By Kara Witherow, Editor
The Vashti Center for Children and Families has, for more than 100 years, been a refuge for troubled children in southwest Georgia.
A faith-based ministry providing residential treatment and community services for children and youth, Vashti is a ministry of the United Methodist Church, a mission of the United Methodist Women and a Women’s Division-owned property, one of three in the South Georgia Conference.
What began in 1903 as a home and school for girls has evolved into a full service residential home and treatment center that provides services for children in communities across eight South Georgia counties. Vashti currently houses 31 children and teenagers at their Thomasville campus and serves about 225 children in the community. Last year they served a record total of 570 children.
“We can serve a 45-mile radius from any of our locations,” said Cathy Snook, Vashti’s development director. “We stretch across southwest Georgia, which has typically been such an underserved area. If it were not for Vashti and the support we have, what would these children do? They would not have other resources like ours.”
Although Vashti is a faith-based agency and places a strong emphasis on the spiritual health and well-being of the youth it serves, the ministry hadn’t had a chaplain on staff in nearly 10 years. Staff members and volunteers had stepped in to help fill the void, but administrators last year realized that there was a need for a focused spiritual formation program.
In June, Rev. Shane Lovvorn joined Vashti’s staff to bring a renewed focus to the ministry’s faith program.
“Most of these children, during this difficult time of being displaced from their family and being placed in a residential treatment home, don’t have a knowledge or relationship with Christ to lean on,” Snook said. “Many of them have never been to church, they’ve never heard the word of God and they’ve never been introduced to Christianity, and we felt that adding a full-time chaplain was the thing to do.”
Rev. Lovvorn was serving as pastor of the churches on the Faceville Charge – Faceville United Methodist Church, Hopewell United Methodist Church and Sylvania United Methodist Church in Bainbridge – when he was approached by Vashti. Hesitant at first, he met with the team and soon realized that God was calling him to serve at Vashti.
With 19 years of experience as a youth pastor, Rev. Lovvorn understands how to communicate and reach troubled children and youth.
“I’ve always said that I don’t believe in bad kids,” Rev. Lovvorn said. “There’s no such thing as a bad kid. Kids are products of their environments and that’s definitely the case here. Vashti does a wonderful job reaching these children, and over the last few years they have decided that they needed to have the spiritual element back in place for the children here.”
As chaplain, Rev. Lovvorn’s job is to provide spiritual guidance for the children, take them to church services on Sundays, teach a weekly Bible study and start a bi-weekly chapel service. He also oversees Vashti’s volunteer and mentoring program, recruiting community members to serve and work with the kids on a weekly basis.
“I want them (the mentors) to share with the kids what God means in their life and what God has done for them,” he said. “… Just to be there and be a loving example for the kids to look forward to seeing every week. It gives the adults who are a part of this a chance to pour out of themselves a little bit, too.”
The vast majority of the children who Vashti serve come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds, Snook said. Many have been sexually and physically abused and all have some sort of behavior or emotional issues because of the abuse they have endured.
Vashti’s team of highly skilled psychiatrists, physicians, nurses, therapists and staff treat the children with love and respect, and teach them how to change the destructive behavior patterns they have learned and how to establish new behaviors and coping skills, to promote increased self-esteem, to establish more appropriate perceptions of self and others, and to enjoy life to the fullest.
“These kids come here and they have been lied to and put down constantly, and it’s fun for me to see the kids light up when they come here and realize that someone really cares about them,” Rev. Lovvorn said. “You see their facial expressions change and their behaviors change. I’ve always liked seeing that light come on in a kid, when they realize that someone really cares for them. It’s fun to see them realize, ‘Hey, these guys really care about me; maybe someone does care about me.’ Of course, I always attribute that back to God and say, ‘God cares about you and God has you here at Vashti for a reason because He knows we have what you need.’”
Every local church in South Georgia is encouraged to receive a special offering on Sunday, October 16 to support the ministry of The Vashti Center, Inc. To learn more about Vashti and its great ministry, visit www.vashti.org.