By the end of June, the two campuses that are the Palmer Home for Children will become one, with the Columbus campus transitioning to its Hernando location.
Board members, calling it a move in a new direction, will start making plans to combine its origins in Columbus more than 120 years ago to the Hernando campus, which was added in 2006.
“Our board decision was carefully evaluated, prayerfully considered and we unanimously concluded that our organization’s greatest responsibility is to serve more children and serve them well,” board chairman Alan Walters said in a statement.
“It’s a new direction, a new strategy, in particular we’re excited about identifying some keys to benefit vulnerable children,” added Palmer Home president and CEO Drake Bassett. “There are some pieces that we have already done, but we’re doubling down on our core capability, which is residential care. But we’re also expanding foster care and that is very important.”
In a news release, Palmer Home officials stated it has always been in the plans to expand the Hernando campus. In 2017, three new cottages were constructed, for a total of six cottages at Hernando. There are also plans to construct a new wellness center, the Dr. Hugh Francis Wellness Center, at the Hernando location, Bassett said.
“That’s a $5 million construction that we will begin to break ground later this year,” Bassett explained. “That is a facility that will provide rooms for counseling, rooms for staff, play and art therapy, educational classrooms, a gymnasium, all of those things that are needed for our residential campus.”
Bassett said he believes that consolidation will offer greater benefits to Palmer Home and its residents.
“Once you’ve consolidated your resources into a single residential campus, it allows you to invest in other essential capabilities,” said Bassett. “We need more foster care across the state, but we also need the infrastructure to support it. You need caseworkers and you need your training and you need the ability to do the background on families. You also need all of the outreach that comes with recruiting families and all of the process.”
The Columbus children will finish the school year there and plans are to make the move to Hernando after the school year is done. Some may attend classes in Hernando, but Palmer Home children also go to school in Lake Cormorant and a number attend classes at Tunica Academy in Tunica.
Bassett believes the youngsters that are ready to go to college or go into foster care will allow for current cottages to handle to move to Hernando, but added future growth will likely take place.
“In the future we have plans to build additional homes but today we currently have six homes,” Bassett explained. “We’ve identified which children need to be in residential care but we’ve also been working on these plans for several of our children to go ahead and be transitioning into foster care this summer. So, some will be going into foster care, some will be headed off to college in the fall, some will be reunified, some will be doing different things, but out of all of our children in our care, approximately 100 today, we will see 50 of those children on our campus in Hernando.”
It is hoped that the Columbus campus will continue to be used in new ways by that community.
“Over the next few months, I’ll be working with local missions in Columbus to see whether or not they would want to use that property,” he said. “If we can find the right mission to partner with and they can use the homes, our gymnasium, our school, if they can use that for their program, we would be glad to work out an arrangement. If that can’t happen, then we would take a look at other options.”
In the announcement that consolidation to Hernando was taking place, it was also pointed out the Executive Team and Administration would remain in Columbus and the Thrift Store services there will continue to operate.
Foster care functions there will also continue to recruit and support families in the area who already care for Palmer Home children. Bassett said foster care programs remain a strong part of the home’s mission.
“We’ve been in foster care for 2-3 years and we did that by design to determine if it could work for us and should it work for us.” said Bassett. “A child in residential care needs to be there for a period of time but doesn’t need to be there forever. When they’re ready, we need to be able to move them to a more permanent situation with a family that can focus on their well being.”
As far as staffing, there will be some loss of jobs, but some employees will be able to transfer from Columbus to Hernando and with the growth, Bassett expected 5-10 new positions would be added.
“For the past 120 years, we’ve always been a safe place for children and we’ve done great work with that,” said Bassett. “We’re building on the work we’ve done and what we’re saying is the needs of children require additional capabilities. Consolidating to one campus allows us to focus on residential but also allows us to divert some of those same resources and create new programs.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.