A mother gives her children roots … then wings.
It’s like that for Alison Evans, only in a different way.
The nest is never empty. It is constantly changing. For more than a generation, she has been a mother figure to thousands of young people.
She hugs them, feeds them and draws near to hear their stories. She makes sure they are in church on Sunday mornings. Like a proud mama, she pops buttons when they graduate from school.
In June, she will celebrate her fifth anniversary as president and CEO of The Methodist Home for Children and Youth in Macon. She spent 28 years at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Live Oak, Florida.
She has watched young people come and go, like a revolving door.
At the Methodist Home, many youngsters are there only a few months. Others stay for several years. Some show up with just the clothes on their backs. Their only suitcases are the emotional baggage they bring to the cottages on Pierce Avenue.
All have scars, visible and otherwise.
When they arrive, Alison gives each one of them a handmade quilt from individuals and local sewing groups. It is a tradition started 34 years ago by the man she followed, Steve Rumford, whose name is in big block letters on the building where she now works.
Alison is 54 years old. She is single, never married and has no children. But that is only biologically speaking.
On a Sunday when we celebrate motherhood, she is an example of someone who takes on the same roles and experiences the same joys … even though she has never spent the night in a maternity ward.
She points to a scripture from the Old Testament, found in Psalm 113:9. “He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother. Praise the Lord.’’ (New Living Translation.)
“There was a time in my life when all my friends were having kids,’’ she said. “I was in the right ‘season.’ I was looking, and I was saying, ‘Hey, Lord, what about me?’ I was asking myself if I should be husband hunting and not so career-focused.’’
Working at the youth ranch, and now at the Methodist Home, she embraced her calling.
“It was not bearing children,’’ she said. “It was nurturing them and helping them grow.’’
She loves to use the word “lifeguard.’’
That was her first job.
Growing up in Hobe Sound, Fla., she describes her childhood as “blessed.’’ Her parents married in 1958, and her mother, Bette Evans, was “of the generation where the first priority was to get married. She and all her friends were looking to settle in and be housewives.’’
Bette was a stay-at-home mom. After her two daughters got older, she did volunteer work as a Girl Scout leader, a room mother at school and a pink lady at the hospital.
Although her family attended the Presbyterian church, Alison began going to the First United Methodist Church in Hobe Sound with some friends from her neighborhood.
“When I was 10 or 11, I told my father I wanted to change religions,’’ she said. “He laughed and said the only difference between Methodists and Presbyterians was one was debtors and the other trespassers.’’
She joined the Methodist church and began helping in the nursery. Although she adored working with children, by the time she went to college at Stetson, her eyes were turned in another direction.
She said her generation was all about making money. She planned to become an attorney or a stockbroker. After her junior year, she took a summer job as a lifeguard at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch.
“I was thinking it would be like a camp sunshine,’’ she said. “I had no idea I would be working with abused and neglected kids.
“When I went back to Stetson, all my peers were talking about how much money they were going to make and what color BMW they were going to drive. All of a sudden, I realized I could do something that would change the trajectory of the life of a child forever. And that had more meaning and value than any paycheck I could put in my back pocket.’’
The history of the Methodist Home dates back to the Bibb County Widows and Orphans Home in 1856. After the Civil War, a Methodist chaplain established a refuge for needy children. It was sold (for $1) to the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church in 1872.
“Now kids are more social orphans,’’ Alison said. “They know their mothers and fathers, and they have a relationship with them. But their family has been fractured, and right now they can’t be with them.’’
She said her passion and drive for “raising up” her children are mirrored by her staff. It truly takes a village. Anybody who works at the home, regardless of their job title, is considered a “childcare worker and therefore a parent figure.” She said their mission is “multiplied because of the donors in our community who help make this place a home.’’
She has had children tell her she is like a mom to them. She wears it like a badge of honor.
“I don’t want to assume or presume I, or anybody else, could take the role of their mother,’’ she said. “But if I can show them the same love and compassion, give them opportunity, hold them accountable and teach them something maybe their mother should have taught them, then that makes it for me.’’
She laughs about the time one young man paid her a compliment. At least she hopes it was.
“He said, ‘Miss Alison, you smell like my grandmother,’ ’’ she said. “I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. But I told him I was really glad I did.’’
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.