Letter from David Gehm, President & CEO
July 31, 2014
Many of you have likely heard about an influx of children from Central America who are arriving at U.S. borders without adults to care for and protect them. They are coming mainly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in hopes of reconnecting with family members who have already come to our country, sometimes illegally, sometimes through legal channels. These children — often targets for human trafficking — have been through a harrowing journey, faced significant neglect and sometimes abuse, and many have faced all the ills of third world chaos.
In short, these children are in need of care, love and stability while government officials manage each particular case.
Wellspring has an important opportunity to extend its mission and make good on its brand promise to reach out in new, challenging and exciting ways as we seek to change lives, strengthen families and transform communities. It's a promise we made when Lutheran Child & Family Service of Michigan and Lutheran Homes of Michigan joined together in mission and purpose on October 1, 2013.
Leading up to that moment, we looked at how Jesus went out of His way to connect with the Samaritan woman at the well — to be in a place that the social, religious and political norms of the day would have rejected. As a result, a life was changed, a family was strengthened and a community was transformed. We've claimed this as our model, even to the point of saying that for Wellspring Lutheran Services to truly live this new "brand," we'll need to push ourselves to serve people in places we've not traditionally considered.
Later this summer, Wellspring Lutheran Services will begin to serve these youth who are considered "Unaccompanied Alien Children" by federal designation. With the blessings of the Wellspring board of directors, we are now in a joint venture with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM). Working through programs already established with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Wellspring will provide short-term housing for these youth in Farmington Hills and Bay City. LSSM's role will focus on working with immigration and other federal officials on each child's case, while Wellspring's role will focus on shelter, nutrition, age-appropriate activities and establishing stability in an unstable situation. LSSM has been working with immigrant and refugee populations for some time; as a result, LSSM brings the experience and expertise needed for the overall plan to be successful.
There are more than 45 LIRS partner organizations across the country committed to providing care and services for these children. Our partnership with LSSM represents Michigan's two largest nonprofit human care organizations serving this vulnerable population.
The contracts for caring for these children are with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. They are considered "self-contained" budgets, meaning all services the children may require are paid for through the contract. As a result, impact on Wellspring resources will be minimal.
This is a complex, multi-faceted issue with its roots in long-standing U.S. immigration policy, current politics, economic challenges of our times and a myriad of other contributors. Add to that personal values/norms upon which any of us were raised (stated or not), personal experience with the issue of immigration and just the pure emotion of the issue, and we've complicated the matter even further.
In making the specific decision to serve these children, the Wellspring board weighed all of this and went back to the roots of our "new" brand, mission and vision of this unified organization. It calls us to engage people (wherever they are) so they may experience and embrace their God-given potential — allowing hope to flow through us.
As we seek to live out this powerful new promise to our communities and ourselves, we recognize we're faced with new, complex issues. We know these kids are coming to our borders and need of care — whether we participate in this program or not. We know there are those who will disagree with us helping these specific kids. We know our sponsoring church body, LCMS, has worked in this space for decades through LIRS and Lutheran Services in America (LSA). We know our involvement won't change the politics of the situation nationally, or even locally. Yet, in the end, we know we have a profound duty to apply our understanding of our mission to the circumstance before us.
The impact on our organization is as follows:
- Farmington Hills - Our campus will open the last available housing unit to accommodate 24 children. It will not interfere with the current population in the New Directions program.
- Bay City - The residential facility will serve 24 children. The four residents at 304 Tuscola will be transitioned into an alternate placement. Many of the youth will take the next step into independent living.
- Duration & Reach - We expect the youth to be with us 30-45 days each, as their individual cases are processed through the system, with new youth coming through on a regular basis.
- Staffing - We'll be hiring staff (many bilingual) to serve this special population, with LSSM providing key "hands-on" staff while we provide "room and board" staff.
There are rough waters ahead as we take on the mission and vision God has for our organization. However, we do not enter these waters alone. We do so knowing His voice can calm the roughest of seas. We appreciate your support and your ongoing prayers for effective work in this new area, and all the important programs carried out across Michigan by Wellspring staff and volunteers on a daily basis.
Together in service,
President & CEO