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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."

Courtyard Dedicated to Judge Winn

We dedicated our new recreation area on the Cedartown campus in honor and memory of the late Judge Dan Peace Winn on November 2. The Winn Courtyard and Recreation Area houses a basketball court as part of the Hope Hall complex for male residents and was made possible through a gift from his family. Judge Winn, a native of Douglasville and longtime resident of Cedartown, died in 2016 at the age of 94. An esteemed jurist, he retired in 1988 after more than two decades as a Judge of the Superior Court of Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit of Georgia, after which he served as a Senior Judge for the State of Georgia until his death. Judge Winn was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medals for service in the U.S. Marine Air Corps in the Marianas Islands and Guam during World War II. He later obtained the rank of Major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Early in his career Judge Winn served as Assistant Attorney General for the State of Georgia and was elected for several terms as Polk County Solicitor and Solicitor General for the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit. He also served as President of the World Jurist Association. Judge Winn’s commitment to the education and well-being of the youth of Georgia is noted on the Courtyard’s memorial plaque, which will be revealed at the dedication, and reads in part, “This recreation area is dedicated in his memory so that children may thrive.” “We are grateful for the generosity of Judge Winn’s family that made this addition to our campus possible, allowing the youth that we serve more opportunity to move from trauma toward healing and flourishing,” said M. Scott Merrit, president and CEO of Murphy-Harpst.

A Letter From Scott: 100 Years

By M. Scott Merritt

Friends of Murphy-Harpst, When Ethel Harpst led the young ones in her care to their new home on the hill in Cedartown a century ago, few could imagine the lasting impact her determination would have on generations of Georgia’s most vulnerable children. Grounded in faith, and driven by love, Miss Harpst reached out to the many made homeless during the influenza outbreak of the 1920s. Following where God led, she opened the Harpst Home for orphans in 1924. A few years later Sarah Murphy, a Spelman College graduate, followed a similar divine call, opening a one-room schoolhouse in her own community, before she and her husband took in children left languishing and alone by the pandemic and the Great Depression. Since those first days, Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers has continued to respond to God’s call to meet the critical needs of families and youth across Georgia. Today we are confronted by a growing mental and behavioral health crisis among youth in the foster care system, with a lack of available placements for them to heal and thrive.  Along with our historic residential treatment facility and specialized foster care services, Murphy-Harpst is expanding its services around the state to address this child welfare emergency. Innovations like our Evolve Initiative with small neighborhood-based homes are providing further the essential therapeutic care and placements that have been lacking for children, offering family support through an array of services within local communities. We can stand in the gap for these children because of the determination and compassion of our Board of Directors, the MHCC staff, and our many donors and church partners who generously respond year after year, month after month, to give them life and hope. With this Spring newsletter we celebrate with you 100 years of God’s faithfulness to care for the young ones through the mission of Murphy-Harpst, and we embrace together God’s continuing call for their flourishing. All my best, [caption id="attachment_1100" align="alignnone" width="300"] M. Scott Merritt | President & CEO[/caption]

What are CORE Services?

Core Services are designed for people with a diagnosed mental illness, and/or co-occurring substance use disorder, whose level of functioning is significantly affected by the behavioral health illness. Services may include nursing assessment, medication administration, case management, peer supports, psychological testing, individual, family or group counseling. CORE Services are funded through Medicaid and State funds. Services can be initiated by Parents, Juvenile Probation DJJ, DFCS Workers, School Counselors, Residential Facilities, Relatives, Community Partners, etc.  Services provided through CORE funding include:
  • 24-Hour Crisis Intervention
  • Behavior Modification
  • In-Home Individual & Family Therapy
  • Community Linkage
  • Group Counseling
  • Counseling and Support
  • Educational Support
  • Independent Living Skills
  • PRTF Step Down
  • Medication Monitoring
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Parenting Skills Development
  • Positive Peer Interactions
  • Psychiatric Services
  • Psychological Services
  • PRTF Referral Services
  • Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Pre-Adjudication Monitoring