Late one night The Shepherd’s Home house parents received an urgent phone call. Ten-month-old “Claire” and her four-year-old brother “David” had been removed from their home by Child Protective Services. (Their names have been changed for privacy purposes.) It was a beautiful weekend in McCall and most residents, visitors and families were enjoying the fruits of summer – boating, camping, hiking, golfing, huckleberry picking – but this particular family was experiencing a crisis. Claire and David needed emergency shelter, a safe place to stay and be protected. The Shepherd’s Home was full but had emergency beds available, allowing Claire and David to have the short-term shelter they so desperately needed until a long-term foster home could be found.
The Shepherd’s Home in McCall exists to nurture and protect children in need by providing a loving family home. “It’s all about the kids,” says Laurie Erekson, president of The Shepherd’s Home Board of Directors. The Shepherd’s Home provides foster care for children who need temporary placement for any number of reasons. “The reasons kids come to us are as varied as the children themselves.”
Erekson has been involved with The Shepherd’s Home as a volunteer since 2008. A retired school administrator with a Master’s in Public Administration, Erekson helped The Shepherd’s Home Board adapt to changes to Health & Welfare regulations. Rethinking their approach and then re-applying with Health & Welfare, The Shepherd’s Home currently operates as a private non-profit foster home.
Amanda Keaveny, administrator of The Shepherd’s Home since October 2016, brings a varied background to the Home, working as a lecturer for the California State University of Chico and a senior field guide for therapeutic wilderness and residential programs. The administrative position is a dynamic one, “that warms the heart while tugging on your heart strings” Keaveny says. “In a day you could find yourself writing a grant, fixing a broken window, playing four square and planning a Reckless Kelly benefit concert.”
The Shepherd’s Home serves children from across Idaho. While in the past The Shepherd’s Home was able to take private placements, now all of its children are placed by Health & Welfare. “We want the community to know that they can call us” says Keaveny. “We can offer resources and have a network of services to share.” The average stay of children at Shepherd’s Home is six to nine months. “We’re seeing more sibling groups,” says Erekson, noting that a decade ago they had more teenage girls in high school. Now, the children tend to be younger and come with siblings. The Shepherd’s Home strives to keep siblings together. The house parents are licensed to have six to eight children in residence and may have more in an emergency situation, no matter the time of day.
In almost all cases, reunification between child(ren) and parent(s) is the ultimate goal. The Shepherd’s Home house parents work with Health & Welfare, the child’s social worker, and the parents toward that goal while always making sure the children are safe. Keeping siblings together is priority for the Home.
The current house parents, Anne and Dain Duhm, are relatively new to The Shepherd’s Home and McCall, but bring with them a long history working as foster parents. They have fostered children since 2006, and have also experienced the joy of adoption. According to Keaveny, learning about child trafficking was a motivator for the Duhms to foster children. The couple came to McCall when Dain was transferred here by UPS, his employer. A realtor mentioned The Shepherd’s Home to Anne, and Dain met several board members at the Home’s fundraising golf tournament. In a happy stroke of good timing, The Shepherd’s Home was looking for new house parents and the Duhms agreed to help. Because the Duhms live in the Home with two of their own children, the kids placed there see positive and healthy parent-child interactions being modeled. “The resilience of children is amazing,” says Erekson. “We want to break the cycle of abuse and neglect. Sometimes all they’ve seen is dysfunction. The Shepherd’s Home gives them a safe place to live where they can see and participate in a healthy family environment with good parenting and positive peer mentors.”
Sometimes a child at the Home is about to age out of the system because they’re age 18 and about to graduate high school. The house parents work collaboratively with Health & Welfare, the child’s social worker and school to create a plan for the child, helping secure housing, a job, and additional education if possible.
Funding to operate The Shepherd’s Home comes from a combination of grants, community donations and support from The Shepherd’s Home Foundation. Because of the nature of the Home’s facility and the children it serves, people can’t simply drop in to get a sense of what The Shepherd’s Home does. However, they are welcome to swing by the Home’s administrative office at 309 Lake Street to talk with Keaveny, and every year in December The Shepherd’s Home hosts an Open House with Santa and a giving tree so community members and donors can take a tour and meet the house parents.
In the past, The Shepherd’s Home held a fundraising golf tournament and was the beneficiary of the McCall Jazz Festival hosted by Curtis Stigers. This year, the Shepherd’s Home will be the beneficiary of The Barn Concert on August 5th, featuring the band Reckless Kelly and hosted by local residents, Mike and Sue Schaffer. Both Keaveny and Erekson are thrilled to collaborate with the Schaffers in making this year’s concert a fun event for the community while raising money for children needing the services provided by The Shepherd’s Home.
Keaveny is quick to praise the local communities for supporting The Shepherd’s Home with donations as well as volunteering time and services. “Little Ski Hill offers Scholarships for all of our children and every spring the McCall Fire Department comes out and helps clean up our yard,” says Keaveny. “Last year the Mountain Central Association of Realtors (MCAR) funded new playground equipment and volunteers helped put it together.” Every bit helps – whether cash or in-kind donations or volunteering time and sweat equity – supporting the valuable work The Shepherd’s Home does for children, their families and our community.
“We’re here as a resource for the community,” says Erekson. “We’re operating and successful.” That success means The Shepherd’s Home is meeting its objectives to provide a safe and loving home for children who are victims of abuse, neglect or crisis while showing them positive role models and helping them adopt the healthy habits that are a new road map for a successful life after their time at The Shepherd’s Home.[Cover photo and initial black-and-white photo: Pixabay/Creative Commons CCO.]