Abused and abandoned kids find a place to call home thanks to help from Georgia District Key Clubbers.
Story by Julie Saetre
People often think 1950s families lived like the happy characters in classic TV shows. But a group of Georgia sheriffs in that decade saw a much different reality. Far too many young people across the state were being abused, neglected and abandoned, and the officers wanted to help.
In 1960, they opened the first Georgia Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch to serve as a place of shelter, security and stability for some of those kids in need. Today—thanks in large part to the Georgia District of Key Club International—five Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes (GSYH) provide housing and support for kids ages six and older. Since 1988, the Georgia District has raised around US$1 million to help those Homes, which now reach out to both boys and girls.
Most recently, in 2014, the Georgia District pledged to donate $120,000 by 2019 to build a new education center (with a computer lab and gym) at the MountainView Youth Home in Chatsworth, Georgia. This year, Key Clubbers hope to raise $20,000 toward the cause. To make that sum less intimidating, the Georgia District Board developed the My High-Five initiative.
“If every (Georgia District) Key Club member donates $5, we will accomplish our goal,” says Minyoung Kim, immediate past lieutenant governor for the district’s Division 14. “Most teenagers spend more than $5 a day, whether that’s for their morning coffee or to go to their school’s football game. But if they put that money toward the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes, they can truly impact their own communities by sacrificing their morning coffee just once.”
That impact is significant. The average resident lives in one of the Youth Homes for 12 to 18 months, but others need a more permanent haven.
“Some stay for eight to 10 years,” says Shaun Eilders, GSYH’s director of child care. “This is the only home they’ll ever know.”
In each Youth Homes location, students share spacious cottages with “house parents.” Each campus includes medical, dental and mental health services, and children attend the public school system.
“We’re trying to create as much of a typical nuclear-family situation as possible,” Eilders explains. “A lot of our children experience a lot of firsts in our program, including running water and assurance that electricity will always be there.”
Kids also enjoy the fun of summer camp, amusement parks, sporting events and other activities that many young people take for granted—including the opportunity to serve.
During a visit to the MountainView Youth Home, Kim and other Georgia District representatives met teens who lived there.
“It was incredible how I could help other students, just like me, so they could receive adequate education and a living condition to prosper in life,” Kim says. “We even persuaded all of them to join Key Club.”
Most critically, Youth Home residents learn that their turbulent pasts don’t need to control their futures.
“The generation after that child will be changed,” Eilders says. “They’ll break the cycle. They’ll get married, have children, own their own homes. These children’s children will never know the need for a Youth Home.”