 nights. There is no minimum or maximum.
While a child is staying at Children’s Haven, the goal is bringing a certain amount of stability to the child’s life. That means getting a school-age child to and from school. That means getting that child to normal extracurricular activities. That may mean getting a child to soccer practice or a dance recital.
“We want them to have that eight hours of stability,” Stephanie said.
To do that, Children’s Haven needs reliable transportation, and on Wednesday morning, the nice folks at Empire District Electric Co. handed Stephanie the keys to a nearly new van.
Brent Baker is the director of customer service for Empire. He said reaching out to community organizations such as Children’s Haven is something that Empire and its employees have done for decades.
“We’re excited that our people volunteer their time and support local agencies that do such great work,” he said.
The idea to donate the van came from David Russell, who handles transportation issues for Empire. David’s first contact with Children’s Haven came when he and a group of other Empire employees volunteered there during the annual United Way Day of Caring.
David was so impressed with the work done on behalf of children that when the van became available, he immediately thought of Children’s Haven.
In May, Children’s Haven hopes to move into a new building currently under construction on the lot next to the current home. Stephanie said the new building will double Children’s Haven’s capacity, which makes Empire’s gift even more important
“We will definitely need more transportation,” she said. “I’m in awe (of the unexpected donation), and I’m very excited.”
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