The Book of James (1:26-27) tells us to “look after orphans and widows in their distress.” That’s what the Palmer Home for Children has been doing for nearly 120 years.
Located in Mississippi, Palmer Home for Children is a Presbyterian orphanage that got its start in 1895 in Columbus and expanded to include a second campus in 1995. Its purpose is to provide a home for children, who through no fault of their own, need a place to live.
Palmer’s founding vision — to provide a loving Christian home for children who have no other place to turn — remains intact today. It follows the premise John wrote about in his Gospel: “We love because He first loved us.” (John 4:19)
The mission of the orphanage is to provide superior residential care for children, introducing the love of God through service and extending that care to many more children in need. Palmer Home attempts to embody the peace, justice and hope of God, serving those who may not be able to help themselves while offering a place “where hope still grows.”
“Palmer Home is a living tribute to the conviction of Presbyterians who saw a need and took action,” said Drake Bassett, president and CEO of Palmer Home for Children. “As a privately funded mission, we continue to rely on the good will of churches and individuals who want to act directly on James 1:27. The mission is simple: extend love to children in need and provide a safe, Christian environment for their development. Every child has a story, and our prayer is that this mission will help script a positive ending.”
Children at the orphanage have embraced the love and support they have been given as residents at either of the two Palmer Home campuses, sharing their thoughts about the nurturing nature of the agency. Some of their comments labeled the home as a place:
“… where people like me have come to have the opportunity to have a mom and dad when they don’t have one or to be with people that they really love and people who care for them.”
“… to learn the Word of God, and you get to be able to live your life as a child.”
“… where children can come when their parents can’t take care of them.”
Palmer Home serves nearly 100 children from birth through college who live year-round at one of the two campuses, and it provides counseling to families of origin, foster care and other family-related services. The staff attempts to instill traditional family values as a basis for developing a foundation that allows children to become responsible and caring adults.
Supported entirely by volunteer gifts, the Palmer Home does not require that a child or children’s family pay any tuition or make a gift to the orphanage, instead identifying the need of the child and the organization’s ability to help.
Starting the home
Palmer Home for Children was named for Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, a South Carolina native and a leading Southern Presbyterian pastor of the 19th century, spending more than 50 years at First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans. One of his admirers was William States Jacobs, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Miss., who challenged his congregation to start an orphanage and name it after Palmer, who touched the lives of many people during his tenure. The women of FPC-Columbus became catalysts for the effort, and the Presbyterian-based orphanage was chartered March 13, 1895, in Columbus.
One hundred years later, with a need for expanded services, a second campus to meet children’s needs was established in Hernando, Miss., and has the capacity to serve 120 children.
Cottages on the campuses provide living accommodations for 8-10 children, all staffed by a set of houseparents who provide daily guidance and nurture needed by those who are at Palmer Home. Both campuses provide counseling, educational and recreational services.
Palmer Home places an emphasis on its Whole Child Initiative, a deliberate approach to serving children in four key areas: education, physical development, emotional healing and spiritual growth. Palmer Home has strived to be a safe harbor for children in need of a home regardless of their often difficult circumstances, offering love and comfort as they continue through life’s journey.
“Everything is connected in a child’s life. If a child does not function well in one area of life then it will inevitably spill over into every other area; they are interlocking pieces,” said Dr. David Foster, vice president of Children’s Services at the Palmer Home. “We recognize that every child is created in God’s image and, therefore, no dimension of their being is without value, dignity and purpose.”
Prayer for orphans
On Nov. 3, Orphan Sunday, Palmer Home for Children will kick off 30 Days of Prayer, focusing on the target areas of the Whole Child Initiative.
According to statistics cited on the Palmer Home’s Orphan Sunday web site, 508,000 children receive out-of-home care and more than 800,000 pass through foster care programs annually in the United States alone. Data from just three years ago reveals that 4.9 million children under the age 18 lived in homes headed by grandparents with 20 percent of those having neither parent present in their lives.
More striking are projections that indicate there will be 400 million orphans around the world by 2015, placing further emphasis on James’ passage directed at looking after the needs of orphans as their numbers continue to grow for such myriad reasons.
Doing so, as Palmer Home for Children has been for more than a century, imitates the personality of God in His desire to take in others and assist with their pain and suffering, the very thing He calls His people to do, a matter of taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
The children at Palmer Home have been the beneficiaries of such care, taking note of what has been done for them in their time of need.
As two other children said: “It’s a refuge for children that don’t, at the moment, have a decent place to stay or to live and prosper,” and “They have loved me and have been there for me every step of the way.”
For more information about Palmer Home, visit http://palmerhome.org/.