Legacy of hope

ACH new Wichita campus

ACH celebrates century of preserving families

One hundred years ago, a small group of women who did not yet have the right to vote or hold public office came together from five Fort Worth churches with a shared purpose.

To provide shelter and safety for orphans and impoverished women, they formed the Women’s Cooperative Home, later called All Church Home for Children and now known as ACH Child and Family Services.

In 1915, their first year, they served 30 women and 11 children. A century later, the nonprofit organization had grown to serve nearly 30,000 people in 2014 with education and outreach services, and 3,400 more with assessments, counseling and referrals. Almost 3,000 additional children were served through residential group and therapeutic care services, foster care and adoption.

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Dedicated to helping youth and families overcome such difficulties as divorce, financial instability, addiction and homelessness, ACH today focuses on preventing child abuse and neglect and family separation.

“The issues and difficulties children and families face have changed over the years but our goal is still to provide stability and hope to those in need,” said Chief Executive Officer Wayne Carson. Carson, certified as a licensed child care administrator, came to ACH 25 years ago as a house parent to teenage boys. He has been at the agency’s helm since 2000.

“One thing we’re really proud of is that through 100 years our mission has stayed the same: protecting children and preserving families. Everything we do here is based on that. It is our commitment to continue that mission of strengthening families for the next 100 years and beyond,” he said.

The agency recently kicked off a year-long series of events, fundraisers and celebrations to mark its 100th year.

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The need for ACH services keeps rising, Carson said. Tarrant County now leads the state in confirmed cases of child abuse, with 6,097 victims in 2014. Additionally, up to 2,000 Tarrant County youth are homeless or without a safe living environment at any given time. Abused and neglected children are more likely to drop out of school, experience homelessness, become pregnant at a young age or enter the criminal justice system.

“They need to know they’re safe here,” Carson said.

With a staff of 250 employees and a 2015 budget of $40 million, ACH works to combat family and youth problems through 15 programs for prevention, intervention and treatment. It provides the only emergency shelter for homeless and runaway youth in Tarrant County as well as a supervised independent living program for young adults ages 18 to 22 who are aging out of foster care and for homeless young adults.

“ACH is integral to improving lives and futures in North Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. “No matter what they are facing, children and families across our area can turn to ACH for both immediate solutions and long-term assistance. Because ACH creates a more stable family foundation, ACH helps build a stronger community.”

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Building for the future

Another major change for ACH Child and Family Services over the decades has been the expansion of its facilities.

It now has offices in Benbrook, Arlington, Cleburne and Mineral Wells and operates three campuses: a 6.7-acre site on Summit Avenue, which houses the teen shelter and the agency’s behavioral care and emergency youth shelter programs; a 10-acre Wedgwood property in south Fort Worth comprising six group homes; and its newest campus, located at 3600 Wichita St. in southeast Fort Worth.

In 2005, the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas closed its 200-acre wooded campus, which had opened in 1899 and evolved into the Masonic Home and School of Texas. The Masons sold the property in 2006 to local developer Michael Mallick and a partner. In 2008, Mallick and his wife, Valerie, donated the 19.5-acre core campus on Wichita Street, including eight buildings, to ACH.

“My wife and I selected ACH because of its long-standing commitment to the community. ACH’s move into the neighborhood will positively impact an area of Fort Worth that is experiencing a renaissance of much-needed retail services and new housing,” Mallick told the Business Press in 2009.

ACH launched a $12 million historic renovation project to upgrade the existing dormitories, administration facilities, classrooms and chapel, and relocated to the Wichita Street Campus in 2010. The refurbished Julie and Glenn Davidson Family Chapel is the site of ACH’s wedding and reception business, Belltower Chapel & Garden. It hosted 150 weddings last year, generating $600,000 in revenue, which pays for operation of the building.

The agency completed and opened the Paul E. Andrews Family Welcome Center in 2011 and opened the repurposed former superintendent’s home as the Tillar Home in March. The building houses an additional six young women as part of ACH’s transitional living program.

Thanks to a $100,000 gift from the Junior League of Fort Worth, ACH has begun building a new emergency shelter for 20 teens on the Wichita Campus. The Summit Avenue property is on the market and ACH will use the proceeds from the sale to complete the shelter as well as to build a new group home on the Wedgwood Campus. The behavioral care program also will be relocated to Wedgwood.

Reshaping foster care

Recently, ACH Child and Family Services took on its most ambitious project.

Since 2011, Carson has been a pivotal player in a landmark initiative by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to overhaul the statewide foster care system.

Under Carson’s leadership, ACH spent three years evaluating best practices from across the nation and developing new technologies and innovations to improve the delivery of foster care to children in North Texas.

In 2013, the state agency selected ACH to implement and oversee a $35 million, three-year Foster Care Redesign project in a seven-county region made up of Erath, Hood, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell and Tarrant. As part of the contract, ACH formed a national advisory panel to share best practices with the North Texas foster care community.

“It’s one of the biggest initiatives ACH has ever undertaken and a huge initiative the state of Texas has done in the world of foster care. There’s never been one point person before to speak for these kids,” Carson said.

ACH established a new division, Our Community Our Kids, in 2013 to ensure the delivery and quality of regional foster care through a network of 40 providers, including Child Protective Services staff members, child placement agencies, health care providers, educators, child advocacy centers and government agencies.

Carson said the shift from the old state-run system, where providers worked alone in silos, to a new community-based model where providers work together is a boon to foster care not just in North Texas but across the state.

“It’s a very different way for the state to do business. I think it’s exciting because it gives us, ACH and our partner foster care providers more local control. This project allows us to meet locally and make decisions about how we can take care of kids in our own communities,” he said.

“We’re able to address such issues as kids being placed into foster care outside their communities, siblings being separated and kids being bounced around too often in foster care. We’ve had children from Tarrant County have to be placed in Austin or Houston, separated from their families. And other kiddos who’ve gone through four or five foster homes. We can now take care of those issues closer to home,” Carson added.

On Sept. 1, Our Community Our Kids began overseeing all emergency placement of children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. The initial outcomes are positive, according to Carson. To date, more than 1,300 children are in the program.

“We feel very fortunate to be in such a great community that cares about these kids and their families. That spurs us on to continue to find ways we can help,” Carson said. “We’re always looking at the needs of kids in the community and how ACH can help them. We’re always looking at what we can do. If anyone else can do it better, we want to help them to do that. The spirit of collaboration in this community is fantastic.”

A Year of Celebration

April 7 – Lend a Hand, Omni Hotel Fort Worth

An advocacy event marking Child Abuse & Neglect Awareness Month, to raise awareness about the issue of child abuse and neglect and to encourage people to get involved in the solution.

April 23 – Volunteer Appreciation Reception, Lutz Hall, Summit Campus

May 17 – 100th Anniversary Silver Tea, Lutz Hall, Summit Campus

The first Silver Tea was a fundraiser for All Church Home in 1927. To celebrate its centennial and mark Foster Care Awareness Month, ACH is reviving the event to honor its heritage and look to its future.

July* — Behavioral Care Dedication

August* — Superhero Parade & Emergency Youth Shelter Dedication, Wichita Street Campus

September* — Women’s Auxiliary Silver Tea

Oct. 3-4 – ACH Alumni Reunion, Wichita Street Campus

Nov. 4 – Hoot ‘n’ Holler, Bass Performance Hall

ACH’s annual fundraiser will include a cocktail reception and dinner on stage.

Dec. 8 – ACH Annual Meeting, A Year in Review

*dates to be determined