Building Community: Whaley Children’s Center

WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
A Haven for Youth Since 1922

Childhood is supposed to be a time of exuberance, growth, and discovery. A time when we are protected, and our homes are safe. A time when we trust the adults around us and feel encouraged by the direction they provide. If you’ve never been exposed to a different experience or met someone who has, it’s easy to forget that there are children whose safety and happiness have been compromised by their caretakers and the course of these children’s lives have been altered as a result.

The Whaley Children’s Center exists to provide a haven for Flint’s neglected children and offers a variety of programs and services, updated and expanded over the years, to ensure that its residents leave in a better state of being than when they arrived.

The organization’s inception was the result of the loss of a child. After their 10-year-old son’s death in 1922, Robert and Mary McFarlan Whaley discovered a jar of coins he had saved to donate to disadvantaged kids at a Detroit orphanage. Their son’s generous gesture moved the Whaleys to dedicate a portion of their wealth to found the Whaley Children’s Center, a haven for youth and families in need of care.

Since then, the center has evolved to include recreational facilities and comprehensive programming that addresses the mental, physical, and emotional needs of its residents.

The organization bases its residential program after the Circle of Courage philosophy championed by the agency Reclaiming Youth International. It believes that children develop best when they feel a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.

The Mott residence, named after former trustee Charles Mott, houses Whaley residents ages 5 to 17. Part of the Mott facility includes three cottages equipped with eight single bedrooms, a laundry room, dining room, small kitchen, and a library.

Whaley also manages four group homes located around the city of Flint for youth who can function in a less restrictive environment. The organization has adopted several evidence-based practices to accommodate various levels of trauma in its residents and empower them to reclaim their youth.

While reflecting on her role as the president and CEO at Whaley, Mindy Prusa discussed how fortunate she feels to be in her position. “Our kids are amazing, and they have been through so much. The amount of joy they give us is immeasurable.”

One of the first things Prusa did when she joined the organization was to personalize the celebration of birthdays. She was determined to acknowledge each resident’s special day individually, complete with a cake and gifts, instead of as a group on a monthly basis.

The Whaley facilities can house a maximum of 42 kids — who come from a wide range of backgrounds — at any given time. Adequate funding remains a constant challenge, Prusa says, as they work to strengthen current programs and expand services as more effective practices are identified. Two examples would be implementing yoga and music programs for the kids in order to increase their awareness of and engagement with the arts.

Though expenses are high — just getting kids prepped and ready with supplies for an upcoming school year can cost $20,000 — Prusa is optimistic and eager to see the organization grow. She credits the community for its unending support of the Whaley organization and staff, stating, “The community is full of caring, hardworking, and passionate individuals who help make our work possible.”

Whaley’s largest fundraiser is held in May of each year. Monies raised will impact the lives of children of all ages, giving them a chance to pursue a brighter future.

Whaley Children’s Center 1201 N. Grand Traverse Street, Flint MI 48503  l (810) 234-3603 l WhaleyChildren.org