By Ansley Brackin
Communications Specialist at North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church
Young adults of the United Methodist Children’s Home have recently learned how a little style can brighten the soul. Their Independent Living Program is the top rated program in the state of Georgia. Their campus, located in Decatur, currently houses nine boys and nine girls between the ages of 17 and 21. The purpose of the program is to teach young adults how to be successful after high school. A piece of this process includes providing each person with his or her own apartment-like room within one of UMCH’s six cottages.
Until recently, the living spaces comprised of simple set-ups and neutral colors, but local non-profit Room Service Atlanta decided to provide a few cottages with a completely new makeover.
This is not an average design business. Since 2010, Room Service Atlanta has served the community by collaborating with other organizations and top local designers to provide inspiring group homes and shelters with high grade living and work spaces.
Room Service Atlanta first approached the Children’s Home in October of last year, through UMCH staff member Khalid Battle, with an offer to redesign one of their boys’ cottages. Employees and volunteers were blown away by the transformation.
As soon as the rooms were occupied, the changes in attitude and outlook were evident to the Programs’ Vice President, Terence Johnson.
“It gives them hopeful thoughts when they wake up”, he says.
These rooms have given them a greater sense of responsibility which Johnson has noticed through the incredible care the young men show in keeping their spaces clean. He believes these factors played into why the Room Service Atlanta co-founders, Dayka Robinson and Erika Ward, decided to return to the campus and redesign two more cottages.
Robinson and Ward brought in around thirty professional designers to collaborate in transforming two boys’ cottages and one girls’ cottage. Each designer was given a room redesign. These rooms included apartment style spaces (with bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen), bedroom spaces, common rooms, and a dining room. Half of the artwork used was donated by local artists, and much of the furniture came from the Children's Home's annual flea market. What has amazed people the most is the extremely unique individuality of each room.
“We are big fans of the work that Erika and Dayka have done with Room Service Atlanta,” Says Kelly Kole of Kandrac & Kole Interiors. Sharing similar aspirations with Room Service Atlanta, Kole and her partner Joann Kandrac wanted their room to influence its’ occupant to “aspire to higher achievements in life – education, a good job, and a strong spiritual foundation.”
Their nautical inspiration came from a vintage swimsuit display donated by Wendover Art. The décor exceeds their goal of a pleasant, practical space that will “last the test of time”. Kole and Kandrac most enjoyed repainting the kitchen a brilliant green. “It instantly made the tired kitchen look great again,” says Kole. Their biggest hope for their work is that it brings all who come through happy memories of United Methodist Children’s Home.
UMCH’s CEO Bob Bruder-Mattson looks forward to revealing the revamped cottages to the community and will soon schedule an open house.
“We are already the top rated program,” he says, “and now we have a top rated space to match.” Bruder-Mattson wants the public to understand the outstanding difference between their program and those similar to it. “This is a place of inward and outward transformation. We teach them important life skills; things that most people learn in their own homes. We prepare them for leaving high school and going to college,” he explains.
This spring and summer the program honored five graduates and scholarship recipients. Their success rate is astounding compared to the high risk of homelessness youth face after foster care. Past graduates are constantly visiting the campus to share their plans and success.
Kim Shrewsberry, the Independent Living Program Director has seen most of their young adults come from places with little independence and ownership. They are often referred by DFACS after having lived in as many as eight foster homes.
“This is usually the first place that they hear ‘you deserve the best and God loves you,” adds the Assistant Director of Publications and Development, Alina Crews. They come in with negative thoughts and memories, but graduate with a positive outlook on family values and independence.
Many students become Christians. The program does not force anyone into religion, but they offer many outlets for praise and worship. “It becomes a sense of community,” says Johnson, “and they eventually end up finding God in their own way.” The Independent Living Program focuses on maintaining a healthy environment to ask questions about faith. Shrewberry adds that most will say that a “redemptive spirit” lives within United Methodist Children’s Home.