A spate of violent crimes that rocked the Columbus community in 2016 were the impetus for a new foster care center for boys in the community.
Founders of the Southern Living Academy, located at 4225 Alton St., will hold an open house Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The public is invited to view the facility between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., organizers said.
Andrea Shields, the center director, said the academy will house boys ages 12 to 18 years old currently in the Muscogee County foster care system. She said the property was once used for an assisted living facility called “Loving Care.” It was owned by Willie and Sheryl Hargroves, now house managers at the academy.
The property had been vacant for a couple of years, Shields said. She and the Hargroves decided to turn it into a home for foster boys after learning of the January 2016 triple homicide in Upatoi and other violent crimes allegedly committed by young men in the community.
“What brings a person to the point where they think they can take somebody’s life?” she asked. “There has to be something we can do to make them think differently.”
The center is a 16-bed facility. But it’s more than a residential center, Shields explained. The boys also will be required to participate in life skills classes and other after-school activities.
She said the academy is a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a governing board that will assist with fundraising and operational efforts. The organization has applied for an operating license through the Department of Families and Children, and hopes to open the center in February.
Shields said she is a real estate agent who once worked for a group home in Hawaii. She is married to Derrick Shields, the executive pastor at Christ Community Church.
She became friends with the Hargroves in the 1980s while serving in the military, she said. Her mother stayed at the couple’s assisted living facility whenever she was away on duty.
When the group decided to transform the facility into a foster home, Shields asked Facebook friends for help. And many people responded. Some sponsored specific rooms. Others donated skills and expertise. Members of Christ Community Church helped with painting and other renovations.
“So it’s really the community’s boys’ home,” she said. “Everybody contributed.”
To donate or volunteer with the center, contact Shields at 706-536-2889 or firstname.lastname@example.org.