Left, Ethel Harpst circa 1948. Right, Sarah Murphy reads to 6-year-old Mary Murphy on March 11, 1946, at the Sarah Murphy Home.
Murphy-Harpst began as a dream cultivated by two women in the early 1900s. Their dream continues to thrive through the care and devotion of United Methodist Women members today.
In 1914, the Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church sent Ethel Harpst to take charge of their McCarty Settlement House in the mill village of Cedartown, Georgia. In 1924, she opened the Harpst Home in order to provide orphans with better resources and facilities.
A few years later, Sarah Murphy, the daughter of former slaves, founded the Sarah D. Murphy Home at the edge of the Cedartown community, one of the first institutions established in Georgia to care for African-American children. When Ms. Murphy died in 1961, the then Woman's Division of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church took jurisdiction of the home. In 1984 the Sarah D. Murphy Home and Ethel Harpst Home merged to become Murphy-Harpst United Methodist Children and Family Services. The site is now home to Murphy-Harpst, a national mission institution supported by United Methodist Women with three locations in northwest Georgia, its main campus still located in Cedartown.
Murphy-Harpst now provides individualized treatment and secure living space to children who have been abused or neglected, regardless of their gender, race, or religious beliefs. It is a not-for-profit organization committed to meeting the needs of young people through residential treatment, placements in specialized foster care and community programs.
A strong bond
Women's groups travel from across the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church to serve and celebrate this mission that is dearly loved.
Rome First United Methodist Church in Rome, Georgia, is about 20 miles away from Murphy-Harpst. Their United Methodist Women's group consists of about 180 women and maintains a strong bond with the children's home.
"Murphy-Harpst has been a part of the United Methodist Women for a long time," said Winnie Holland, president of United Methodist Women at Rome First. "We have taken on many projects there."
Many women of the church are members of the Murphy-Harpst Auxiliary, a support group for the agency that meets regularly to discuss ways to best provide for the residing children. They visit the campus regularly to provide necessities, like meal assistance, and participate in fun activities.
United Methodist Women members and other supporters join the children every year for Murphy-Harpst's Pedal Project Bike-a-Thon, where children in residence ride bikes around the campus and raise funds by achieving their predetermined lap goals. United Methodist Women members and supporters sponsor bike riders and cheer them on. Thirty-five bike riders participated in the October event for a total of 378 laps. Together with a May Miles of Hope Memorial Day ride, the bikers raised $3,500 for Murphy-Harpst.
The Rome First United Methodist Women members also "adopt" children at Christmastime to provide prayers, gifts and cards of encouragement throughout the year.
Several families of Rome First's United Methodist Women also participated in the adoption of the Family Cottage, a residence for children on the Murphy-Harpst campus. They assist in maintaining the personality and upkeep of the building. So far, the congregation has retiled the ceramic flooring, upgraded the kitchen, repainted rooms, provided window treatments and recovered furniture.
A growing home
Murphy-Harpst is currently building a new 30-room, double cottage in the hope of one day providing a private room to each child.
"When you're dealing with your own problems, you need a nice quiet place to go," said Susan Stroup, coordinator for financial support services at Murphy-Harpst and a United Methodist Women member at Anna Kresge Memorial United Methodist Church in Cedartown.
Murphy-Harpst broke ground on the new building on January 19, 2015, after playing a final football game across the large field where the building will reside.
District and conference outreach
On the district level, United Methodist Women continuously complete projects on behalf of the home.
In 2012, the United Methodist Women of the Rome-Carrolton District created a reading corner at Murphy-Harpst in honor of United Methodist Women member Susan "Susi" Edwards and her commitment to helping make life better for women, children and youth.
The district United Methodist Women keeps the shelves of the library full with a quarterly book drive. They also recover furniture, collect linens and hygiene products, and make visits to the home to deep clean buildings and refresh the Guest Cottage, used to house staff in emergency overnight situations.
This year, the United Methodist Women of the Rome-Carrolton District will decorate and distribute pillowcases, each with a unique design, varying from tie-dye to hand-stitched embroidery.
Ms. Stroup explained the value and uniqueness of this project.
"For the most part these kids' beddings are community property, so now these kids can have a pillowcase that's more 'them' and is theirs to keep," she said.
Across the North Georgia Conference, women's groups have delivered art supplies, hosted birthday parties and created Christmas stockings and Easter baskets. Many have also made prayer blankets.
"Each United Methodist Women's group seems to come with special talents," said Emily Saltino, Murphy-Harpst vice president for development. "They have been great advocates for us."
The president of the North Georgia Conference United Methodist Women, Sue Raymond, also acts as an ex-officio board member for Murphy-Harpst. Ms. Raymond has seen children light up as they tell of their hopes for their futures. Seeing firsthand how their lives have changed always brings volunteers back.
"The staff is made of the most giving, loving people. They are an extraordinary group," she said. "Once people see this organization at work, it's kind of contagious; they just want to do more and more."
During its annual conference, North Georgia has displayed Murphy-Harpst tables and banners and have invited speakers from the agency to talk with clergy.
Last year the North Georgia United Methodist Women invited a special guest to speak during their sponsored breakfast at annual conference. Jerrica Becker, a US-2 missionary through the General Board of Global Ministries, served for two years at Murphy-Harpst as an assistant chaplain.
"She thoroughly enchanted us with her commitment to working with the kids," Ms. Raymond said.
Interning and mentoring at the home provides young adults with the opportunity to explore possibilities in both missionary and psychology fields. Children who arrive at Murphy-Harpst have often been removed from abusive or neglectful situations, causing them to suffer severe trauma. Past negative experiences often result in behavioral and emotional disorders.
The 2014-2015 United Methodist Women mission study focuses on the church and people with disabilities. At conference Mission u events across the country this summer attendees will study the book The Church and People With Disabilities: Awareness, Accessibility, and Advocacy by Bishop Peggy A. Johson.
"Several United Methodist Women's groups have hosted this study and are working to become more aware and understanding by trying to erase the stigma of disability, whether it's mental, emotional or physical," Ms. Stroup said.
Children in particular with disabilities need a "supportive, nonjudgmental place" to be themselves and heal from any trauma they have faced, she said.
Rome First United Methodist Church has used the study as inspiration to encourage more homes within Floyd County to become foster families. They also invite current foster families to worship with them.
"I'm impressed as a United Methodist Women member with the studies that our organization puts out," said Ms. Stroup, who has attended United Methodist Women's conferences for the past 10 years and also serves as the Rome-Carrollton District United Methodist Women treasurer. "It really opens your eyes to the world beyond you."
Ms. Stroup hopes Mission u will motivate women to "erase the fear of disability and encourage women to reach out a little more," especially when it comes to serving national mission institutions like Murphy-Harpst.
The impact of connection
"It grounds us as an agency in the faith community," Ms. Stroup says of Murphy-Harpst's relationship with United Methodist Women. "Knowing that we have women praying for us all over the country, it's a really supporting feeling to know we are not in this struggle alone. Even on our worst days, we can keep on. We have their hope to lean on."
She finds that women who serve Murphy-Harpst see hope for each child within their program.
"Women are very powerful, more powerful than they realize," said Ms. Saltino. "Once they get behind a cause, they can make anything happen."
Ms. Saltino constantly witnesses the impact that The United Methodist Church makes on the children when they return as adults.
"You can really see and feel the results of faith, hope and love," Ms. Raymond said.
Ansley Brackin is communications specialist for the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.