Granite Falls charity promises hope to area children

Aug. 17, 2013 @ 08:50 AM

Peggy Duncan got a call on a November day in 2011 to pick up her two granddaughters from a bus stop in Wilkes County. Their parents had been arrested on drug charges, and the children needed somewhere to go.

Today, those two children spend much of their time at Promises of Hope, a charity organization in Granite Falls that helps children having a hard time at home.

“I never imagined it, but we suddenly have disposable children,” said Melissa Austin, the founder of Promises of Hope, saying children are getting in the way of social lives, relationships, drugs, and they are simply “not looked at as being divinely created by a God who loves them.”

Promises of Hope does a range of things for needy kids from giving them a place to shower, something to eat, shoes that fit, tutoring, and even professional counseling from Austin, who has been a certified counselor for the past eight years. Today more than 70 kids are enrolled at Promises of Hope, and when school starts back, that number is expected to jump to more than 100, said Austin, who started the program with her husband Wayne in 2007.

The needs of kids who come to the program vary. Some need only help with schoolwork and test preparation, some have special needs, but some need help with the most basic necessities.

Duncan’s husband is 85, and when their granddaughters came into their custody, the challenges started to pile up and she knew they were going to need counseling, but didn’t know the first thing about where to get it.

Another night in November, Duncan was attending the Christmas tree lighting in downtown Granite Falls and stumbled on Promises of Hope’s booth, picked up a brochure and called the next day.

Duncan said her two granddaughters, 8 and 10, “made a complete turnaround” since they first came to Promises of Hope. The girls are making strides in school and behavior, and Duncan says the transformation has been amazing.

Austin said stories like Duncan’s are becoming all too common, with cases of neglected and abused children on the rise over the past few years, something Austin attributes, at least in part, to the economy. People simply can’t afford it anymore.

“Today, kids are faced with so much more,” Austin said, citing custody battles and parents with drug problems.

Promises of Hope provides a safe place to feel like home, providing social and emotional support as well as academic help. Children can shop for Mother’s, Father’s and Grandparents’ Day holidays via shopping at sales the program hosts from items donated from the community and kids painted an American flag for the Fourth of July, all programs that help the kids get involved socially and feel at home.

They also participate in Farm Bureau's Agriculture in the Classroom program, which teaches students about local agriculture and how food gets to the grocery store shelves. Thursday, students dissected their lunch, learning how each ingredient got to their tables.

A new program, hopefully starting in September, aims to use art as therapy and donate art tote bags, filled with supplies for a weekly art project, to dialysis patients and homeless children in Lenoir.

Titled Healing Art Fanatics, it features a different project each week with everything from acrylic painting and quilting to train whistles, offering a creative escape for area residents going through hard times.

Destiny Curtis, 17, first came to Promises of Hope two and a half years ago, as part of assigned therapy through foster care. Today, she has worked through her counseling and serves as tutor and mentor for others who come into Promises of Hope.

“It definitely helped with my confidence,” Destiny said, adding that when she first came to the program, she wouldn’t look anyone in the eye, found it hard to talk to people and had a bit of a chip on her shoulder.

Today, Curtis is a success story, and her stark, colorful paintings hang on the walls at Promises of Hope, commemorating how far she has come and showing newcomers what they can achieve.

Promises of Hope has been looking at new ways to reach out for funding, with staff taking a grant writing class and applying for new grants from donors like Bernhardt Furniture and the Broyhill Family Foundation. But currently, the Austins mostly fund the program themselves, with a small monthly installment by Farm Bureau Insurance and other small donations from the community.

One day, Austin says, she hopes to get the program at an off-site house with acreage and dogs, a place where the children can stay overnight, a place that really feels like home.

“It’s very, very, very hard to take a child who is suddenly become not important, to rebuild self-esteem and tell them they were created with a purpose,” said Austin.

For more information, to donate or sign up, call 828-396-4300.