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Hope Village will provide safe, loving place for children

By Staff
GETTING READY Effie Robinson, seated, and Mary Alice Wright take a peek at one of the books in the girls' cottage of Hope Village for Children while Brian Avery, back, takes a moment to rest after hours of preparing the cottages for residents. Hope Village officially opened Thursday with its founder, Emmy Award-winning actress and Lauderdale County native Sela Ward, cutting the ribbon. Photo by Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
By Chris Allen Baker/The Meridian Star
Dec. 30, 2001
A safe and loving place for abused and neglected children to heal is a goal for which Mary Alice Wright, Effie Robinson and Brian Avery will strive as staff members of Hope Village for Children.
Thanks initially to the dream of Emmy Award-winning actress and Lauderdale County native Sela Ward, the reality is that children will have a place to go for help for an extended time.
A fund-raising campaign collected more than $1.6 million as Ward and hundreds of volunteers transformed the old Masonic Home on 23rd Avenue into a new residential care facility with four cottages. Two of them officially opened Thursday and will accept its first young residents this week.
How Hope Village works
The work of Hope Village will revolve around a system of a rotating staff of case managers, cottage supervisors and direct care workers. Each will have specific levels of personal interaction with the children, according to Carrie Ponder, executive director.
As a case manager, Wright will usually be the first person a child meets upon arrival.
Hope Village is a homecoming of sorts for Wright, too. A Meridian native who moved to Michigan at the age of 13 and eventually raised a family, Wright has a bachelor's degree in social work and a master's degree in family child development with 21 years of professional experience as a therapist.
In returning to Meridian, Wright said she is fulfilling a long-time passion.
Wright said she can personally understand Ward's perspective in helping her hometown. "I feel so proud to be from this place and see how so many people just gave their time and energy to make this happen. A resident like Sela who had moved away but still had that strong connection I can identify with because I have that connection."
Focus on the children
Easing a child into Hope Village and helping them adjust to their new environment is Wright's focus.
Wright said most children will have a wide range of emotions when they arrive from being talkative to being silent and withdrawn.
More than anything, Wright said the best thing is to listen.
Integration into the cottage where the child will be assigned is among Wright's duties and talking to them about what to expect in their new home. Rules are explained them which she said is important. "They need structure. They have to know what the rules are and have something stable in their lives."
At this point, the child will come to the care of a cottage supervisor like Robinson, also a Meridian native who returned to her hometown after life in Chicago.
A 15 year veteran social worker, Robinson has a bachelor's degree in sociology and an associate's degree in computer science.
That is what
I'd like to do'
Robinson said she was impressed with the work involved in creating Hope Village.
Under the guidance of Robinson and other cottage supervisors, Avery will serve as a direct care worker on the front lines with the children on a daily basis.
A native of Lauderdale County who grew up in Meridian, Avery graduated from West Lauderdale High School and attended Meridian Community College. His inspiration in joining Hope Village was simple.
With experience of eight years working with children victims of neglect, Avery draws upon his own perspectives and emotions as a father of a 12 year-old daughter, a son of seven years and a four-month-old son.
Avery agreed that Hope Village will fill a role that has been needed in the community.
Chris Baker is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551.

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