Imagine this scenario: you are 12 years old and almost 2,000 miles away from the only home you've ever known. All you want is to be reunited with the family for whom you've traveled to the United States. To aid children like you, UCC-related Bethany Children's Home in Womelsdorf, Pa., is providing shelter, resources and services to reunite you with your family.
Thanks to a three-year grant from the federal government, Bethany Children's Home has begun "Helping Hands," a program to help migrant children and youth — many of whom are victims of human trafficking or escapees of dangerous environments — reunite with their families already in the United States.
When they arrive at Bethany, the children have traveled from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, escorted to the U.S. border either by family friends or by individuals paid a fee by the family. The children cross the border unaccompanied, and arrive "with just the shirts on their backs," said Kevin Snyder, Bethany's CEO. "They need everything: shoes, jacket, shirts, pants, socks and underwear, for which they are so appreciative."
Bethany receives $75 per child for clothing — which only covers the cost of the shoes and jacket — and makes up the difference to supply the children with all of the clothing they need. Once the children arrive safely, it's Bethany's job "to locate and reunify the families within a 30-day period," Snyder said.
"Bethany's mission has always been to provide a safe place of nurture, protection, and support to children in need," Snyder added. "This new program meets the goals and mission of Bethany in every way."
Bethany Children's Home is already familiar with helping migrant children. Five years ago, it received a one-year grant, and successfully reunited 188 children with their families. The new three-year grant will enable Bethany to reunite "many more children and youth with their families," said Snyder.
As part of the Helping Hands program, Bethany is hiring some 111 people to serve the children — everything from youth workers, supervisors and clinicians to cooks and administrative help. As they work to reunite the migrant children with their families, staff provides on-site classroom education, healthcare, socialization and recreation, mental health services, and case management services.
"This program is very important to our local community because it will provide 111 new jobs, which will have a positive economic impact on the community," Snyder said.
But more than that is the sense of accomplishment the staff feels whenever a family is reunited.
"What is happening on our southern border is the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Civil War, when Bethany Children's Home was born," said Snyder. "Bethany is proud to be able to help these children in desperate need of care to find their families and reunite them. Our staff will tell you it's one of the most gratifying things they've ever been involved with."