Mack Gay foster home to another an average of three to four times a year, with some children being moved as many as 10 times. The situation was dire, as two Berry alumni with hearts of gold and wills of steel discovered. A CRY FOR HELP
Franklin “Mack” Gay (59C) learned of the crisis in Northwest Florida’s foster care system in 2002 when a DCF staff member asked his church mission committee to help provide an emergency shelter for endangered children newly removed from their homes. The committee accepted the challenge but realized within months how naïve they’d been. Fundraising difficulties and legal red tape proved the problem to be much larger than they could manage alone. Instead of accepting defeat, however, they joined forces with another group working to ease the foster home shortage. Before long, Gay and that group’s leader, Sharilyn Darnell, co-founded Children in Crisis Inc., a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing housing and hope for endangered children. Gay was elected president of the organization’s newly formed board and asked good friend Walter Maine (59C) to join him in his mission. The two, who have been friends for nearly 60 years, met in the 1950s while classmates in Berry’s physics program. They went their
BERRY MAGAZINE • WINTER 2011-12
1959 Berry College classmates Mack Gay and Walt Maine joined forces to create a safe haven for children in crisis in Northwest Florida.
separate ways after graduation but found themselves together again within a few years – this time as civilian physicists developing “smart” weapons for the U.S. military at Eglin Air Force Base. Until recently, the pair also carried on a decades-long weekly tennis rivalry. So when Gay accepted the challenge to help endangered children, it seemed only natural to ask the person who’d been by his side throughout most of his life to get involved as well. BUILDING THE FOUNDATION
Gay is the first to admit that when he began working with Children in Crisis, he knew very little about foster care. In a sort of baptism by fire, he became a DCF volunteer and before long was going into the homes of troubled families with investigators, observing their inquiries, and sitting in on meetings with case workers discussing the children and their needs. It was an eye-opening experience, and years later, the memory of what he witnessed still brings a note of sadness to his voice. “The most heart-wrenching thing I saw was siblings in terrible home situations with only each other to cling to – no parent to depend on – who were being separated from each other when they were taken from their homes. Even if it’s only for a few days, during
that early period it is the most traumatic thing that can happen to a kid.” Understanding the problem was only part of the challenge. Gay and his fellow board members also had to learn how to effectively help children in crisis. To gain insight, they toured facilities throughout Georgia, Florida and Alabama and sought advice from people who’d successfully operated foster care facilities, people such as Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain and WinShape Homes for foster children. “We learned a lot about how to properly help these children and their families,” Gay said. “Through the process, we decided that we didn’t want to create an institution. Instead, we wanted to create a family neighborhood, and we set out to do that.” Gay spent the next five years working as part of a community team to raise money, secure land, and plan and oversee the development of the neighborhood. Maine’s role as chairman of the Faith Community Committee was equally challenging. He faced an uphill climb in rallying the faith community to support the fledgling organization not only with money, but also with time and talent. “We went down a few rabbit trails trying to figure out how to do this,” Maine said. “Right after we got started, the economy began to tank.” Maine kept at it, garnering funds and helping people and churches figure out how
Berry Magazine - Winter 2011-12