HOmes for Life

On 5 May 2012, International China Concern officially opened two new group homes in the city of Hengyang.

It’s a hot May day in Hengyang and a small crowd has gathered in a suburban neighbourhood where brand new blocks of flats (or apartments) have just been built. In the shadows of the high-rise buildings, everyone is anxiously waiting for the festivities to begin—the official opening and dedication of the Rich Hubbard Group Homes, ICC’s two newest community group homes. 

Some of those gathered are the young boys and girls who have just moved into the flats. They are playing host to local members of ICC’s staff, a number of ICC’s foreign volunteers, members of ICC’s International Supervisory Board (ISB) and local government officials. Also present is the wife and two children of the late Rich Hubbard, ICC’s first board chair, who passed away in 2010. Today, these homes are being dedicated in his name. 

For most of the adults there in attendance, this ceremony is the culmination of a lot of hard work and represents part of the growth of ICC. But for the 18 children that call these flats “home,” it’s more than that; for each of them, it’s a new beginning.

FAMILY-STYLE LIVING 

The group home model allows ICC to create family-style living. And when the homes are in residential flats, ICC can work to integrate the residents into the surrounding community. 

Many of the children and youth who are in ICC’s care have only known institutional living—multiple beds in one room, multiple care staff who work in shifts, education and therapy taking place in the same facility. 

Group homes remove that institutional setting. Ideally, seven to eight boys or girls live in a smaller home and share the space like any family. The children become brothers or sisters to each other, learning how to take care of themselves and their “siblings.” The children each have their own bed; they are taught to cook and are each responsible for doing basic chores. 

Each group home has dedicated nannies that act as house parents. They help supervise the children, go with them to the markets to teach them to shop, ride with them on public transportation and help them go to the local school. The benefits are obvious. All of these children lost their families at a very young age and were once consigned by society to be shut away. But community group homes provide family structure and are right in the middle of residential neighbourhoods. What was once lost or stolen from these children is now being redeemed.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

Anna Jien is a young woman from the east coast of Canada. A physical therapist, she has lived in Hengyang for the past few years providing therapy for the children and young people living at the Hengyang Welfare Centre. She was one of the key people who helped make the new group homes a reality. 

“It took nearly two years to find the right apartments,” Anna recalls. She explains that both apartments—one for boys and one for girls—are in the same building and on the same floor, side-by-side. They each have three bedrooms, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, a kitchen, a living/dining area and a balcony. 

“When you buy a new home in China, it is nothing but a concrete shell.” Purchasers of new homes must completely outfit any new apartment with flooring, interior walls, plumbing, electrical, counters, sinks, lighting and any other fixtures—basically, everything—themselves. 

“There were times when the local tradesmen looked extra confused as these foreigners wanted things wheelchair accessible,” Anna recounts. “We were asking them to install things where they shouldn’t be by Chinese standard.” 

For instance, the doors to the flats initially opened outward into the hallway. This left barely enough room for two people to stand and would have caused big problems for those using wheelchairs or walkers. So the doors had to be changed to open inward into the flats. 

Anna says it was a real team effort to get the two homes ready. The foreign volunteers and the local staff provided their expertise, helping to arrange tradesmen, buy supplies, make the homes accessible and hiring and training the new nannies.

HELP FROM PARTNERS 

It wasn’t only the ICC volunteers and staff in Hengyang that made the homes a reality. Partners from all over the world helped to either provide significant funding or finish the renovations, including a team from MMM International that came to plaster and paint walls, install plumbing and complete the electrical work.

MOVING DAY 

The moving day finally came in March 2012, and the kids were very excited. But Anna said the move also came with mixed emotions. ”Most of the younger children who moved to the group homes were just excited. But, the older ones looked on with a sense of anticipation while also knowing they would miss their friends at the welfare centre.” 

Upon arrival at the new homes, the unloading and unpacking became a bit of a frenzy. 

“The kids were super excited to call this newly furnished house their home,” says Anna. She describes a scene where little feet were running everywhere and voices were screaming in sheer excitement while the adults were trying to sort out where to put things. 

“I don’t know whether the kids slept at all that night. But I’m sure the adults slept very well,” she says with a laugh.

FAMILY LIVING 

ICC’s goal with community group homes is to provide family-style living. When asked about a story that best expresses why this is ICC’s focus, Anna Jien immediately had one ready about a young girl named Yang Jian Ping. 

Anna recounts how she recently took Ping and some other kids to the local McDonald’s for a treat because they had been such great helpers in the group homes. This was Ping’s first time to ever go to McDonald’s. 

“She would not stop talking in the car,” Anna remembers. “But, at one point I heard her talking to herself about wanting to save all the fries and burgers for her sisters. She then asked me whether I was going to buy 18 burgers and fries to bring back with her.” 

Anna says it was all she could do to choke back tears. “I just marvelled at this beautiful child that God has created, who is more than a reflection of who Jesus created her to be.”

HOMES FOR LIFE 

“Homes for life” is much more than just providing housing for a length of time. ICC’s homes are life giving. They provide a sense of family. They help give freedom and independence. They help integrate the marginalised into the surrounding communities. They open up a larger world to those who once had everything taken away from them.