Ennis Center Fosters Hope



According to the ancient Greek myth of Pandora, all of the Earth’s evils are released from a jar with only the Spirit of Hope remaining at the bottom to help mankind endure the tragedies that have been unleashed. Today, to the child living in an unstable home, it can seem like all the evils of the Earth are working in concert to ruin the innocence of childhood. There are those who have been subjected to abusive or negligent parents – a reality for many children in Genesee County, should we choose to acknowledge it or not – but there are beacons of hope for local children in this situation. Ennis Center for Children is one such light.

Ennis Center for Children was founded in 1978 by Robert Ennis of Flint. Originally named Ennis & Associates, the organization prided itself on providing the best in foster care and therapy for children in Genesee County. After 35 years, Ennis says of his organization, “Our model in 2013 is the same as it was in 1978.” The Ennis Center has the distinct honor of being the first foster care organization in Flint begun by an African American, and Robert Ennis personally has the honor of being a part of a generation of Blacks that saw important social change in the black community. He marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in his youth, and now at 70 years old, he shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. “I’ve still got energy,” he says cheerfully.

Educated at the University of Michigan, Ennis worked in psychiatric and outpatient drug care for several years before deciding to work with children. He founded what is now known as Odyssey Village during his outpatient care days, after deciding to address needs he had seen go unattended in the foster care system. His goal was to provide “treatment committed to family, community, safety, and kids.” This treatment includes therapy for traumatized youth, which the Ennis Center provides without government reimbursement. Speaking to the foster care system, Ennis says, “You’re not going to get rich here, so you had better be in it for the children.”

Indeed, one truly needs to be dedicated to the welfare of the children, for theirs is a hard lot. Typically, a child who is in a precarious situation is removed from their home by Child Protective Services, who calls to see which organization has a “bed” for the child. Placement is short-term, a temporary stop between the known horrors of home and the unknown of a foster home. As the short-term stop for fragile children, Ennis sees how they “come in with nothing.” It is not just possessions that they lack, but love and confidence. They are fearful, confused and sometimes angry. Although the stories are woefully similar, Ennis insists that “each child must be treated uniquely.” Ennis provides therapy for incoming children while registered foster homes are alerted to prepare for a new arrival. Foster parents must be ready at all times to take in a new child, since the turnaround from home to foster home can occur “within a day’s time.”

Since the ultimate goal is to heal families, there is always a chance that the kids will remain in foster care for only a brief period of time, but there are times when the state deems a parent unfit to ever reclaim their child. In these situations, full adoption is an option. The Ennis Center staff joyfully reports that “Eighty percent of foster parents will adopt if the option is there,” and they can tell many successful adoption stories. One such story is that of Mark Chatman, which is detailed in the following article.

Over the past 35 years, Robert Ennis and Ennis Center for Children have received several honors for their compassionate service to those who have been overlooked or trampled in life. Mr. Ennis has been honored by the Michigan Alliance of Children’s Agencies and the Wayne State University School of Social Work Alumni Association. He has overseen several lengths of adoption legislation in Michigan, and was part of the Foster Care Review Board as well as Michigan’s Adoption Commission. Widely recognized for its excellence, the Ennis Center has established their Flint model in other Michigan cities upon request, and there are now two in Detroit, one in Port Huron and one in Vassar.

Certainly, Robert Ennis could rest on his laurels, but he chooses to “stay in the thick of it.” He desires to see more people come alongside the Ennis Center to work for substantial change in Flint. “We need more positive role models,” he says. In an effort to assemble positive role models, the Ennis Center is working on an art project with the Ruth Mott Foundation intended to improve reading comprehension among area youth through art. Ennis is also working with a team of local pastors to actively treat inner-city mental health issues.

Be it therapy, art, or just essential necessities such as toiletries, Ennis Center for Children is providing hope to combat the evils of the world and protect the innocence of youth. They are also actively calling out to the community to partner with them in services, financial support, or potential foster parenting in order to continue giving hope to kids who are in desperate need of rescue. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” The Ennis Center for Children is a home of hope worthy of recognition and the support of those who wish to see the end of child abuse and parental negligence in Genesee County.


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