It was 1991 when Larry McDaniel and his wife knew there was a need for a type of organization that could blend a Christian ministry and a professional agency. He thought the two belonged together; that’s when Coyote Hill was born.
Coyote Hill is a Christian children’s home that provides a secure family environment for neglected or abused children who are in need of stability, love, food, shelter and clothing. Over the course of Coyote Hill’s 23 years, the homes and home parents have served more than 300 children, 50 in just 2013.
“We have a culture here of a functional family,” McDaniel says. “Everybody here is on the page doing their part. When you have that culture in an agency, it goes a long way to making it successful. That culture is aimed directly to helping the children.”
Coyote Hill’s goal is to provide children with a better way to live, learn and grow. The organization’s 200-acre property, 20 miles north of Columbia near Harrisburg, consists of four homes that each house up to eight foster children and are directed by home parents, live-in foster parents that model a healthy relationship.
“We know it works,” Site Director Bill Atherton says. “It’s an amazing adventure to watch children grow up, to grow in ways that just sort of blow your mind.”
A ‘normal family experience’
Coyote Hill home parents are an integral part of the success of the children, who on average live in one of the homes for about a year.
“It takes a real gift to deal with the diversity of the children that we help, coming from all types of backgrounds and different issues,” McDaniel says. “That’s why our home parents have to be viewed as professional staff.”
Merri and Andrew Heberlein have been the home parents of Coyote Hill’s Wright Home since September 2013. They work with their seven foster children and two biological children to teach them as many life skills as possible. Every day they continue to teach their kids how to cook meals, do chores and the laundry: tasks that stress they can be successful at small things.
Learning from rewards of a lot of high-fives and hugs, Merri Heberlein says the kids are a work in progress. “They’re growing in such huge ways every day,” she says. “But it’s not always visible from the outside world perspective. As home parents and part of their team, we can see the little things that are adding up to be big changes.”
The Heberleins have been foster parents since 2005 and have been with Coyote Hill since 2012. They first began volunteering, but the more involved they got with Coyote Hill, the more Heberlein says she knew God was calling them to be there.
Heberlein stresses the importance of Coyote Hill’s purpose of providing a normal family experience for the kids, just like a normal family of brothers, sisters, a mom and a dad.
“That’s a lot of our goal, to help the kids feel as normal as possible despite their stressful situations,” she says.
Community hands on deck
Just like any family, juggling the kid’s day-to-day activities takes an army. Luckily at Coyote Hill, volunteers work alongside the home parents every day to help tutor the children in mathematics and reading and finish their daily homework.
“They are directly impacting that child’s education,” Development Director Kari Hopkins says.
Volunteers can also become mentors to children, mentors who befriend a child to build them up and encourage them in everything that they are learning at their home and at school, Hopkins says.
“We have had one mentor who continued her mentorship for three-plus years,” she says. “She was able to be with her mentee throughout a move to a cousin’s home and eventually be adopted. I think it made all the difference in the little girl to have her mentor there.”
Larger groups of volunteers are also welcomed. Maintaining the Coyote Hill grounds, which includes jungle gyms, swing sets, two fishing lakes, a beach with a swimming area and mountain biking and walking trails, is really important to keep it a beautiful place to grow, Hopkins says. In April, 50 University of Missouri Chi Alpha members spent an afternoon serving Coyote Hill’s needs.
“We have professional services and professional staff, but we want to make sure our facilities, our homes are also professional,” Hopkins says.
Building a legacy
The fourth home on the Coyote Hill property, the Wright Home, was completed in 2011 and was the first home to be handicap accessible, equipped with an elevator, in hopes of serving children with disabilities.
The Atherton Home, Coyote Hill’s newest and fifth home, will be unveiled on Sept. 7.
After the fifth home is complete, McDaniel says they’ll be focusing on much more than continuing to build more homes. He says they will be advancing toward helping broken families.
“We want to be able to minister to families as well,” Atherton says. “We are working with children, so now the questions is: How do we work with families, and how can we do that well?”
Coyote Hill has seen tremendous growth since its inception, but what McDaniel wants the community to understand is that Coyote Hill truly does break the cycle of abuse and neglect, and the kids are growing up to be successes.
“They’re going to be able to go back to the community because of the opportunities that they have had here and give back in a number of ways,” he says. “Everything we invest in their lives today, they will contribute those positive lessons to their own marriages and families in the future.”