Feature Story: Group Home

by Megan Stacey

It all started with a look.

After Shelley Green and her mom Jane decided to take sixteen Ethiopian children living on the streets out for a proper meal, there was one boy she would never forget.

Tilahun.

Despite his shy and quiet nature, he stood up to pray and say thank you.

“I’ll never forget this,” Shelley said. “When he sat down, he just very quietly turned and looked at me.”

She’d never met Tilahun, but that look was a life-changing moment.

Caring and loving and serving those children turned into her life’s work.

It was Shelley’s first time on Ethiopian soil – she was there to bring her daughter home – and she had an overwhelming sense that becoming a mom, and also striving to make a difference for other children in the country, was the answer to all her prayers.

By the time Shelley left the country, she had secured a spot in an Ethiopian boarding school for six of those young boys.

“It was a leap of faith,” Shelley said. But within a very short time, all six boys had sponsors here in North America.

When she returned in 2013 with a group of nine volunteers, a few of the sponsored boys told her they were unhappy at school.

That’s when Eyob Kolcha, the leader of orphanages run by Kingdom Vision International, offered to take the first step.

Shelley had developed a relationship with Eyob through the adoption of her daughter. She said that without Eyob, the group home probably wouldn’t have been possible.

“Eyob offered to put together the group home, and manage it. He even welcomed the boys who didn’t have anywhere to live at that time into his own home,” Shelley explained.

They never looked back.

Five years later, the group home is alive and thriving, despite some bumps and bruises along the way.

The project now provides a home to four boys and a group home mom, Mulu.

She takes care of cooking and cleaning, and keeps the boys in line – not always easy in a home full of teenagers – but most importantly, Mulu provides motherly love and care for the boys.

 Carolyn Usher, a longtime sponsor of the group home, took this photo of her daughter Lilly, group home mom Mulu, her sponsored child Yabi, and Lilly's sister Mekdi (left to right).

Carolyn Usher, a longtime sponsor of the group home, took this photo of her daughter Lilly, group home mom Mulu, her sponsored child Yabi, and Lilly's sister Mekdi (left to right).

When asked about the biggest challenge of living in the group home, Mulu said “the boys are adolescent age, it’s difficult to manage them. But I hope everything will be cool!”

And Mulu is also profoundly grateful for the chance to serve her little family.

“When I was living in Korah, there is limitation to give anything. Now I am serving,” she said in a message. “The group home made me look forward to life.”

Shelley met Mulu during the 2013 trip to Ethiopia with a group of volunteers.

“Mulu is an incredible blessing to our organization,” Shelley said.

“She is devoted to the boys and works extremely hard not only for their physical care but for their spiritual, emotional and psychological welfare. Mulu is a gift from God.”

The dream, from the very beginning, was to show these children love and care, in hopes that they would become change agents of their own country.

It seems that goal is right on track.

One wants to be a doctor, another a musician. Another boy, Meskelu, is already pursuing a college education.

He had stopped going to school for several years before he came to the group home. “Life was very hard,” he said in an email. “But today I am studying social work…I am blessed. I got a scholarship and student ambassador (position).”

Another boy, Kaleab, said the biggest difference in his life since coming to the group home is the ability to have an “excellent education opportunity.”

“My aim is to be a building engineer and help myself, my family, and my country,” he wrote in an email.

Tilahun, now living on his own and attending college, continues to serve others through the Charity Club he formed and leads.  Shelley said she is so very proud of his compassion and his work for others in Ethiopia, and she knows that he will continue to make a difference for others in his country.

All the boys agreed that the family they’ve developed is something special, and by far the best part of life in the group home.

Each member of this tight-knit family of five profusely thanked volunteers and donors of Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia for providing that opportunity.

It wasn’t an easy or a simple project to build up the home and create a foundation for a family. Sponsors are heavily invested, donating $2,500 US per child every year to keep the boys fed, clothed, and learning. But the money does so much more than that.

Those sponsorships remind the boys that they are loved.

 Longtime sponsor Carolyn Usher with her sponsored child, Yabi (right), and Mekdi, sister of Carolyn's daughter Lilly.

Longtime sponsor Carolyn Usher with her sponsored child, Yabi (right), and Mekdi, sister of Carolyn's daughter Lilly.

Carolyn Usher is a longtime sponsor. She supports Yabsera – he also goes by “Yabi” – the youngest one in the home. He’s also the one who wants to become a doctor.

“We have visited Ethiopia three times and always see so much need,” Carolyn said. “When the opportunity came up to sponsor boys off the street, to give them a home and school, not to mention food, and bring a sense of family, I was thrilled to participate!”

She last visited in August 2015 and helped take the group home family out for pizza.

“It was so much fun to talk with them and see their home and their sweet dog. The house mother Mulu is so sweet and looks after all the boys like her own family,” Carolyn said.

Her hope is that little Yabi – and all the boys – will go on to higher education and help build a better life.

Shelley said it’s been a wonderful blessing to see the good that can come from sponsorship.

“What is most amazing for me is that I was able to really see firsthand the transition of life through my money and my compassion,” Shelley said.

When she began sponsoring Tilahun – who considers Shelley to be his mother – his life changed drastically.

“He was on the streets one day, and the next day after meeting him and committing to sponsor him to go to boarding school, he was off the streets forever,” Shelley said.

“It was life-changing not only for Tilahun but it was life-changing for me, too.”