Jennifer Barbour has begun her 27th year with Helping Hands, and is beginning her sixth year as Executive Director, since the retirement of her mother, Jean Tulli, who founded the home. Prior to taking the reigns as Executive Director, Barbour worked in the office for Helping Hands. “I was a child advocate,” she said, in an interview with The Christian View magazine. “I took them to the doctor and to the dentist and kept up with the case workers, working strictly with them and the schools.”
Explaining why she is involved with the home, she said, “We used to keep foster children in our home, and I guess that’s where it kind of started with us. And I love children. I’ve always worked with children. I’ve worked in nursery schools. I’ve worked in kindergarten. I love it. I just absolutely love it. I feel like these are my children, too. I want to make sure they are taken care of and loved. There is nothing else that I would rather do than to help these children, or to help somebody else out there. It’s just in my heart to help others. I said that, if I didn’t do this, I would be working at a soup kitchen. I just think I would love to do that, too. Maybe when I retire, I’ll do that. There was a lady who worked in the office (at Helping Hands), and she became very ill, with cancer. When she passed away, they needed somebody. I had started working on the weekends, to help them out there. So, when that job came open, the Board asked if I would be willing to take over the house, because they knew that one day Jean was going to retire, but Jean didn’t retire until she was 81, and she’s now 86. I think it’s in both of our hearts, my whole family. We all do things to help the community. But she and I were more involved with children than other things. And now she helps at our church, the Methodist church in Clemson, and she helps in the soup kitchen once a month, and she goes to Clemson Community Care and helps them. So, she stays busy. She said that, if she ever sat down, she thinks that would be the end of her. She comes out here and visits. She’s on our Board. She’s still involved with everything that goes on out here.”
Helping Hands moved into a brand new home in July of 2016. In November, the new home was dedicated to Tulli, as founder. “We dedicated the house to Jean, so that everybody would know that she was the founder of the home. She was really pleased with that.
“It took us five years to raise the money,” said Barbour. “We wanted to have it all done, so that, when we moved in, we wouldn’t owe anything. Everything is paid for. With the grace of God, and everybody’s help, donations, and prayers, we got it done. We looked for land, and you’d be surprised at how people don’t want a children’s home in their backyard. We happened to find this land, and there’s a church right behind us, so we feel this is where we were supposed to be, that it was just waiting for us to come find it.”
Barbour explained that the children’s home has a great relationship with Refuge Baptist Church. “They are absolutely wonderful to us, have been since we broke ground, which was July a year ago. It took us a year to build the house and to get into it.”
The money was raised through donations and a grant from South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority.
The home has a staff of 18. “We have three different shifts, all awake staff,” said Barbour. “They don’t sleep. There are three cooks. There are three of us in the office. And the others we call house parents, who take care of the kids. The girls live on one side, and the boys live on the other. There are at least two to three staff on each side every day. And third shift does all of the laundry and the cleaning while the kids are asleep in bed.”
The new home, she said, is nearly 14,000 square feet. “When they bought the other house, it was almost 50 years old at that time, and we stayed there for 31 years, so we certainly went through the wear and tear of everything. It had been painted so many times. And it was like a maze in there, with so many rooms, upstairs and downstairs. There wasn’t a lot of heat. Our office didn’t have heat. We didn’t have air conditioning. It was really old. Our electric bill there ran anywhere from $1,000 to $1,200 a month, and here it’s about $350. We have a gas bill, as well, but it doesn’t run that much. The other house was not energy-efficient. It did not have double-paned windows. You could feel a lot of draft coming through the windows at times, especially in the office where we were. Now, everything here in this house is energy efficient, and I think that’s what makes a difference. I just didn’t realize what a difference it would make.”
Barbour said that about 150 children come through the home each month. “All of our children here are placed through the Department of Social Services. We don’t take private placements. They can stay here as little as overnight. We’ve had some kids stay for two years. Every case is different. We get a lot of repeats. We had children with us a little over a year, went home and stayed for four months, and now they’re back with us again. We’ve had about 8,500 kids come through the house since we opened. We can take from all over the state, but we basically state that we want the kids to be close, if they can, because of visits. But we take from Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Greenville, Spartanburg, and Laurens. I think that’s all we have right now, but we’ll take from wherever, especially if it’s to try to keep the families together. Right now, DSS does not want to put children six and under in any group home, but we’re hoping something will change, because it’s splitting families up a lot of times. We’ve only got two little ones right now, so we basically have from ages six to 13.
“There’s no limit (on the time of their stay), but most of the time it’s from 60 to 90 days. But we’ve had some to stay with us for two years. It depends on how quickly the parents do what DSS requires them to do to get the kids home. They have to do what they call parenting classes. Some of them have to go through anger management classes or drug classes. It just depends on what the child is taken for, because we can get the children because of neglect. It can be where there’s no electricity in the house, and the parents just really need somebody to help them try to get their life together, so that the kids can come back. Then there are parents who are on drugs, and they get themselves clean for a little while, and then they’re back on drugs. Drugs is a big part. Meth is one of the biggest things. We’ll get calls and they’ll say, ‘This kid was in a meth house.’ If we get kids in who have meth in their system, especially the younger ones, you see them cry, because that’s in their system, and it’s just like withdrawal for them. We’ve had babies who had alcohol in their system when they were born, and they go through withdrawal. When I first came to work, we had a boy who was just two days old when they brought him, and we kept him in the office with us, because he was so young. He went through withdrawals, too. I had no idea, until I came to work here, some of the things that parents will do to children. It doesn’t even come into your mind. It’s sad. We’ve had kids come in with cigarette burns. We’ve had kids who their parents put them in bathtubs with scalding water and burned their little legs. It’s beyond my thinking.
“Sometimes, DSS sends them home. I agree with that to a point. They want to always keep the family together. Reunification is what they want to do. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Sometimes, it’s not.
“Parents come visit their children here as long as they’re okayed by DSS. They can do their visits here with the children instead of having to go to DSS. We want the parents to see, too, that the kids are taken care of, that they’ve got their needs met, and they know that their kids are well taken care of while they’re here. And we enjoy being with the parents too. It kind of gives us an insight into what the child went through and some of the things that we need to work on that we didn’t know about.”
Some of the children are placed into other homes through adoption. “We’ve had some of our kids from here be adopted through the adoption agency in Greenville, and they basically work with DSS, too. We don’t have anything to do with it, but they come here to see the children. It’s been really good. We’ve had some who were adopted and they’re still here in Central, so, when we take the kids to school, we still get to see some of the kids who used to be here.
“Some of our staff used to be some of our children. I have a cook who was one of our kids back when Jean first started the house. I think she stayed for about a year. She turned out so well, which is what you want to see. She’s done very well for herself and is very proud of what she’s done in her life. She said Jean and I are like her mom, a mom she never had. So, she would be one of our success stories, for sure.
“You get really close to the children here. When I first started working, I used to cry every time they would leave. It would just break my heart. You just have to know that, when they do leave you, somebody’s going to take care of them, as well. And some of them will come back and visit us, and they’ve gone to college, and it’s just wonderful to see that they’ve really turned their life around, and not fallen into that cycle of whatever’s gone on in their families.
“It’s nice to see kids come back and want to give back to the community and give back to the kids who come in now. They basically know what the kids are going through because they went through it, too. They’ll come and volunteer, whatever they want to do. They’ll come and just visit, sometimes, and want to come and see us, which is always good. We like to see how well they’re doing. We do what we can for them while they’re here and hope that, wherever they go, they’re taken care of, too. When the kids leave, we’ll tell the parents, like at Christmas time, if you’re struggling, call us, and we’ll make sure that child has Christmas. We want to stay involved. A lot of grandparents will take the kids in when they can, but they just can’t afford to do Christmas. Even though they’re not here with us, we still want to make sure that they’re taken care of. They’re just like ours. They’re just not here with us.”
Helping Hands staff sponsor children at the home and in the community at Christmas time each year. “We usually do the kids in Oconee, and we do some of the local schools here, whoever needs help. I think last year we did about 300 children. We go to the schools and ask the guidance counselors there if they know children who are in need, and we would help the whole family, even if brothers or sisters weren’t in the same school. I feel that everybody has been good to us, that God has been good to us, and we want to give back, as well.”
Helping Hands staff, Jennifer Barbour (Executive Director), Janet Stephens (Child Advocate and Secretary), and Leigh Anna Kennemore (Director of Development), may be reached at 864-646-2941.
The Helping Hands Thrift Store, located at 105 West Main Street, Central, is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Holiday hours may vary). Donations of clothing, books, shoes, sports equipment, kitchen items, working electronics, toys, and furniture are accepted.
Helping Hands has 300 volunteers throughout the year for the home and thrift store. Any individuals or groups wishing to volunteer at the children’s home may call 864-646-2941 and will undergo a background check and training session. Anyone wishing to volunteer at the thrift store may call Melinda Green at 864-639-6533.
Canned food drives, clothing drives, and monetary donation drives are also ways to help support Helping Hands.