The United Methodist Children’s Home, a private foster care placement agency, has rebranded as Wellroot Family Services this year to better reflect its current and future mission.
“It grounds us in what we do,” said Brett Hillesheim, marketing director. “We seek for kids to be well rooted.”
But it’s not as if the nonprofit was faltering in its mission.
In 2018 alone, the organization approved 54 new foster families to its register; reunited 58 children with their families, and 35 more children were adopted; in all, 614 children, teenagers, young adults and families were served by its programs.
Still, there was good reason to think that rebranding the Children’s Home, beginning with a change to the nonprofit’s name, could help open a path to a brighter future.
The name itself sounds antiquated, a relic from the days of state-run institutions.
But Georgia phased out “congregant care” in 2010, and Wellroot has more than 140 private homes in its portfolio for foster children.
“(The name) really created a lot of confusion with people about what we did,” said Hillesheim, who has fostered 18 children and adopted five with his wife. The couple also have two biological children.
Working with the nonprofit’s families, donors and other stakeholders, this fact became apparent, with a majority of survey respondents saying the nonprofit’s name did not encapsulate the services and resources it provided.
Hillesheim said a slew of options were considered for a new name, but leaders wanted something that reflected what the nonprofit currently provides, as well as something that could easily incorporate future services. And they needed a name no one else was using.
“We like to say we are well rooted and firmly planted in our United Methodist heritage, as well,” Hillesheim said.
But Wellroot is an ecumenical agency, and while it is still a part of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, recruitment by the nonprofit may have been hurt in the past by the inclusion of the denominational name.
“We still have that Christian mission,” said Sar’Taj Bush, foster care program manager leading Wellroot’s Gainesville branch. “It just allows us to open up and reach more families so we can serve more children that may not be attending the United Methodist Church. I think that changing the name … allows us to get away from people thinking it’s just a children’s (group) home.”
Hillesheim said he and his staff were ready for potential backlash.
“You kind of brace yourself,” he added. “But (the response) really has been overwhelmingly positive.”
There has been no change to any of the nonprofit’s services with the rebranding, and Wellroot is now piloting a new program in DeKalb and Troup counties that ensures all the financial support benefits provided to licensed foster families are also provided when children are placed with relatives.
The Gainesville branch serves a 50-mile radius, with between 60-70 homes across Hall, Jackson, Gwinnett, Lumpkin, Clarke, White and other counties.
There are approximately 350 children currently in foster care in Hall County, according to figures from the local Division of Family and Children Services, while just more than 60 foster homes (public and private) were available as of last count.
“We are consistently opening homes,” Bush said. “And all the services continue. I believe (the rebranding) opens up other service providers.”
Partner agencies, from churches to volunteers, provide support by raising awareness, collecting gifts and food for seasonal foster child needs, behavioral therapy and parenting classes, as well as hosting “caregiver day outs” to give some relief to foster parents.
Bush said this is a critical component in trying to ultimately reunify the foster child with their family.
“That’s always the goal,” she added.