Newton agency to seek grant to house immigrant children in face of opposition

08/04/2014 6:31 PM

08/14/2014 3:18 PM

EmberHope, a nonprofit faith-based agency that helps children in need of care, has decided to proceed with a federal grant application despite opposition in the city of Newton.

The grant, if approved, might temporarily bring unaccompanied immigrant children from the U.S.-Mexico border to its Youthville facility in Newton. EmberHope would house up to 34 children at any one time, for an average stay of 30 days apiece. The grant would run for three years, with more than $4 million each year coming to EmberHope.

Shelley Duncan, EmberHope’s president and CEO, said Monday she expects pushback from people opposed to bringing the children to Newton.

Last Friday she explained EmberHope’s plans while asking for a letter of support from the city commission. About 90 people showed up for the special meeting; 13 spoke, and all but one opposed the proposal. Some people threatened to leave the community if the children come.

The commission unanimously refused to give a letter of support.

“I think people are scared, and fearful, and have heard things on the news that scare them, and I understand and respect that,” Duncan said Monday.

“But as a faith-based organization, built on the values and teaching of Jesus Christ, we want to honor what he taught, and we want to continue the work we have done.”

Applying for a federal grant is one thing; getting approved is another, Duncan said.

Newton’s city commission vote might have diminished EmberHope’s chances, she said, and it might be some weeks before the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement decides.

If the grant gets approved and the children come, it could provide 50 new jobs to the area, as EmberHope hires clinical workers, translators and other people to help sort out how to help the children, Duncan said. The federal government – not state and local government – would pay for those jobs and services, Duncan said.

All this came about because as many as 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the Mexico border into the United States in recent months, seeking shelter and help, and trying to escape violence and poverty in Central American countries south of Mexico.

The children have crowded together into government facilities and federal officials have been trying to find a way to temporarily and humanely house them until their fate in the U.S. can be sorted out.

Leroy Koehn, Newton’s mayor, said the city was firm about not wanting the children here. But he said Monday that “we have no recourse short of a lawsuit” to stop the children from coming. And he said they don’t plan to sue.

None of this should have happened, Koehn said. The border should have been secured, and there should never have been a situation like this where “anyone willy-nilly can cross the border” and enter the U.S.

But given that, if the children come, he said, “our job is just to be a compassionate community, try and care for children in need.”

“This is a business opportunity for EmberHope,” he said. “If the children come, and if they handle these children in an effective way, if they deal with any diseases they might bring along, I can see where it would be a win-win for everybody.”

EmberHope has for decades provided everything from counseling to residential and foster care to children.

“We have the residential facilities, and we have been doing residential care since 1927,” Duncan said. “We have the expertise to provide good residential programming.”

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