By Rick Wolcott*
Flat Rock Homes has a 150-year legacy of caring for others. What began as an orphanage founded by the Evangelical United Brethren Church in Tiffin in 1866 has developed into a multi-program health and welfare agency of The United Methodist Church that transforms the lives of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families.
“Coming to Flat Rock changes your life in ways that you just can’t imagine,” President/CEO Karen Kilgo recently told Bishop Tracy S. Malone and the East Ohio Conference Cabinet.
Hired in May to succeed the Rev. Nancy Hull, who retired after serving Flat Rock since 1999, KIlgo said, “I made a promise to God that I would go where He led me, and I definitely feel as though I have been called to be here.
“During my interview I saw a lot of faces but there was one face that God made me see – really see – with my heart. That day the Lord made me see him and see a vision for Flat Rock Homes and what it could be.”
During the Cabinet’s tour of the Flat Rock facilities, Kilgo introduced the bishop to the young man who had inspired her, and the three talked and laughed together.
“I was very pleased that we were coming to Flat Rock Homes because this is an important ministry that we care about as a conference,” Malone said of the mid-September meeting, which marked the first time that a resident bishop and the entire Cabinet had visited Flat Rock.
“I wasn’t aware that we had not been out here before,” said Dean of the Cabinet, the Rev. Dan Bryant. “For me it was the opportunity to learn the story so I can better tell the story.”
“It was good for the Cabinet to come here together to learn how we might better support and provide leadership and resource,” Malone said. “If we are serving and providing leadership in the conference to help connect churches to what’s most important, then we ourselves need to know what those opportunities are.”
Kilgo told the bishop and the Cabinet that she was encouraged by the meeting.
“Just to know that we’re in this together, that you care about Flat Rock, that you care about the people that you met today, knowing that you’re in this with us, that we have a prayer team behind us, people praying for us and cheering for us, and praying God’s blessing and His spirit and His hand on this organization, that’s incredibly meaningful to me.”
“I know the word ‘awesome’ gets used a lot but there is nothing more awe-inspiring than the body of Christ coming together and working as the body of Christ,” said Becky Machovec, assistant director of Advancement at Flat Rock Homes. “I think the Cabinet being here personifies that and makes it a reality, and it gives us hope. We know that we have a really strong faith community to help us as we journey through the next 150 years.”
Those ensuing years will bring changes to the agency that currently has a six-year waiting list for placement into one of its residences.
“In 2015 the federally-funded organization Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) was really pushing for Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF) like ours to be severely cut or eliminated in the biennial budget,” Kilgo said. “We partnered together with other agencies to fight this and we were able to gather 22,000 signatures. Most of those came from the churches of the East Ohio Conference and we couldn’t have done it without them.
“We won that round but DRO didn’t stop. Right now they have gone from trying to cut ICFs out of the budget to suing the State of Ohio to get ICFs closed down. There are 37,000 Ohioans who would be affected by this change. If this lawsuit is successful ICFs will close all over the State of Ohio, as they have in some other states.”
“My vision for the conference is for us to do the inward focus of disciple-making, but we also need to look at how the Church might be outward facing.” Malone said. “Engaging issues and systems that confront and threaten the livelihood of persons, that’s the role of the Church to be prophetic. To hear today how the funds are being threatened because of systems, that’s another way that the church can be engaged in helping to preserve this ministry, by confronting those systems and serving more in the advocacy role.”
Kilgo said that while the work may be getting harder with each day, she has hope.
“The church has been, and continues to be, the backbone of our support. The cash flow’s tight, but the Lord continues to provide for Flat Rock. God has brought us here together to be transformed by His love and transformed by the lives of the people here.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.