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Murphy-Harpst at NGUMC Conference

Murphy-Harpst is grateful to Bishop Robin Dease and the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church for their celebration of our Centennial year. In addition to designating July 21 as a day for the 2024 Murphy-Harpst Special Offering, the Bishop named Murphy-Harpst as the beneficiary of the Conference worship offering. During the service, Rev. Dr. Gary MacDonald, Murphy-Harpst’s Stewardship and Advancement manager, gave the prayer over the gifts,  which by the close of Conference totaled near $30,000! During the Conference, Rev. MacDonald also updated the gathered on the expanding work of Murphy-Harpst, and Rev. Scott Fuller, vice president of Advancement, addressed the laity during their annual luncheon. Murphy-Harpst representatives were also guests of the United Women of Faith at their annual breakfast, where our own Deaconess Susan Stroup is among the leaders. Many conference goers came by the Murphy-Harpst display table to pick up materials and hear about the work being accomplished with Georgia’s at-risk youth. The Wesleyan roots of Murphy-Harpst are deep, having first been established through the work of a Methodist Women’s Home Missioner. Today as an independent non-profit, Murphy-Harpst continues to receive critical support from United Methodist and other Methodist churches, as well as from sister denominations who engage the care Murphy-Harpst provides.

Bhavini Solanki of Amerigroup Shares Her Experiences with the Evolve Initiative

Bhavini Solanki has been with Amerigroup for over 10 years, leading the Georgia Families 360 team for the past 3. The Georgia Family 360 team at Amerigroup coordinates healthcare, wellness visits, vision and dental care, prescriptions, specialty doctor services, hospital stays and behavioral health services for children in Georgia’s Foster Care system, children receiving Adoption Assistance and select youth in the Juvenile Justice system. Bhavini was gracious enough to spend some time with us and explain Amerigroup’s involvement in and impressions of our Evolve Initiative Homes.

Bhavini, tell us a little about yourself and how you came to work in this field.

I have always worked with underserved populations, starting with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. When I moved to Georgia in 2005 I began working with families in child welfare doing in-home therapy, assessments, etc.  I love being able to help families by introducing them to resources that can bring stability, whatever that might look like.  There are so many environmental influences that we cannot control, but we can learn how to love our children, learn how to parent them effectively, how to manage our money, and how to leverage resources.  I love seeing children thrive and seeing families grow together.  As a Licensed Professional Counselor myself, I love the relationship Amerigroup has with providers.  I appreciate the ability to share ideas and grow ideas together, like the Evolve Initiative. 

Describe for us the impact of MHCC's Evolve Initiative in Augusta and why it is so important to children, families, and communities.

Being able to bring this level of care back to the state is a critical step in the right direction for our state and our system of care. Having a place that is structured and yet feels like home is a much-needed option for so many of our kids.  I am so very grateful for the opening of the transgendered home, as I hold a special place in my heart for any person that society feels does not “fit.”  Clinical treatment is not gendered and unnecessary focus on that area takes away from the true mission of therapeutic treatment, so I have high hopes for the youth placed in all of these Evolve Homes. The number of kids that have been able to reunite with families, move into adoption, etc, has been great.  That meets the whole purpose of this program: moving young people to permanency. 

Do you think there is a need for more Evolve homes in Georgia?

YES!  My dream is for homes in each region of the state as the need is there. 

What has your experience been like working with the leadership and staff at Murphy-Harpst?

Murphy Harpst has always been a great partner to Amerigroup. As a Behavioral Health Utilization Manager, I worked with staff at Murphy-Harpst on authorizations and documentation.  Those conversations always led to positive change. In my role as the Georgia Families 360 lead, I have had great discussions with Murphy-Harpst leadership on how we can partner together and meet the gaps in the system of care. The creation of the Evolve Homes has been a great collaborative partnership.

Murphy-Harpst High Schoolers Celebrate Prom On Campus

Aside from meeting the everyday needs of the children in our care, Murphy-Harpst does all we can to ensure our residents experience all of the major milestones and events that many of us take for granted. Alongside events like birthday parties and outings, each Spring our staff and volunteers throw a prom for our high schoolers. This year's prom was hosted and sponsored by Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, who helped plan and fund the event, providing catering and a photographer. [caption id="attachment_1288" align="alignleft" width="300"] Volunteers do nails for prom attendees[/caption] In the weeks prior to the event, residents were able to choose from donated formalwear to see if there was something that fit. If not, boys and girls were taken to rent or purchase dresses and tuxedos to make sure they looked their best. Boys were taken to the barber shop for a fresh haircut in the days leading up to the event, and the girls spent the day leading up to the dance getting their hair, nails and makeup done by our staff and volunteers from the community. Boutonnieres and corsages were provided by a staff member. Once everyone was ready, residents took pictures in the circle with their dates and as a group before heading inside. This year’s prom theme was “Galaxy,” and volunteers from Cascade United Methodist Church wowed the residents with decorations. Our chapel was transformed into an event space with tablecloths, seat covers, table settings and a balloon arch with a sequin backdrop for pictures. The party was catered by TNT Creations, and the children had a blast dancing to their favorite songs from DJ G Flyy. A prom queen and king were elected by students and staff. [caption id="attachment_1286" align="alignright" width="300"] Prom decorations by Cascade UMC[/caption] We want to thank our volunteers, especially the Recreation staff, for organizing this event. Special thanks to Cascade UMC for their help planning, funding and decorating, and Lost Mountain Kiwanis for donating formalwear to be used in future proms. If you or your organization would like to help with next year’s prom or would like to find out more about other events hosted on campus, please contact our Director of Recreation Jessica Morgan.

100 Years of Hope and Care

By Rev. Dr. Beth Sanders

The Rev. Dr. Beth Sanders, North West District Superintendent of the North Georgia Annual Conference, United Methodist Church, and member of Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers Board of Directors, preached at the October annual meeting of the Conference’s United Women in Faith at Smyrna First United Methodist Church. She addressed the theme of the meeting – We Believe in Love in Action that Changes the World – with the scripture 1 John 3:16-19, and drew upon the life of Sarah McLendon Murphy, co-founder of Murphy-Harpst. "God is love, and Jesus is God’s love in action," Rev. Sanders began, "God’s love in action that we see and experience in Jesus is all compassion, a cross-shaped compassion, that touches everyone, including those left out and left behind. This sacrificial love and compassion reveals the life expected of those who believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in love in action that changes the world." Rev. Sanders reminded the gathered that the Methodist Women’s Home Missionary Society had appointed Miss Ethel Harpst to Cedartown, where she would establish a children’s home a century ago, and that it was two faithful women at the heart of what is today Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers. She illuminated her research on the life of Sarah Murphy.* Born in 1892 to former enslaved persons, Sarah lost her mother at age 4. By 12, she was selling mail-order flavorings to support the household. At 13 she attended an industrial school in nearby Rome, landing a teaching job that funded her leaving home to attend Spelman College. "Yet something kept her spirit of compassion uneasy," Sanders explained. "She dreamt that she was walking 'alongside a great canal. It was deep and swift, and on the other side was a fence. There was a woman in the canal digging the ground out from under me about as fast as I could walk. I was fenced in all around. Then I came to a gate. I heard a voice say, ‘Go through the gate, Sarah, and help your people.’” Leaving Spelman to return home to open a school in Grady, she married Marion, called “Shug.” They welcomed a daughter, Divinia, and Sarah earned her degree studying summers at Spelman, while continuing to serve the children in her community. Yet tragedy visited, with the sudden death of Divinia. A broken heart did not cloud Sarah’s compassion. Caring for a neighbor who would die in childbirth, Sarah’s love moved her to action that changed her and other’s lives. "The woman's husband has long left," Sanders told the gathered. "There was no food. At daybreak, spent and weary, Sarah bundled up the new baby, gathered the five older children and took them down the road to her house. That was when Sarah became 'Mama Sarah.'" As more children arrived in years following, Sarah saw that the vision of the gate she had seen at Spelman was about more than teaching, but also about feeding and clothing vulnerable children. “You come right in here,” said Mama Sarah. “We’ll make room.” Children continued to arrive at her door; reaching upwards of 50. What came next changed Sarah's life, said Sanders. "Sarah's strength and courage was beginning to falter. She decided to put it up to the Lord she had believed in and trusted all her life. She got down on her knees and prayed. 'If I’m intended to go on, God, send me a sign. A dollar, God, send just one dollar.' She took a walk to hear a word from the Lord. When she came back, a little boy ran to meet her, waving a crumpled dirty one-dollar bill. 'Look what I found by the railroad track, Mama Sarah!' It was the sign Sarah needed to keep going." Sara was encouraged further when she won $1000 from a national radio Good Neighbor Award, inspiring dreams of a “real home” with modern comforts. Yet setbacks came. A fire burned the homestead while Sarah was out. Marion and the older children rescued all save for one infant. The tragedy gripped the community, which rallied to set up lodging in the schoolhouse and raised $45,000 to make the children’s home a reality. Shug did not live to see it built. Sarah would soon follow, stricken while working to ready the home. Recalling the words from 1 John, Sanders concluded. "Though it all, Sarah Murphy believed in love in action, leaving a legacy of compassion for those in need. Though Mama Sarah and Miss Ethel did not work side by side in life, their legacies merged in 1984 when the Women’s Division brought the two homes together. Today Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers is their legacy of love in action that changes the world."   *Rev. Sanders learned many of the stories of Sarah Murphy's life and inspiration from the revised edition of the book Mothers are Always Special, by famed Atlanta journalist and storyteller, Celestine Sibley (1985. Peachtree Publishers).

Evolve Initiative Update

Program Update

The Evolve Initiative is a small, community-based program providing safety, security, and evidenced-based therapeutic services for foster children with limited placement options. The program targets children with acute trauma recovery, mental health, and behavior management needs. Most youth have had multiple failed placements and reside in hotels or are exiting psychiatric treatment. Without intensive services, many would face homelessness, incarceration, and further abuse. Trained foster parents, behavioral therapists, and counselors provide intensive services that promote resiliency, positive coping skills, and life skills to successfully transition into communities.

Project Update

The first home opened in Conyers in February 2023, with additional homes launching in Augusta in May and November 2023. There will be additional homes opening in Augusta in 2024.


Between February and July, the program served 14 youth and achieved the following goals:
  • 82% of residents decreased destructive or self-harming behaviors.
  • 87% of residents completed the majority of the goals in their individual service plan.
  • 89% of residents increased life skills and behavior management capability.
  • 4 residents transitioned to step-down placements in the community or reunited with family.
As we continue to grow the Evolve Initiative, we look forward to sharing more stories of successes with you in the future!

Employee Spotlight: Cora Canty

Cora started working at Murphy-Harpst on January 24th, 1986 Positions held: Cottage Life Assistant, Cottage Leader, Therapist, Acting Personnel Coordinator, Prevent Team Coordinator, Cottage Supervisor, Social Worker for former Outdoor Wilderness Program, Public School Liaison, and School Services Coordinator "The children of Murphy-Harpst have always been the highlight of my time here. Over the years, I have continuously had kids tell me that I CANNOT retire. When I ask them why, I always receive the same answer: 'We need you.' So, I find myself staying year after year, and since I keep staying, one year turned into thirty-eight!" Our youth often refers to Cora as "their grandma!" "When I started working at Murphy-Harpst, I wasn't married, but I got married and had all my children while working here, and the staff and our residents have always been supportive. Several colleagues came to my wedding, and they were there again through all of my pregnancies. Staff came to my house to support me, and celebrated me bringing life into the world: three girls! Now, I recently became a grandmother! Murphy-Harpst has been there for me while I built my family, and has accordingly, become a part of it too. I get to come to work every single day and see my family. Every child and adult has become one of my own."