Alison Evans once aspired to be a Wall Street executive.
The new president and CEO of The Methodist Home said her goals changed during a summer break in her junior year at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.
Working as a lifeguard at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, she was teaching a 9-year-old girl to swim.
While trying to get her to kick, the youngster rolled over and looked up at Evans, who was cradling her on top of the water.
Her life was in my hands, literally, said Evans, sitting in her new office at the Pierce Avenue campus.
What the little girl said next turned Evans goals upside down.
The girl mentioned a sexual abuse training video she had seen.
My daddy does that to me all the time. Dont all daddies and daughters do that?
The girl had been abused since she was an infant and never knew any different.
For her, it was a life-changing experience, Evans said. For me, it was a life-changing experience.
No longer was the college student of the me generation thinking about what color BMW she would have, or how much money she would make.
I thought, with a career in social services and my business background, I could have an impact on so many children, she said Monday.
Evans spent 28 years working at the Florida ranches that cater to needy children.
She rose from directing summer camp to become the regional director of Southeast Florida and most recently as vice president of donor relations.
Saturday, she became the first woman to lead The Methodist Home in its more than 140-year history.
Now shes focused on the 133 children living at homes in six locations.
The thing that set her apart from others was her passion for the children, said Johnny Walker, who was on the search committee.
Her experience in child care, working with governmental entities and fundraising were key, said Walker, who has seen childrens circumstances change dramatically in the 40 years hes been a board member.
We used to be a home for troubled orphans. Now they come from all kinds of terrible homes, abuse, drug problems and all kinds of family situations, he said. They need someone to look after them and really care for them.
Caring about children
Evans, who at age 49 has never married, does not have any children of her own, except D.D., the rescued greyhound racer she inherited from her father.
The self-professed workaholic has a full life caring for the children of others.
Those children stole my heart and I havent seen it since, Evans said. I have thousands of children.
Fundraising will be crucial in her role at the Methodist organization that runs homes in Macon, Columbus, Valdosta, Americus, St. Marys and Waverly Hall.
She decided to initially rent an apartment so she wouldnt have the distraction of setting up a house and could concentrate more on the children.
Even before she officially started, she put on a pair of blue jeans and mingled with the kids at a Friday Fun Fest last week.
Shell delay joining a church for a few months in favor of worshipping with the children at chapel.
Expansion of the Intensive Family Visitation pilot program is high on her agenda.
A couple of years ago, The Methodist Home launched a Bibb County project through the Division of Family and Children Services.
The Lighthouse for Families home provides a place for parents and children to make contact within 24 hours after a child is removed, often under traumatic circumstances.
Once the fog begins to clear, parents want to know where their kid is, how their kid is, Evans said.
In the past, it could take weeks before a meeting could be arranged with foster parents, which emotionally strained the children and adults.
DFCS will now be bringing children to the facility from the entire region.
With counselors and mentors from The Methodist Home, mothers can fix dinner during the visit and create some sense of normalcy and routine.
They will be safe, secure, protected, but still connected, Evans said. Were reaching out with innovative ways to heal children and families and restore hope.
Sometimes, a child from the program might need residential care, or the family will seek counseling or other services.
Sometimes its just as simple as showing young mothers how to mix formula, said Jill Myers, executive vice president of The Methodist Home.
Making the transition
The homes legacy has not been lost on Evans.
By the time she showed up for her first interview, she had thoroughly researched the organization. On the way into the Rumford Center for her board meeting, she stopped to read the plaque on the wall.
Im loving the history, I love the legacy, so Ive been reading all I can, she said. Ive met a lot of people dedicated to serving children with a real servants heart.
Shes also looking forward to immersing herself in the Macon community and has been advised to add some pink to her wardrobe for Cherry Blossom time.
D.D. and Evans already have embraced Macon Dog Park, where the aging racing dog can run free.
She praises outgoing President Steve Rumford, who retired after 29 years.
He has made the transition so smooth and so professional, she said. Im very grateful to him.
Derek McAleer, vice president for development and church relations, said it is clear the search committee did a very thorough job in selecting Evans with the same scrutiny that brought them Rumford, who has been lauded for his work.
Shes a very smart lady, very self-controlled and capable McAleer said. Shes very take-charge and I dont mean that in a bad way.
Evans said she plans to move forward with the founding fathers vision with a freshness and newness for the families of Georgia today.
Aside from playing an occasional round of golf, Evans said her life is devoted to her career.
I truly love working. It doesnt feel like working. It feels like doing.