Despite opposition from people in the community, EmberHope applied, Monday, for a federal grant that would allow the facility to house undocumented, immigrant children from Central America.
The grant, from the Dept. of Health and Human Service's Office of Refugee Resettlement, would be good for 36 months. EmberHope wants to house 30 children, many of whom may only stay there for four or five weeks. The facility would hire 50 additional staff members.
"For 87 plus years, we have been fullfilling our faith-based values which are driven by the teachings and values of Jesus," Shelley Duncan, president and CEO of EmberHope said. "I know not everyone agrees with that, but that's what we believe."
During a special city commission meeting last Friday afternoon, a majority of people spoke against the idea of bringing undocumented, immigrant children into the community. Out of 13 people signed up to speak at the citizen's forum, only one person spoke in favor of EmberHope's proposal. The commission voted not to send a letter in favor of the grant.
Since that meeting, however, Duncan has heard from church members who support EmberHope's mission. Monday afternoon, Duncan said she had received around 150 emails of support. She also acknowledged that there were emails and phone calls in oppostion to EmberHope's plans.
Marvin Zehr said about 55 people from his church, Shalom Mennonite, signed a letter in support of EmberHope.
"We were very disappointed in the response of the city commission," Zehr said. "I do not think the people at that meeting, at least the ones who spoke, adequately represented the community."
Kathryn Snyder said, "I look at this situation and see children in need through no choice of their own. They have no one to advocate for their needs. We adults will be judged by how we treat those persons who are disenfranchised from society."
During the meeting Friday, residents voiced concerns that immigrant children would bring crime and disease to Newton. Duncan said she understands the fears and concerns people have and said she is willing to communicate with people and help allay those fears.
"I just have to have hope and confidence that we will help people overcome their fears," she said.
Duncan said immigrant children are given health assessments as soon as they cross the border. One of the requirements of the grant is that each child is given a health assessment.
She has also said EmberHope has worked with children with a history of violence and gang affiliations.
"We would do our very best to make sure kids are not straying from campus as we have for many years," Duncan said.
Residents and city commissioners at Friday's meeting expressed disaproval of how Pres. Obama and the federal government are handling the influx of children across the border.
"We've been put into a difficult position as Chrisians by the Obama administration and in wanting to be compassionate, but standing up to the laws of the land," Matt McBrayer said at the meeting.
McBrayer, a preacher, cited a Biblical passage from Romans about obeying government authorities. "Facilitating something that is illegal would be sinful for us to even do," he said.
Snyder said children are being used as a "political lightning rod" and said there is a lot of "displaced anger."
"We're not supporting illegal immigration; we're helping children," Synder said. "Being mad at Obama doesn't mean you withold aid to children."