HOUGHTON - When U.P. KIDS first opened its doors as Good Will Farm in 1899, the purpose was to meet the needs of a growing population of orphaned mining children in the Copper Country.
Until the early 1970's, U.P. KIDS continued this mission and provided over 4,000 orphaned children a home and school tucked away in the hills behind Michigan Technological University. Since the closing of the orphanage, the site has been known as home to over 1,000 youth through the residential program.
In December, U.P. Kids officially announced it would be changing its name from Good Will Farm to U.P. KIDS to better share their mission with the public. Today, U.P. KIDS is a residential home for children and more!
The residential program provides assistance to youth in a 24-hour safe, supportive and homelike environment.
"It's for kids that for whatever reason can't manage at home, in school or in the community, usually all three of these things," said director Mark Lambert.
When Lambert joined the U.P. KIDS staff, his first goal was to find another home to separate the boys and girls. Today, the residential boys and girls program homes are on adjacent lots.
At each of the sites, youth build on their strengths, learn about communication, life skills, problem solving and decision-making, participate in community service and set goals for themselves.
BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS
Although the Copper Country has had a Big Brothers Big Sisters program since 1992, it wasn't until 1998 that the program came under the U.P. KIDS umbrella.
"BBBS is all about relationships," Lambert said. "Mentoring is powerful. It helps children become confident, capable and caring individuals," he added.
The BBBS youth in the traditional program are typically 6 to 12 years old when they get "matched" and stay with the program as long as they wish. Volunteers are matched with youth following an interview and relationship training. The duo meets once per week and participates in an activity of mutual interest or one that will help the child. The volunteer, child and family receive on-going support from staff.
Beside the traditional BBBS program, U.P. KIDS also runs the Hive Five Mentoring program that matches high school students with elementary school students referred by teachers. These matches meet once a week during school.
"It's a great bonding experience for both in the match," Lambert said. "The high school 'bigs' and their 'little's' rarely miss school on a mentoring day!"
Once BBBS became a program of U.P. KIDS, the organization made more changes.
"We began several in-home service programs, and eventually got back into what we'd been doing for over 70 years, which was foster care and adoption," he said.
U.P. KIDS began operating the foster care program again in 2009.
Similar to the BBBS program, potential foster care parents have to go through a special screening process, which begins with an in-home interview, and includes significant training.
The majority of children in foster care end up there because their parents cannot provide adequate care and/or protection of their children. Foster families open up their hearts and their homes to children, offering stability, affection, consistency and nurturing.
"We have families in every community. These parents are a safety net for these kids," he said.
During a child's stay in a foster home, U.P. KIDS continues to make sure everything is going well for both the child and the foster family.
Through this new program, U.P. KIDS is looking forward to providing assistance to parents of foster care children. With this program, the agency works with the biological parents of the foster children to assist them in getting their children back into their own home.
"This is an U.P. wide initiative that will serve biological parents of foster kids, the families who've lost their kids. We'll go into their homes and try to help them learn the skills they need to get their kids back," he said.
Foster care allows parents to bring a child into their home for a short time, but adoption is a permanent solution when children cannot return home. U.P. KIDS has found that most adoptions are with a child's foster parents.
"Our goal is to find a permanent home for foster kids," Lambert said. "In fact, when we find foster parents, we ask them if they would be interested in adoption."
Children needing adoptive homes are like any other child, each with their own special personality, abilities, interests and potential.
"Foster and adoptive parents are dedicated and caring people who take on a challenging and rewarding role in children's lives," he said.
Families who adopt or become permanent guardians of children from the foster care system often need support to navigate services, address tough issues, or just learn more about being an adoptive parent," said Lambert.
To assist adoptive children and their families, U.P. KIDS operates the Post Adoption Resource Center.
"We have five site locations: Houghton, Ironwood, Escanaba, Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie to help them get the services they need," he said.
Staff at each site provides resources, training, interventions and support to help families stay together, build relationships and make the connections that last a lifetime.
"Finally, our Wheels Program helps families in need of transportation, and Read to Ride promotes reading among young children while providing a chance to win a mountain bike!" Lambert said.
"New name, same mission: caring for children," he added.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
There are numerous ways residents of the Copper Country can help U.P. KIDS.
1. Mentor a child through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"Make sure every child has a good role model," Lambert said.
2. Foster or adopt a child. "Every child deserves a loving home," he said.
3. Join a team or donate to the Bowl for Kids event on March 2 at the Mine Shaft in Houghton.
4. Participate in the Bridge and Mahjongg tournament on June 8 in the Memorial Union Ballroom.
5. Donate a vehicle to the Wheels Program.
6. Make a donation for a new bicycle to the Read to Ride program.
"You can also consider giving to the U.P. KIDS Endowment at the Keweenaw Community Foundation, talk to us about wills, annuities or trusts," he said. "Or identify someone you think would be a good volunteer or parent and talk to them about U.P. KIDS."
To learn more about how you can help, visit U.P. Kids online at www.upkids.com or call them at 482-0520.
Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by U.P. KIDS. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.