InAt Judson Center, we have evolved over the past century into a multi-faceted human services non-profit that has transformed tens of thousands of lives through unwavering care and a commitment to the community. 2024 marks our century of care! Join us on a journey through our last 100 years of serving children, adults and families in Michigan!
1924 – Our Humble Beginnings
In the early 1920s, many Detroit-area congregations were alarmed by the large number of abandoned and neglected children. Church leaders, including Dr. Henry C. Gleiss, Executive Secretary of the Detroit Baptist Union, felt it was their duty to respond. In May 1924, Gleiss led the Detroit Association of American Baptist Churches to establish the Detroit Baptist Children’s Home.
The group paid $25,000 for a four-acre plot of land. This included a farmhouse, barn, and outbuildings at the corner of Greenfield and 13 Mile Road in Royal Oak. To this day, the original Royal Oak location continues to serve as a campus for our core programs.
On November 24, 1924, we welcomed the first children into the home. In our first year, we provided a home to orphans and other children who had been brought to our doors and needed temporary care. Even from our humble beginnings, we focused on preserving families and keeping children safe.
1930 – Room for More Children
Demand for services and concerns about the existing structure made it necessary to build a larger, sturdier house. The adjacent four acres were purchased, and in 1934, a large brick structure was constructed. The first floor featured a large living room, dining room, sewing room, small office, kitchen, and washroom. The second floor’s bedrooms could accommodate up to 15 girls, and the third floor could hold up to 17 boys.
1945 – A New Model of Care
Welfare and state agencies began referring children to the Detroit Children’s Baptist Home, our original name. With referrals growing, capacity restrictions eventually required that children be boarded outside the main facility. To make this possible, the team carefully chose and supervised foster families from area parishes. By 1948, there were 34 children cared for directly onsite, 40 in approved boarding homes, and 60 living with adoptive families.
1949 – Working Together to Care for Children
We became a fully licensed child welfare agency following an inspection by the Children’s Division of the State Welfare Department. Local congregations and volunteers assisted with the operation. Area churches kept us stocked with food and supplies each year. The local Women’s Auxiliary secured clothing for the children, mended clothes and linens, maintained the house, and organized fundraisers. To this day, our community of caring – made up of thousands of businesses, groups, faith communities, and individuals – helps us give unwavering care to those in our programs.
1950s and 1960s – Supporting Foster Parents
The onset of child protection laws led state child welfare agencies to move away from institutionalized care. Instead, the state encouraged short-term foster care homes and permanent adoptive homes as a solution. Our growing organization began to recruit and train foster parents to care for children in their homes. Our team would host luncheons for the families during its annual “Foster Home Week” and recognize them in newsletters and at civic events.
1966 – Focusing on Education
Our staff created a classroom with two special education teachers to help children struggling academically get back to grade level so they could enroll in the Royal Oak school system. The class was structured like a regular school day and even had recess.
1970s – Redefining Home for Individuals in Need
Our team recognized many of the children who came to its doors had experienced trauma and required support beyond what foster parents alone could provide. The first on-campus residential home (known as the Cottage) opened in 1971. It offered a family-like atmosphere and promoted interaction among the residents. Social workers helped the children work through their challenges so they could successfully return to their families or transition to foster/adoptive homes.
In 1974, state-run institutions were closed, leaving individuals with disabilities without crucial care. We recognized the need and opened our first group home for children ages 7 to 13 with varying disabilities. Seven group homes were established for children and adults in surrounding communities over the next few years.
1981 – Residential Homes for Children
Two more residential homes were built solely for emotionally challenged boys on Springer Street. The Cottage was converted into a residence for girls struggling in mainstream foster care placements.
1984 – Becoming Judson Center
Our Board decided a name change was needed to reflect our expanding services for children and families of all backgrounds. The Board settled on the name Judson Center in honor of Adoniram Judson, a dedicated Baptist missionary. During the 19th century, Adoniram Judson spent 37 years in the harsh conditions of Burma, caring for children in need. Like our namesake, we became a trailblazer, launching innovative services to meet the needs of the community.
Additionally, in 1984, we launched an in-home family preservation program to give parents the tools and resources to navigate hardships and remain safely together.
1985 – A Respite for Families in Need
We opened the Lahser Children’s Respite Home to provide temporary relief from the day-to-day stresses experienced by family caregivers of children with disabilities. Today, the Lahser Respite Home remains the only facility of its kind in Oakland County.
1986 – Supporting Independence for Adults with Disabilities
Our Supported Employment Program was launched to help individuals with disabilities become more involved in the community.
We began providing training and support to connect adults with disabilities with volunteer and job opportunities in the community. Today, that program is part of our Disability Services, and it prepares more than 300 teens and adults each year to compete in the job market and find independence.
1990s – Caring for the Mind
By 1990, we had grown to serve more than 1,000 children, adults, and families across Metro Detroit. The early 1990s also brought an increase in mental health and substance abuse challenges to the forefront. In 1996, the federal “Mental Health Parity Act” passed, which mandated equal insurance coverage for mental healthcare. That same year, we launched our Behavioral Health Services, delivering life-changing therapies and treatments for children and adults.
2005 – Autism Connections Opens
At the beginning of the decade, autism impacted 1 in 150 children. We responded to the need quickly and were one of the first agencies in Michigan to provide structured autism services. Our Autism Connections program opened in 2005 to provide care that now includes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, diagnostic evaluations, parent training, social skills groups, and speech and occupational therapy.
Today, the prevalence of Autism has increased with 1 in 36 children having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). “Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in this country. It is important that families receive an early diagnosis and treatment,” said Judson Center Chief Operating Officer Susan Salhaney. “Each individual who receives an ASD diagnosis is unique, and our trained and certified autism professionals create treatment plans that are just as unique for each person.”
2014 – 2015 – A Continuum of Care to Strengthen Families
While our last group home for adults was closed in 2014 due to a lack of state funding, we continued to meet needs throughout our community. Child Safe Michigan became an affiliate in 2015. This partnership allowed us to expand our Child & Family Services portfolio. Together, we support children and their families through family preservation, foster care, adoption, and mentoring services.
2019 – Care for the Whole Person, Mind and Body
In 2019 we opened Judson Center Health in Warren to provide clients integrated primary and behavioral healthcare in a one-stop location. “We collaborate to provide coordination of care,” explained Jamila Stevens, Judson Center’s Director of Integrated Care Services. “Our primary care nurse practitioner works in partnership with our psychiatrist who works in partnership with our therapist. They all work together to support our patients.”
An estimated 20% of our primary care patients have received behavioral health treatment they otherwise may not have received.
2023 – Building Forever Families Across Michigan
Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) is one of our key programs funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In 2023, our MARE program helped 136 children in foster care find their forever families through adoption. Currently, there are an estimated 10,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system. “Children in foster care want stability and love in their lives just like anyone else,” said Judson Center President and CEO Lenora Hardy-Foster. “Although the goal of foster care is to reunite children with their biological parents, that isn’t always possible. That is why we urgently need families who will open their hearts and give them a safe and nurturing home.”
2024 – 100 Years Later
Today, we’ve grown to support 13,000 individuals each year through an array of services offered at locations in five counties. Our service areas now include Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Genesee counties. As we celebrate 100 years, we extend a sincere thank you to our staff, volunteers, community partners, and donors for 100 years of support. Thank you for helping us remain true to our roots and continue our mission.
We look forward to providing even more people with unwavering care for many more decades to come.
Cheers to 100 years!