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You hear the word calling a lot,” John Forbis says. “People who come to work at Amarillo Children’s Home are answering a call, and we feel this is a call from the Lord.”

When Forbis, the executive director, speaks about the organization’s mission, his passion is evident. He believes that for the past 100 years, children at their height of need have found restoration on the grounds and within the walls of ACH.

“As a Christian organization, we believe that Jesus Christ came to restore what was created—to restore lives, to redeem lives,” Forbis shares. “I believe that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I’m in that redemption. That was what was done for me. So, now, we can do the same thing. We see these kids and what they’ve gone through and what they’ve endured. It’s traumatic; it’s tough. What the Lord did for me, we get to enter in and do for a kid.”

That philosophy is why Forbis is a passionate foster parent in his own home, and it’s why he began his journey with Amarillo Children’s Home as executive director last year.

ACH’s journey to restoration began in 1923 when Dr. R. Thomsen, a minister at what became First Presbyterian Church in Amarillo, met friends for coffee at the Amarillo Hotel. The men noticed three crying children standing outside. They were orphans, hungry and in need of clean clothing and shelter. Immediately, the group of men helped the children, but Dr. Thomsen went a step further to remedy the problem that so impacted him. On March 1, 1924, he opened the Presbyterian Home for Children. It was the first iteration of ACH and was built as a dormitory-style home. In the late 1940s, land was purchased from Charles Wolflin to build the current version at 34th and Bowie Streets—several cottage-style homes meant to offer a more familial experience for the children.

“The kids moved from that single-site location, and they started hiring house moms,” Forbis says. “That was very forward thinking at the time, and that, to me, resonated. Having had foster kids in our home, it’s just so important to their restoration to have a safe home environment, a mom, dad and siblings. The home is such a special place.”

Many years later, in 2007, the Pickens Cottage was built on the campus to house its Transitional Living Concepts program, which gives foster youth ages 16 and older the skills needed to successfully transition and thrive in adulthood.

Today, ACH is made up of seven homes and serves children from ages 5 to 22. The average stay is just short of 17 months, and the average age of residents is 14. ACH focuses on serving older teenagers and sibling groups who are harder to place in the foster care system. The staff serves about 50 children in a year. That number has decreased in the past several years because of sweeping changes to how and when state agencies can remove vulnerable kids from their homes and place them into the foster care system.

Many Texas lawmakers championed legislation that focuses on keeping kids with their families when possible, pointing to the trauma that comes with entering the system. “What that means is there are fewer kids in care, but we are working with kids that are at a higher level of trauma,” Forbis explains. “We need to adjust what we are doing to care for these kids with higher-level needs.”

Those needs are massive. He says children arrive with a host of experiential baggage—from human trafficking to abuse and neglect. Forbis understands the urgency of his job: Some children arrive at ACH with only a few months left before they age out of the system, and are in desperate need of a more sustainable and supportive path as they transition into adulthood.

“It’s a pretty big jump for a kid to age out of care and go out on their own,” Forbis says. “There are some new programs that provide a phased approach to care as children age out of the program. Think of 18-year-olds who don’t need mom and dad but might need roommates and a mentor. They can live in a setting like that and work through some processes, and we can support them and help them out along the way.”

Consider one current ACH resident, a high school student who became homeless after being kicked out of her adopted father’s house. (Brick & Elm is withholding her name to protect her identity.) She moved into a friend’s house. Then she stayed with a teacher. She ended up in a motel before ACH came to the rescue.

“I’m 18, so I’m considered too old for foster care, but I’m still in high school,” she says. “I just want to be able to go to school and not worry about where I’m going to sleep.” She plans to attend Amarillo College to get certified as a phlebotomist, and hopes to work in a hospital setting. But first she needs to graduate high school, and the instability of homelessness makes that incredibly difficult.

For her, ACH has offered exactly what was intended 100 years ago—a restorative, safe place for a child to thrive. She has now lived there for several months. “I have learned so much about friendship and feeling safe,” she continues. “I can concentrate on school and work because I’m not worried about where I’m going to sleep or how I’m going to eat. I’ve learned not everyone in life is going to hurt you. I’ve learned asking for help doesn’t make me weak. I’ve learned being myself is not only OK, it’s what I’m meant to do. I’m learning more about who I am, and I’m becoming more authentically me.”

Forbis recalls story after story—little victories—of residents having life-changing experiences during and after leaving the care of ACH. One went into the military, returned to Amarillo to become a successful professional, and is now a part of ACH’s vision for the future. A group of siblings was reunited right before Christmas so they could be together in a single home. One teen moved in right before the holidays, went bowling with her house family and joyfully told Forbis this was the best Christmas she’d ever had.

Those stories and more are being shared and celebrated at the annual Roots & Wings fundraising banquet in early March, where attendees at this centennial celebration will hear stories from 100 years of restoration. In addition to financial support, Forbis says ACH is always looking for house parents.

“I’m constantly talking with people that have had some kind of involvement with us over the decades, whether they grew up in the neighborhood next door and came over in the 1960s and played with our kids on the trampoline or rode bikes with the kids,” he says. That involvement is citywide. For instance, Amarillo High School has operated a food drive for ACH for 90 years, even though most ACH residents attend Tascosa. “They still support us,” Forbis says.

Many local families have donated through generations. “I love that the community, as a whole, has really invested in our kids and our mission,” he says. “It has looked different, but it’s decades of our community seeing a need and stepping in to help kids in whatever form that looked like.”

COTTAGE PHOTO BY RALPH DUKE

ACH By the Numbers

In one year of caring for its residents, the Amarillo Children’s Home goes through*:

1,005 gallons of milk
682 boxes of cereal
11,325 gallons of gas
3,884 hours in carpool
431 tubes of toothpaste
4,485 rolls of toilet paper
1,399 hours of therapy
789 doctor appointments

*estimates provided by ACH

Author

  • Meaghan Collier

    Meaghan works in communications and marketing for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo and spent 15 years as an anchor, reporter and producer in local television news. Meaghan is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She and husband Cody live in Amarillo with their dog, Bradford.

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