Church of the Redeemer United Church of Christ in Westlake, Ohio, takes seriously its longstanding mission partnership with UCC-related Crossroad Child and Family Services, based in Fort Wayne, Ind. The connection is more than 60 years old, thanks to the members of the small, Greater Cleveland-area church and their willingness to serve those in need.
Known originally as the Fort Wayne Children’s Home, Crossroad began in 1883 as an orphanage of the Reformed Church. Redeemer UCC, founded in 1954, also is out of the Evangelical and Reformed tradition.
“Their participation with us started very quickly after their founding,” says Kyle Zanker, chief development officer at Crossroad. “We both ‘became UCC’ in the 1957 merger.”
“In those early days of their involvement with us, the church did several things,” adds Zanker. “They sent financial support. Members of the church sometimes took in some of the orphans for Christmas and for a couple of summer vacation weeks.”
Ruth Michelich, who served as chair of Redeemer’s mission board for 19 years, remembers the time in the 1960s that she and her husband, John, hosted two boys –– Lee and Arthur –– for two weeks.
“They came and stayed with us for two weeks one summer,” she says, “and they were the nicest boys.” Some of the children were troubled, she adds, but the hosting families did their best to help their guests have a good time. She and John still think about Lee and Arthur, Ruth adds, “and I hope everything turned out for them.”
Crossroad began its transition from an orphanage to a treatment provider for troubled children in the mid-1970s. Its last year of placing children with families was 1973. Redeemer’s Chuck and Carol Mealy remember well. They adopted their eldest daughter, Megan, from Crossroad/Fort Wayne in 1973. In addition to Megan, the Mealys got something they hadn’t planned on –– a church family.
“We put in our application with Fort Wayne Children’s Home,” says Carol. But when they were contacted about a year later, there was a new stipulation: “We had to be UCC to adopt,” says Chuck. Church of the Redeemer UCC was close by their home, so one Saturday morning, the Mealys stopped in and found then-pastor the Rev. Henry Noeffke sitting at his desk. The Mealys explained their situation, adding that they were not going to just use the church –– they wanted to be members –– and Noeffke said, “Well, come to church on Sunday!” Some 45 years later, the Mealys continue to actively participate in the life of their local church family.
Not only did Redeemer support and welcome the Mealys, it also continued its support of Crossroad. “As we changed from an orphanage to a treatment provider for troubled kids, [Redeemer] sent birthday and Christmas presents for the kids. They sent school items and personal care items,” says Zanker. “And, when we opened our home for unwed mothers, the church sent baby items and maternity clothing, as well as offering money to continue [our work] with troubled kids.”
Tradition of Support Continues
Today, Crossroad — a CHHSM-member ministry — is a treatment provider for emotionally troubled children and their families. It provides a full spectrum of services in residential, outpatient, home-based, and community settings. The children receive therapy, education, recreation and exercise, health care, and other services.
“There are many churches who had a part in our founding in 1883 who still support the Crossroad mission to help children and families today,” says Randall J. Rider, president and CEO of Crossroad. “Many other churches began supporting us later and have been a major part of who we are for decades.”
In addition to gifts and financial support, church members “pray for us … advocate for children and families, invite us for mission moments and pulpit supply, share their care for these kids and families in very personal ways,” Rider says.
The future of Crossroad is all about expansion, he adds. Last summer, its on-grounds school obtained two independent accreditations and became Crossroad Academy. No longer under the umbrella of Fort Wayne Community Schools, it can now “serve more kids who have problems in public school …. and might otherwise be sitting at home, unsupervised, and getting into trouble while being deprived of an education,” he says.
Also ahead is a soon-to-be-announced capital campaign to build a modern residential and outpatient treatment space so that Crossroad can serve more children in an improved environment.
Church of the Redeemer plans to continue its support and, as is its custom, part of the church’s April mission offering went to Crossroad.
“Crossroad has made a long-lasting impression at Redeemer, impacting the people deeply. It is a relationship that will continue for many years, and it is rewarding on both ends,” says the Rev. Damien J. Lake, pastor. “God has blessed Redeemer and we love to share those blessings with others.”
Simply put, “Crossroad is the church in action, helping children who have been traumatized by sexual and/or physical abuse, neglect, child-trafficking, or are suffering from brain trauma or other serious challenges,” says Rider. “With the help of our UCC family, we create promising futures for these young people in a faith-based setting.