Photos by JJ Kaplan
I have only recently learned that there is a children’s home in the heart of Boone County. The Indiana United Methodist Children’s Home (IUMCH), located in Lebanon, has been a sanctuary for children in its present day location since 1924.
Founded by Miss Angie Goodwin in 1915 as the Methodist Episcopal Children’s Home, the organization was relocated to Lebanon from Greencastle, Indiana. While it no longer serves as an orphanage, IUMCH has continued to provide care and resources to Hoosier children and is currently the only facility within the state of Indiana to practice the Teaching Family Model. I took a drive up to the IUMCH campus to meet with the CEO and staff to learn more about this well kept secret, the services they offer and how the surrounding communities can assist an organization that exists within their own backyard.
IUMCH serves youth between the ages of 10-21 who are unable to live with their parents or legal guardians; exhibit behavioral, emotional and/or substance abuse problems; or are victims of abuse or neglect that place the youth at risk of trouble with the law and institutionalization. The Home can accommodate up to 32 resident children.
Prior to 1960, “unruly” or unwanted children were taken to a local orphanage and received no specialized treatment or organized education. In the 1960s, institutions for children witnessed a transformation from the traditional orphanage to residential treatment centers that place children in a “family” setting.
IUMCH is unique to any other facility in Indiana for a litany of reasons but most noteworthy is that
the Board of Trustees and staff have committed to the Teaching Family Model on their campus under the direction of Richard Lapinski, Executive Director/CEO. Lapinski came to the IUMCH campus in August 2010 and reorganized the entire structure of the Home’s organization and staff. With Lapinski’s experience and extensive knowledge of the Teaching Family Model, the staff and residents began recognizing the benefits of this teaching method and seeing the positive results.
Lapinski, a Chicagoland native, worked for his father’s construction company and then joined the Navy as an intelligence specialist. He returned home to work again in the construction industry until 1993. Lapinski, now married, was looking for a meaningful way to provide for his growing family and give back to the community.
He answered an ad for Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home seeking a Family Teacher. Lapinski’s calling was revealed to him at this point, and he moved his family to Omaha, Ne
braska, to work at the boys’ home. Five years later, he completed his master’s degree and took a position at the Presbyterian Home for Children in Amarillo, Texas. There he learned about the Family Teaching model that eventually led him to Lebanon, Indiana, and to IUMCH.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to us,” Lapinski reflects. “It was the most rewarding five years that we spent in our adult working lives in that we were able to impact and change lives.” Lapinski explains that in his role at IUMCH, he is still affecting the lives of the children but in a different capacity by the decisions that he makes and oversight of the Home’s programs.
When Lapinski arrived to the Home’s campus, Indiana was in a transitional stage in regard to the facilitation and rehabilitation of the State’s children and youth. Lapinski was able to transform the home from a residential facility into a group home facility. He introduced, educated and implemented the Teaching Family Model to IUMCH staff and hired Teaching Family couples to begin working with the children. It’s a family style environment with a focus on reinforcing the
positive behaviors that the youth are engaged in and correcting negative behaviors.
The American Psychological Association recognizes the Teaching Family model as an evidence-based model of care. The model teaches troubled youth the appropriate social, academic and independent living skills that may have not been taught by family members or guardians. The model uses pro-social skills and allows the child to maintain or advance in his or her environment using positive reinforcement. The model was developed in the 1960s by researchers such as Montrose Wolf, PhD, and Gary Timbers, PhD, at the University of Kansas. The Teaching-Family Association, an international organization, was founded in 1975 to promote this model.
I was astounded by the variety of programs that IUMCH provides to the children that it serves. They offer spiritual development, independent living skills that include basic life skills, management of finances, post secondary education, psychiatric and psycholog
ical services, medication management and education at the James E. Davis School and Day School.
The James E. Davis School is fully accredited by the Indiana Department of Education. The resident children usually begin their academic experience at the school with the ability to transfer to Lebanon public schools when appropriate for the individual child.
The Day School program is a preventive mechanism for “at risk” students in Boone and surrounding counties who are experiencing academic and/or behavioral problems in the public school environment and may be having difficulties at home to attend the on-campus school and access the resources available to them. Students attend the IUMCH Day School for the duration of the school day and then return home.
The residents of IUMCH live with two Family Teachers, a married couple, in an on-campus home. Each Family Teacher couple can host up to 10 children and up to two of their own birth children if applicable. The couple, along with two assistant Family Teachers, will interact with the children in their home under the IUMCH curriculum and state requirements but will also interact with them as a traditional family would on a daily basis.
Robert “Bud” Milner, Director of Residential Services, has been with IUMCH since April 2012. He spoke with me about the Model and the day-to-day practices that children of IUMCH experience while in their care. He has been working the Teaching Family model since 1981 and shares a common denominator with Lapinski, also having worked with Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home. He has worked in other children’s homes and foster service programs within the U.S. that eventually led him to Lebanon as an administrator. Upon meeting with Lapinski, Milner committed to a “short-term” contract that evolved to a full-time position at IUMCH.
“As things began to unfold and develop at IUMCH, we began to realize that this was a bigger project than we had imagined,” Milner said. “Once we made the major transition and saw that it was going to take more time, I agreed to stay longer and now am on staff full time and oversee the programs. We have recently been accredited by the Teaching Family Association as an accredited family teaching model agency and are the only facility in Indiana who is accredited at this point.”
I met a Family Teaching couple during my tour of the IUMCH campus and spoke with them about their “calling.” I asked them what it is like to be parent-figures to six preteen and teenage girls. Nick Weyer and his wife, Lou Ann, have been there since March 2013. In a life-changing decision, the two moved from St. Charles, Missouri, to IUMCH.
“I wished I would’ve learned the family model when we were raising our kids,” Nick said. “It’s amazing. I’ve seen the model work, and it’s based upon pretty basic fundamental ideas. We’re teaching and reinforcing their social skills. The Model is about being a good parent.”
“We focus on how to deal with frustration,” Lou Ann elaborated. “We take the kids to different places where they see people who aren’t dealing with their frustration well, and they’ll comment about that. They see that it’s working for them and that some people in public really need those skills as well.”
The Weyers explained what they find most challenging about their lifestyle. “We work 16 hours a day, 80 hours a week, and that can sometimes be a little exhausting,” Lou Ann said. “You pace yourself, but you don’t shut if off. It’s just like raising your own kids.”
The children go off campus for activities with their “families.” The young ladies in the Weyer household enjoy a sit-down family supper every night. They hold family meetings every week and share their days with one another. The Weyers find that they are constantly reinforcing the girls’ self-confidence. These particular young ladies have come to them beaten down by life and suffer from low self-esteem.
“Our job is to raise their chin up and make them see what God created them,” Nick said. “We teach them that there is a purpose for their lives that they are beautiful and intelligent. It takes washing the mud off of these girls, so that they can see that they are glowing and become the people that they were created to be.”
Within each household on campus, the children are assigned chores and are expected to participate in
family activities. They share each other’s days, special occasions and struggles under a fortified model of reinforcement and genuine compassion for one another. The Weyers emphasize that their work is not for everybody. It is not a job but a lifestyle that is immensely rewarding.
As the holiday season approaches, the needs of the children are humble but great. The Home is 60 percent funded by the State of Indiana as a recognized agency of the State but relies heavily on the kindness of donors from the surrounding communities and businesses.
The items included on the Home’s “Wish List” enables the families to take the children on outings and dining experiences that encourage their social development and integrate them with society off campus. It also assists with the basic necessities, clothing and cultural enrichment where they can practice their social graces or kick back, relax and just enjoy being a kid.
For more information on the services that are provided by IUMCH and the programs, please visit iumch.org.
Indiana United Methodist Children’s Home Wish List
Here is a list of needs that would make a wonderful Christmas gift for some very needy children:
Gift cards: McDonald’s ($5 and $10), Walmart, Best Buy, Walgreens, restaurants
Tickets to the Indianapolis Zoo, Children’s Museum, etc.
MP3 players (shuffle only, no video please)
DVDs (G and PG only)
Wii dance games
Board games for older youth (14-18)
Corn hole sets
Bedsheets (twin size in fun patterns)
Bath size towels in fun colors
Bath and Body Works’ lotions, etc.
Stationery and postage stamps
Batteries (AA, AAA)
Electric can openers
Monetary donations toward Christmas are also needed and greatly appreciated. Please make checks payable to Indiana United Methodist Children’s Home, Inc., PO Box 747, Lebanon, IN 46052. Contact them at 765-482-5900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.