Epworth Children's Home

Epworth Children’s Home
2900 Millwood Ave
Columbia SC 29205

Encircling Parents with Love and Support

Ripley, a 35- year-old divorced mom from the Upstate, works 50-60 hours a week at two jobs to provide for her daughters, 7-year-old Ivy and 14-year-old Emma. She is also attending school part-time to improve her earning potential. Ripley struggles to balance financial pressures with the need to spend quality time with her children. Like many single parents with only a small support network, she often feels quite alone.

“On social media, from the outside looking in, everyone’s life is perfect,” Ripley said. “It’s so hard to see that anyone else is struggling or dealing with uncertainty over parenting or life decisions.”

Ripley and her daughters had visited Piedmont United Methodist Church a few times where she learned about a “Circle of Parents” support group that met at the church on Wednesday nights and provided childcare and supper. Having now participated for over a year, Ripley said Piedmont’s Circle of Parents group has made her a better parent by helping her handle the stresses of single parenting and feel more confident in her parenting decisions.

“Our group is so, so welcoming,” she said. “The meetings are diverse – there are married parents, single parents, grandparents, parents from different cultural backgrounds. It is a great outlet for getting real advice and feedback from other parents. Whenever I’m dealing with something or want a second opinion about parenting, I talk it out and someone always has had some kind of experience with that situation.”

Epworth administers the national Circle of Parents network for the state of South Carolina and helps churches and community groups set up the groups as a ministry to parents and caregivers in their local community. Piedmont is one of about a half a dozen UMC churches and community organizations in South Carolina that currently sponsor Circle of Parents groups.

“Circle of Parents groups have been proven to help strengthen families by fostering social connections, emotional support in times of need, parental resilience, and knowledge of parenting and child development,” said Melanie Cannon, one of two Epworth Family
Engagement Coordinators overseeing the Circle of Parents program.

The parent-led groups act as a pressure release valve – a safe space where parents and child caregivers can talk through their parenting fears, concerns and challenges without judgement or blame. The meetings also function as a problem-solving tool where parents exchange practical ideas, successes, information, and strategies for raising thriving children.

“Circle of Parents is parent-led because it recognizes that parents and caretakers are the experts on their children,” Melanie said. “It’s also one of the most rewarding ministries a church can offer in their community. There is a tremendous need for it among parents and caregivers in South Carolina.”

Sponsoring churches and community organizations provide the meeting space, coffee, supper, and childcare – for the weekly or monthly meetings. Epworth staff trains a designated volunteer facilitator and a parent leader for each local group. The groups do not require any time from the pastor or church staff to run the meetings themselves. Among the groups operating in South Carolina currently, are general groups and specific groups for foster parents and Hispanic parents.

Piedmont UMC Senior Minister Rev. Dick Waldrep said the group is a wonderful addition to the church’s array of ministries.

“We want to reach and touch the people who need what we’re offering, and we’re constantly trying to expand that circle,” Rev. Waldrep said. “We definitely are seeing that Circle of Parents is benefitting those who are attending.”

Depending on its resources, a church may also offer parents in the group other support. For instance, Piedmont UMC made it possible for Ivy, Ripley’s 7-year-old daughter, to enjoy a week at Asbury Hills summer camp last year.

“Some of Ivy’s friend’s parents were talking about sending their kids to multiple summer camps,” Ripley said. “Ivy had never been to an overnight camp, and I couldn’t afford to send her without working even more hours and spending less time with my kids.”

In talking to her Circle of Parents group about her sadness at not being able to easily provide this memory-making experience for Ivy, Ripley was surprised at the wealth of suggestions. The group identified Asbury Hills, the Upstate UMC camp, as a great possibility. But tuition was hundreds of dollars.

“They told me that Asbury Hills had a scholarship program that I could apply for with a United Methodist Church pastor’s recommendation,” Ripley said. “The facilitator of our group asked Pastor Waldrep if he would write the recommendation, and he agreed. Then, when the camp gave Ivy a partial scholarship, the pastor said that the church would be willing fund the other half of the tuition.”

Ripley was overjoyed to be able to give Ivy the opportunity to attend camp at Asbury Hills.

“She had the best time…she has so many stories of her week at camp,” Ripley said. “She loved what she called the dance parties which I think were the worship times, and the pool and she especially loved learning archery; she is really into that now.”

Ripley and Ivy now attend Piedmont UMC regularly. Ivy even stood in front of the congregation to tell church members how much she loved the camp and thank them for making it possible for her to attend. Rev. Waldrep said plans are already underway to make it possible for Ivy to attend Asbury Hills again this coming summer.

Ripley said she is so grateful to have found Circle of Parents and Piedmont UMC.

“I realize that the idea behind most churches is that they want you to feel you can bring your problems to the church,” Ripley said. “But usually, that’s not the first message that is conveyed. Most churches are just more formal than that. The wonderful thing about the Circle of Parents group is that it showed me right away that this was a church that cared about me and my children.”

If your church would like to know more about establishing a Circle of Parents group, please contact Melanie Cannon at (864) 412-4774 or mcannon@epworthsc.org