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Wow!': Dream of Hope Village becomes a reality

By Staff
LOVING EMBRACE Girl Scout Dallas Riley of Meridian hugs Emmy Award-winning actress Sela Ward after the official opening Thursday of Hope Village for Children. Ward, a Lauderdale County native, was a driving force in development of the residence for abused and neglected children at the former Masonic Home site on 23rd Avenue. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Chris Allen Baker/The Meridian Star
Dec. 28, 2001
A passion for the well-being of abused and neglected children helped warm a brisk December day Thursday, offering a fresh reminder that dreams can come true.
Feelings of hope and love for children permeated official opening ceremonies for Hope Village for Children a dream of Emmy Award-winning actress Sela Ward shared by hundreds of contributors and volunteers. Working together as a community with a common interest, they transformed the old Masonic Home on 23rd Avenue into a new facility that will accept its first young residents next week.
Ward, a Lauderdale County native, was instrumental in development of the multi-million-dollar residence. But, she was quick to point out, she could not have done it alone.
After the ribbon-cutting, the crowd moved to a flag pole in the front area of the campus where a Girl Scout color guard raised a U.S. flag donated by Sen. Thad Cochran. The flag had flown over the U.S. Capitol shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
With a patriotic salute by the Meridian Children's Choir, the late state Sen. Glenn Deweese, an early and active supporter of the project, was honored for his longtime leadership in Hope Village's creation.
Dr. Raymon Leake, pastor of First Baptist Church, said two voices were dominant during the first meeting to make Hope Village a reality  Ward and Deweese.
Deweese's widow, Janice, and son, Doug, who now holds his father's seat on Hope Village's board of directors, participated in the official opening ceremonies.
Hope Village's opening was the culmination of Ward's dream that began about two years ago during a visit to an emergency shelter in Meridian.
The idea evolved into re-thinking the more traditional orphanage concept and developing one that would fit the needs of 21st century children.
Through Ward, fund-raising spread beyond Mississippi and the U.S. as more than $1.6 million has been collected or pledged with other gifts in-kind.
Ward said she was not surprised that people responded, but the amount of response was unexpected.
Ward said her immediate objective is to stay focused and get the campus up and running "in the most progressive state-of-the-art way as possible. My dream from there is to franchise this all over the country."
Meridian High School junior Robby Followell, 16, said he believes in Hope Village and plans help change children's lives as an academic tutor.
Chris Allen Baker is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3275.