The year is 1912, Sunday morning and time for church. Young orphans are rounded up and lined up in front of what is now our Administration building.
It’s a moment frozen in time, and when you look at the picture 100 years later, you can almost hear the orphanage staff telling the kids to line up – stop talking – quit fidgeting.
Children whose families couldn’t care for them – or whose parents had died – were brought to the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home and received care and education so they could live productive lives despite the trauma of being separated from their families.
At the time this photo was taken, the orphanage had around 570 boys and girls. It was overcrowded and was underfunded. Costs for children were split by the county and the state, but the care of soldiers’ orphans was the sole responsibility of the state. The Home was given $12 a month per child, but costs exceeded revenue by at least $400 per month.
Thousands of children had already passed through the Home by the time the 1912 photo was taken. Thousands more would pass through during the following 50 to 60 years.
In 1949, the legislature renamed the orphanage the Iowa Annie Wittenmyer Home to honor the woman from Keokuk who was primarily responsible for starting it.
I look at the old photo now and realize that everyone standing there has lived their lives and are now gone. I look at the young faces and wonder what happened to them? Are their grandchildren still alive? Did they live happy lives?
Over time, as foster home and adoption programs flourished, the Annie Wittenmyer Home stopped being an orphanage and became more focused on group care for children with special problems in adapting to the normal community.
Today, Family Resources provides many more services to families in our area, but we still serve as a place for young people to receive care, treatment, and education to help them learn to live productive and happy lives. We call our Davenport grounds the Wittenmyer Youth Campus in honor of Annie. We also have offices in Dubuque, Clinton, Muscatine, Burlington and Moline to offer services to families that range from mental health counseling and family restoration to rape/sexual assault programs and Domestic Violence shelters.
A few months ago, in the same spot where the orphans lined up for church in 1912, two families from our DV shelter stood after visiting our Administration building. Although it is 100 years later and the children we serve are no longer orphans, they still need a safe place, and that’s what we offer. I look at the faces in the 2012 photo and want them to live happy lives free from fear. I’m happy to report that at least one of these families is in a safe home of their own now, the mom has a job and is preparing to go back to school.
If you have followed the news in 2012, we have some of the same problems with funding as we did 100 years ago. We have had to make painful adjustments this year so we can keep moving forward. It helps to have the support of a caring community and generous donors who understand the legacy of the past 160 years and who know there will always be children, women and families who need a safe place to regroup, recover, and get back on track to achieve happy, productive lives.
So I get a little reflective as a year comes to an end, but as I look at the faces in the photos from 1912 and 2012, it’s obvious that – like an Olympic flame – we pick up the torch from one generation and carry it to the next.
If the past is any indication, Family Resources will be here far into the future. None of us will be here when a photo is taken in 2112, but if we do our jobs right, families that need a safe place will still be able to come here to find it. I can’t imagine a better legacy to leave behind and to carry forward into 2013.