Coastal Living Magazine: Describe the concept behind Children in Crisis. How did it begin?
Ken Hair, President & CEO: Children In Crisis is a NW Florida based 501(c)(3) non-profit charity of caring people working together to provide homes and keep siblings together. We give a home to the abused, neglected and abandoned children of our community. Currently, over 1,400 children per year in our area need a home and there are only 300 community foster homes with a total of 675 beds. Before CIC, there was no emergency shelter in Circuit 1 of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for young children removed from an unsafe environment on short notice. Without CIC, many foster children would be moved from home to home – some as many as ten times a year. At the CIC Neighborhood, it is our priority to keep brothers and sisters together as a family.
CLM: How many locations do you have? Do you plan to expand?
KH: Children In Crisis has one CIC Neighborhood located in Fort Walton Beach. However, children come from all four counties of Florida’s panhandle— Okaloosa, Walton, Santa Rosa and Escambia. The location in Fort Walton Beach was made possible by a charity lease of 20 acres of wooded land from Northwest Florida State College. We have adequate land to continue to expand the CIC Neighborhood for many years. Expanding will depend on funding to adequately sustain additional homes and locations. We opened the Ty Pennington home in October 2016. This was our seventh home, which includes the Susanna Wesley Emergency Shelter, five foster homes and the Opportunity home for transitioning foster teens. We also have the neighborhood center and a recreation center.
CLM: Tell us about your background. How did you become involved?
KH: I had the great honor to serve our country in the United States Air Force for almost 29 years. This was an amazing adventure and I took advantage of all the educational and leadership opportunities that came my way. In my career after the Air Force, I was the Director of Marketing and Development with the Air Force Enlisted Village. This was also a very rewarding experience for almost six years. In 2005, I was contacted and invited to share my thoughts on their plans to build CIC. I was amazed with their business plan and intentions for building a home for abused children. It was an easy decision because I wanted to be a part of the vision.
CLM: How has the community responded to the work you do?
KH: Our wonderful community has been amazing! Their support to CIC in every way possible has been the difference in CIC being successful. Serving in the military took me to many different locations and communities around the world, but with all the moves I’ve never lived in a more supportive, concerned and involved community!
CLM: How does someone get involved with Children in Crisis?
KH: A large part of CIC’s strength is our community support and volunteer involvement. We have a wide range of opportunities including tutoring, helping hands in the homes, mentoring, fundraising, and even yard maintenance! Give us a call because we need your help!
CLM: You’ve got it! Talk about your ultimate goal for the organization.
KH: To build more foster homes at the CIC Neighborhood as long as there are construction donation sponsors and sustainment funding. We’ve made incredible progress in insuring the abused children in our community have a safe loving home but there’s still a lot to do. Since opening our first homes in 2008, we’ve given a home to over 700 children. That’s over 80,000 days/nights of providing a home to an at-risk foster child.
CLM: Staggering numbers. How is your organization funded?
KH: Children In Crisis gets a small portion of its funding from the Department of Children and Families. Unfortunately, the DCF funding only covers about one-third of the cost. The other two-thirds comes from our wonderful donors, foundations and grants and fundraisers throughout the year. Funding for sustaining operations is our biggest challenge and our most critical need. It’s a real struggle every year to fund the budget but our mission is too important not to be successful.
CLM: How does your family feel about your work? How involved are they in C.I.C.?
KH: My family is very supportive of my work with CIC. They are extremely proud of what CIC is doing for the children of our community, enabling me to work long but enjoyable hours for the kids.
CLM: Thank you, Ken, for sharing insight into your wonderful organization. One last question, what keeps you up at night?
KH: Some nights the thought of not having enough operational funding keeps me awake. Together, we’ve done so much for the children of our community and we simply must continue keeping the CIC doors open! The children are our future!!
For more information on volunteering and donating to Children in Crisis, visit www.childrenincrisisfl.org, or call 850-864-4242 and ask for the Volunteer and Events Director.