Peter Gerber, the Bethany Homes Manager, showing an early stage of the experiment of growing tomatoes upside down in the greenhouse.
Wetaskiwin – Bethany Homes is now owned and operated by Hope Mission, and is being developed as a primary site for preventative programs focused on women and children.
Bethany Homes was founded in the late 1940s by Harvey Jespersen and his wife as a home for children whose parent loved and cared about them but was unable to raise them. In the 1950s, I got to know those young people who were in Junior High as we rode the same school bus to Camp Centre and attended the same Young People's at New Sweden and Gwynne. More recent contacts have shown the enduring love and respect for the Jespersens which those children have maintained throughout their adult years.
Hope Mission was founded as a soup kitchen in Edmonton in 1929 as one of the earliest responses to the tremendous needs created by the Depression. It has since grown to a major Christian social care agency for the impoverished and homeless people of Edmonton with about 230 staff plus volunteers involved in programs and shelters for men, women, and youth, and supportive programs for children. Much of that growth has taken place during the last 26 years under the continued direction of Bruce Reith. Hope Mission's vision is “to serve, strengthen, and uplift men, women, youth, and children through the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The redevelopment at Bethany Homes is focusing first on establishing the facilities and components necessary for the agricultural side of its planned programming while carrying on with pilot projects, day programs, and off-site programs. One of the first projects was the state-of-the-art greenhouse of double pane tempered glass and aluminium with electrically controlled vents and fans and heated from outside by the burning of waste wood. Outside the greenhouse there is a cement patio where tables can be set up so that school groups of children can plant seeds or do various activities. The area for the riding arena is cleared and levelled ready for the erection of the arena package upon its imminent arrival. Later on, there will be small, sustainable housing units for mothers with children which will provide opportunities to work individually with resident staff and receive help in gaining specific abilities they lack, ranging from learning to be responsible, to developing routines for meals, adequate sleep, having clean clothes, to assistance in learning how to discipline or to budget etc.
In the meantime, some programs have been running, and pilot programs have been successfully tried. The “Food 4 Thought” program has been running in local schools for a couple years, having expanded to eight schools for the 2012/13 school year, and with requests for further expansion this coming year. A healthy bag lunch with whole wheat bread sandwiches of peanut butter and jam, meat or cheese, real juice, and fruit is provided to children the teachers recognize as needing it.
The “Kids in Action” program is held after school from 3:30 to 5:00, and consists of games, music, gospel presentation activities, a snack, and hang-out time. Kevin Schular, Children's Program Coordinator, started this program in Centennial and Parkdale Schools this past spring.
The “Wellspring Women's Recovery Program” is involving women in growing vegetables at Bethany Homes for their own consumption. As they are involved in the gardening, they also learn responsibility, delayed gratification, and persistence. As they gain an understanding and appreciation of Christ as Creator and Saviour, they start asking questions, seeking to know more.
A children's day camp pilot project ran successfully in August. As they picked peas, transplanted lettuce, pulled weeds, they came to understand that often gratification is delayed, that a gardener can only plant the seed and do his/her part, but only God can make it grow. The children worked with the horses through orientation, basic training, leading and riding. There were also themed lessons on safety, teamwork, relationships and the gospel.
The “Horses of Hope” therapy program received a 2012 Community Service Award from the WRPS. Teachers were so appreciative of the way children who had been disinterested and disengaged in school returned from the program enthusiastic, involved, energetic, interested in their studies and interacting better with other children.
Hope Mission has an excellent staff at Bethany Homes. Bill Stock, the horse program coordinator, has 30 years of experience at Hope Mission's Brightwood Ranch, and has carefully selected horses suitable for the program here. Mark Waldner, in charge of maintenance, and Peter Gerber, site manager, both have homes on the site. Kevin Schular is the enthusiastic children's program coordinator. Two affectionate and friendly dogs, the mascot, a pony named Bethany Bella, and some cats add their comforting presence to the place. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will remain the basic foundation for the programs and relationships at Bethany Homes. When Harvey Jespersen visited, he expressed thankfulness for the way the next chapter of Bethany Homes is developing.