Friday, December 22, 2006

It would interesting to hear the foster youth's point of view

Woman's vision keeps Noah's Ark afloat
Dalestaff, Moss. Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 1, 2006, pg. B1.

DALE MOSS - Rainwater pools across a drive that could use another layer of asphalt. A chapel is but a blueprint. Much of the campus is no further along.Noah's Ark Children's Village is not yet Joan Smith's ideal. It may never be.

Most any subdivision developer would covet the property, heaping plenty on Smith to repay donors with interest. Smith has no reason to give up, though, little hint that she is misguided.

She receives instead a wealth of backing on behalf only of 24 children at current capacity and just 14 the day I visited. The Noah's Ark that Smith founded people find well worth adopting.

"They can see it, they can feel it, they can smell it," Smith said. "They come to us. We've just given them the opportunity."

With ultimate plans to care for 70 children, Noah's Ark Children's Village now has four group foster homes in operation, along with a lodge, a barn and a commissary. Noah's Ark, off Allison Lane in Jeffersonville, reflects a community investment already into seven figures. The Paul Ogle Foundation alone is in for $650,000.

A fifth home is to open this spring, though progress otherwise is shy of a sure thing. Why doubt it, however."It is a great idea and with somebody like Joan, she's made it a project that should work," said Alan Platt, a lawyer and the first president of the Noah's Ark board.

Smith had established a still-important maternity home, St. Elizabeth's of Southern Indiana, before setting sail a decade ago with Noah's Ark. For 90 donated suburban acres, Smith laid out a haven for foster children she felt deserved better.

Neighbors sued, in part assuming delinquent children were to move in. Smith persevered, and Noah's Ark residents typically are small children who have been victimized somehow at home. Early intervention, that is the tag for such an approach. Noah's Ark need not rehabilitate, just rescue.

"If we give them the normality of a family, that stability ... ," Smith said.

A married couple lives in each Noah's Ark house with as many as six foster children as well as their own kids. They form a family that has little of the dysfunction to which the foster children were accustomed.

The foster children, who come from several counties, stay a short time or a long time. They usually return home, though 10 instead have been adopted.

"We have good success with them (Noah's Ark)," said Susan Long, a supervisor in the Clark County office of the Indiana Department of Child Services. "It's a great facility that serves children well."

The mission statement refers to a Christ-centered home environment. Those prove pricey words, Smith said, a stand that costs Noah's Ark substantial government aid beyond a per-child per diem.

"Probably some low-hanging fruit could have been picked," said Ed Jerdonek , a Noah's Ark board member. "We're better off not."

Smith said children must be told, again and again, that they are gifts from God. Without that, she went on, the kids cannot reach their potential.

"We have to empower these children early," she said. "We're not going to compromise. That's the way it is."

Gary Roberson, Noah's Ark's chief financial officer, cannot say precisely how the bills will be paid, as soon as the month after next. It's usually been hand-to-mouth at Noah's Ark, blessings courted without rival by Smith.

"It's her passion that shines through," said Mitzi Lyon, youth director at Grace Lutheran Church in New Albany. "And people see that passion. She draws people in with that."

Lyon's church members, primarily the youth, have raised about $10,000 for the chapel at Noah's Ark. Such kindness could have been aimed appropriately in a million other directions. Once Smith described the children of Noah's Ark to the children of Grace Lutheran, though, a bond formed.

"By bringing a chapel into their community, they could help them (those living at Noah's Ark) have the same kind of stability in their lives," Lyon said.

Lyon's people also have planted trees at Noah's Ark, and other volunteers tutor and clean and answer office phones and donate goodies at holidays. That is on top of money given both for construction and to cover the bulk of the $750,000 annual budget.

"It's not always an easy road," Smith said. "It's not going to be an easy road."Smith is 63 but said she will not rest until she reaches that ideal - 14 homes with 70 foster children, plus the chapel. Then, she said, she will help other communities copy the idea.

For more information,generally or about becoming live-in foster parents, call Noah's Ark at 288-6800.

Joan Smith, founder of Noah's Ark Children's Village in Jeffersonville, said a mission statement that refers to a Christ-centered home environment has cost Noah's Ark substantial government aid beyond a per-child per diem.


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