Epworth Children's Home

Epworth Children’s Home
2900 Millwood Ave
Columbia SC 29205

Rising to the Challenge

Growing up Natalie lacked a stable home life and dependable role models. At 16 years old, Natalie found herself making bad decisions and she became pregnant. Upon hearing the news of the unplanned pregnancy, her family asked her to leave home and suddenly, she no longer had a place to live. She was placed in the state’s foster care system. Natalie had hopes and dreams to graduate high school and provide a life for herself and her unborn son, but without a place to call home, she found herself alone and scared.

When Natalie’s case manager, Mallory Pike with Epworth’s Foster Care Program, received her file, she wondered where she could place a now 17-year-old with an infant. It would take an extraordinary individual to open their home and heart to a teenager and her son, Kayden.

Ms. Denise Smalls, a caring and dedicated foster parent in the Epworth Foster Care Program, immediately came to Mallory’s mind. Ms. Smalls had recently retired from the airline industry and most notably had recently transitioned 14-month-old twins to their forever home. Her emotions were a little fragile as she worked to navigate her new normal without the robust toddlers under her care. Mallory reached out to Ms. Smalls, and she listened intently to Natalie’s situation.  Despite living in the same region, Mallory did not expect Ms. Smalls to say yes. Her foster care placements in the past were always for children under the age of two. Little did Mallory know that Natalie’s life drew a parallel to Ms. Smalls’ early adult life. Ms. Smalls was willing to rise to this unique challenge.

“I found myself in a similar situation as Natalie when I was a teenager,” said Ms. Smalls. “I was a young mother of two and homeless. But a village surrounded me and my children and helped me to get established. I felt called to mentor and guide Natalie to be an independent young lady and most importantly, a mom. Natalie’s circumstance touched my heart.”

Epworth’s Foster Care Team placed Natalie and Kayden in Ms. Smalls’ home this past summer. It was that day, that Ms. Smalls went from being passionate about only fostering younger children, to helping Natalie invest in herself and her future as a mother. Natalie lacked a reliable role model in her life, and she knew very little about taking care of herself or her son. “I gravitate to someone trying to do the best they can with their life, but they can’t help their circumstances,” said Ms. Smalls.

Ms. Smalls began the process of teaching Natalie to live independently and work towards her future. Over the past six months, they set goals for both personal and parenting achievement. From basic budgeting skills to balancing life as both a teenager and a mom, Ms. Smalls guides Natalie every step of the way. Living with Ms. Smalls is the first step in getting her life back on track.

Placing tremendous importance on academics, Ms. Smalls watches Kayden as Natalie attends high school during the day. Recently, Natalie started her first job. Natalie is saving money for an apartment and maintaining good grades at school. Kayden is a very busy, talkative 1-year-old. He loves attention and is very affectionate. Kayden will crawl up beside case manager, Mallory Pike when she visits the home. Under Ms. Smalls’ leadership, Natalie learns fundamental parenting skills to help provide structure and stability for her son. In return, Natalie respects Ms. Smalls and models the parenting behavior that Ms. Smalls teaches her.

Recently, Natalie set a goal for herself to graduate in May and transition to an apartment in an independent living program. Natalie plans post-graduation to attend Midlands Technical College where she hopes to enter the Certified Nursing Assistant program. Once Natalie acquires her certificate, she plans to pursue a health care career. Ms. Smalls’ greatest desire is to see Natalie reach these goals and overcome the challenges from her childhood, just like she prevailed as a young mother facing homelessness.

Ms. Smalls is proud of Natalie’s accomplishments and cannot wait to see her continue to grow as an individual and a mom. As Ms. Smalls stated, “It takes a village,” and thanks to her dedication as a foster parent, coupled with your support of our Foster Care Program, Epworth can help teens like Natalie change the trajectory their life, breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect, and helping them to become successful, responsible adults—and in Natalie’s case, guiding them to become wonderful parents, as well.