Once-suffering kids thrive under care at Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter

The Nancy K. Perry Children's Shelter has been home to kids big and small for the last 41 years.

The Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter has been home to kids big and small for the last 41 years. (photo by Rachel Ham)

The secondhand furniture that sits in the office of Jarrell Smith at the Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter has a few nicks and dents. But that didn’t stop the shelter’s namesake and co-founder from seeing its potential and reclaiming it from the trash pile one day.

As Smith fondly remembers, the penny-pinching, but caring, spirit of Perry is what made the temporary home for abused and neglected children the safe haven it still is today. The executive director tells the story of running errands with Perry the afternoon she saw the gently-used furniture being hauled to the curb. Wanting to save money so more funds could be directed to the kids at the shelter, she wasted no time grabbing up the usable pieces.

“She’s the reason the shelter came to be,” Smith said. “She just loved the kids and could get things done.”

The mission of the shelter continues to be what Perry and Lexington County Sheriff James Metts envisioned 41 years ago when they fought to open it. Taking in those who have been cast aside and showing them love, the staff are dedicated to providing a sanctuary for children no matter their circumstance.

“They can stay as long as they need,” Smith agreed. “We are here to be a shelter and a home.”

Children from birth on up to teens are welcome at the Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter. Through Department of Social Services placement, the facility is open to kids who have been abused, neglected, abandoned or otherwise exploited. About 50 children pass through each year, some staying for a few weeks while others are able to remain there for more than a year. The shelter often gets large sibling groups, too, as DSS can’t always place a full family in a smaller foster home.

Although each child has his or her own story, the shelter’s staff do their best to make everyone feel a part of the family unit. Fourteen children is the limit for the facility, and the dinner table does get crowded some evenings – but never too full that everyone can’t fit. Smith agreed that incorporating aspects of normal family life such as eating together is key to bringing children out of their shell and getting them to trust again, especially if they were abused.

“Our goal is to have them leave in a better situation them when they came in and to be closer to recovery,” he added. “We want them to know someone cares for them.”

During his tenure as executive director, which began in 2002, Smith has seen his share of suffering children. Not all have known how to respond to the affectionate nature of the staff, but Smith said he knows all have been shown what a loving family looks like.

Described by Smith as the “stars of the show”, houseparents Roscoe and Jean Moore just marked their ninth year of being mother, father, teacher and confidant to children at the shelter. Days of caring for an ever-changing group can be tiring, but they wouldn’t trade those hours of watching cartoons and helping with homework for anything.

“We saw this as another opportunity to serve children after years of ministry,” Roscoe Moore said. “When you live with them, there are more chances to model the Gospel.”

Having a listening ear when a child is ready to talk about their past is a part of the the routine just as is preparing lunch and picking older kids up from school. Moore said it can be tough to see a child upset when he or she returns to the shelter from a home visit, but he always tries to point out the positives.

“We try to give them a different outlook on the situation,” he added.

After some time, even a child taken from the worst environment can be taught about better decision making, friendliness and sociability through role modeling and honest discussions.

“When they come home from school and share what happened, they tell us how they handled a bad situation differently this time,” Moore said. “That’s when we make a difference.”

Believing that each child deserves a place of his own, the Moores and the rest of the shelter’s staff worked with donors (local civic clubs and churches) to create kid-friendly rooms. From jungle to princess to sports, the 2-person spaces have a separate theme, and children are given a choice of which to stay in whenever possible.

“We try to give them something they’ll enjoy,” Moore said. “We want this to be the best possible experience and be a home away from home.”

When it’s time to leave, some children go to a foster or group home, others are placed with a family considering adoption, and a few go back to their relatives. But they all carry their time at the Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter with them. Moore said he often has former shelter kids stop him at school to catch up, and the staff also keeps in touch with several who call to say hello.

“The Moores have really been dedicated, and Jean works wonders with the children,” Smith said.

The shelter receives its funding from Lexington County and donors. To remind people just how important the facility is in the area, Smith writes a personal letter each January to share updates and occasionally stories from children who lived at the shelter at one time or another. His request is simple each time: make whatever contribution you can to make a real difference in the life of a child.

One 14-year-old girl in particular summed up well what donors are helping to fund each year.

“I found out the true meaning of love the minute I walked in the doors,” she recalled. “If any child should be in a situation where he needs to be removed from home … the Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter is the best place.”

For more information on getting involved as a donor or volunteer for the Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter, call 359-8595.

Check back with ColaDaily for information about upcoming fundraisers for the shelter. 

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