United Methodist Children’s Home board votes to sell propertyThe former United Methodist Children's Home campus in Decatur. The campus is now called Legacy Park. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
This story has been updated.
The United Methodist Children’s Home Board of Trustees voted on Jan. 17 to sell its property on South Columbia Drive in Decatur.
The organization made the announcement in a press release. The organization did not provide a list of members who voted in favor of and against the sale.
“Responding to the growing needs of the children and families it serves, on Jan. 17 the Board of Trustees of The United Methodist Children’s Home made the decision to expand and accelerate its impact across North Georgia by voting with overwhelming approval to sell its Decatur property,” the press release says.
In the press release, UMCH CEO Hal Jones said, ““We appreciate the UMCH Board’s thoughtful consideration of multiple options regarding the future of The United Methodist Children’s Home campus in Decatur. I am energized by our Board’s decision, which embraces the changing landscape in providing services to children and families while empowering UMCH to deliver on, and continuously improve its important mission.”
Mike Haynie, a former resident of the home who has been actively opposing its sale, said he was “woefully disappointed” by the decision.
“This was not the desired outcome,” he said. “Why could you just not take the time to listen? I understand this was voted on … three times in the recent past. What was the hurry? Even though our voices where not heard by the United Methodist Home, its board of trustees, its executive leadership team and even the bishop of the United Methodist North Georgia Conference, we alumni were truly heard indeed by the communities of Midway, Forrest Hills, Avondale Estates, Columbia Seminary, Agnes Scott, but especially a group of concerned students from Decatur High.”
Development in and around Decatur has ratcheted up in recent years and the 77 acres at the campus would be a prize for any developer looking to build in Atlanta’s trendiest zip code. According to former UMCH residents who attended an input meeting, one potential plan for the property includes 600 homes on the site. The Children’s Home has been in Decatur since 1873 and was established to care for children orphaned during the Civil War, according to its website.
A petition advocating preservation of the site has nearly 200 signatures.
The city of Decatur has expressed an interest in buying it as a potential green space, but it’s not clear whether the city is in the mix as a potential purchaser.
The Board of Trustees weighed three options: selling all of the property, selling all but seven acres, or selling none of it. The property value is estimated to be somewhere north of $30 million.
John Cerniglia, Vice President of Development at The Children’s Home, said the UMCH board voted to sell all of the property. The press release says, in part, “The [board’s] decision includes an aim by the Board to retain a small parcel of the DeKalb property to honor the historic home of the UMCH.”
Cerniglia said a buyer hasn’t been identified and there are many things to work through before the property is placed on the market.
“There are endless details that will need to be worked out,” he said.
Cerniglia said there are 12 families on campus that include 60 at-risk children and parents, 20 single teens and young adults, and seven young adults in apartments throughout the metro area.
“At its peak, UMCH was serving 160 children on campus in the 1950s,” he said. “We have another 115 children in foster care in 40 counties. We are committed to providing uninterrupted ministry to all those in our care, and to find suitable locations across North Georgia.”
Here is the full press release from UMCH:
The United Methodist Children’s Home Board of Trustees Decides to Serve More Children and Families in Crisis; Votes to Sell Organization’s Decatur Campus
Decatur, Ga. – Responding to the growing needs of the children and families it serves, on Jan. 17 the Board of Trustees of The United Methodist Children’s Home made the decision to expand and accelerate its impact across North Georgia by voting with overwhelming approval to sell its Decatur property.
Rev. Hal Jones, the UMCH President and CEO, put the decision into perspective.
“We appreciate the UMCH Board’s thoughtful consideration of multiple options regarding the future of The United Methodist Children’s Home campus in Decatur,” said Jones. “I am energized by our Board’s decision, which embraces the changing landscape in providing services to children and families while empowering UMCH to deliver on, and continuously improve its important mission.”
An informed process; a decision made with precedent
The Jan. 17 UMCH decision was informed by precedent. The organization’s DeKalb property originally featured 226 acres, but over the years and in response to evolving needs, 149 acres were sold as the focus of the ministry changed.
During recent months, UMCH leadership embarked on thoughtful research and consideration of how and where the organization might expand its ability to deliver on the organization’s mission and to keep up with, or anticipate, the times in which the organization now operates and ministers.
The Board’s decision is the result of careful evaluation of many options, and their decision will set a course for an exciting future while increasing UMCH’s ability to achieve its mission – to restore children and families from trauma through Jesus Christ.
Unlocking resources while facing an endless challenge
This decision will unlock the capital needed to reach more children and families in crisis. Sample estimates indicate funds from the sale will help to greatly expand local, community-based ministries in towns and cities across North Georgia, in partnership with many more churches.
Though initial projections reviewed by the board, UMCH estimates the organization will serve approximately 63 more people every year, in perpetuity, as a result of the decision. UMCH has pledged its firm commitment to provide high-quality, uninterrupted service to all its clients, including those living on its campus.
Currently, there are 13,000 Georgia children who have been separated from their families, and who are in State custody due to neglect, abuse or abandonment; this is a number that has doubled over the last five years.
Every week, when called on by the State, UMCH must currently turn away 30 children who need a loving foster home, because of limited resources. And each week families at risk of homelessness are turned away for the same reason.
“The decision will help optimize our ability to address these challenges and reach more children and families in need,” said Jones.
Preserving a legacy more than 140 years in the making
The UMCH Board is committed to honoring the organization’s historic legacy of service, and as such the group continuously explores new and more effective ways to bring needed resources to children and families in need. It was in that spirit that the vote reached its result.
The decision honors the legacy of the United Methodist Children’s Home in two ways. First, it applies resources to the greatest need – to serve children and families; and second, the decision includes an aim by the Board to retain a small parcel of the DeKalb property to honor the historic home of the UMCH.
“As we look to the future with our residents, alumni, staff, neighbors and others in the community, there are, no doubt, a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” said Jones. “The Board’s vote was just one step on a journey forward, and we will continue working collaboratively with all of those who have embraced our mission, and have partnered with us in accomplishing it.”
“No specific buyer or plan exists for property to be sold or retained, and we look forward to collectively shaping the future of land that has been enjoyed and valued by so many in our community,” added Jones.
“I could not be more proud of UMCH’s history, the impact of our current work and ministry, and the enormously positive effect this decision will have on so many more people in our future,” said Jones. “Too many organizations tend to balk when the values they espouse are tested, and our Board didn’t hesitate when faced with the opportunity to operationalize our values of agility, embracing change and continuous improvement, and loving people.”
No specific timeline for the sale is in place. The UMCH encourages anyone interested to share ideas or questions by calling 404-327-5867. Additional information is available at www.umchildrenshome.org.
About The United Methodist Children’s Home:
The United Methodist Children’s Home was established in 1871 in Norcross to care for children orphaned during the Civil War, and has evolved to serve children and families in a ‘continuum of care’ mode. It envisions a world where ‘all children are raised in a loving, compassionate and nurturing home.’ And it works every day toward its mission ‘to restore children and families from trauma through Jesus Christ.’ Since 1973, UMCH has cared for over 6,000 children in safe and loving foster-care homes; it provides safe housing for at-risk young adults and prepares them to make positive life decisions and become productive, independent, citizens; and it strengthens and preserves at-risk families through safe housing and support services. Today, UMCH serves over 245 children and adults a day in 40 counties across North Georgia, and it delivered over 56,000 days of care in 2016. For more information visit www.umchildrenshome.org.