Khalilah McKee, a marketing major and honor student at Claflin University, grew up in a single-parent household with six siblings. To say the least, her early life was unstable…moving from place to place, frequently missing school and never feeling safe and secure. She always wondered why she had to move so often. However, all of this changed for Khalilah when she was fourteen.
At that time she met with her guidance counselor to share what was going on in her life. The counselor was concerned and decided to meet with Khalilah’s Mom to help her find a stable living environment for Khalilah and three of her siblings. At that time, her Mom’s primary concern was to keep her children together and out of the foster care system. Epworth Children’s Home was the perfect solution.
Since 1896, Epworth has provided a safe, stable and loving environment for children to grow, learn and be loved. Currently more than 80 children, ages four through eighteen, from broken family systems are nurtured through Epworth’s various programs offered on its 32-acre campus. Nearly 70 staff members provide an array of services to meet the medical, emotional, physical, educational, spiritual and independent living needs of the children entrusted to them.
Upon arriving at Epworth, Khalilah moved into her own room in one of the cottages. She developed a regular routine just like other teenagers. Attending Dreher High School, studying and hanging out. “When I settled in at Epworth things were different. I did not have to look after my siblings. I did not have to make sure everything was all right. My responsibility was taking care of me,” shared Khalilah. It didn’t take long for her to feel like Epworth was her home and that she was part of a big and wonderful family.
“The people are the best part. Epworth has put some amazing people in my life, people that do not believe in just doing their jobs, but doing so much more. I do not think they know how much they have impacted my life. I was nervous, scared, and afraid. With their moral support I realized that I have control over my future,” said Khalilah.
At seventeen Khalilah graduated from high school. This was a terrifying time for her. Epworth had provided a stable and loving family and now she thought she would be on her own with no support. Instead, she found the opposite to be true, Her case manager, Ieshia Gee, encouraged her to realize her dreams by joining Epworth’s Higher Education and Independent Living Initiative.
This program is designed to meet the needs of high school graduates like Khalilah. Recent research indicates that less than two percent of foster children graduate from college. Through this program students are encouraged to continue their education by attending college or pursuing job skills training. Beginning in their junior year, students visit colleges and receive guidance as they prepare for their life after high school. Seniors meet with the Higher Education Director to complete applications for college admission, scholarships and financial aid.
Epworth is there to provide their graduates support 365 days a year. The program offers financial aid, housing/dining services, case management, round the clock supervision, medical care, transportation, counseling/spiritual care, daily living supplies, a small allowance and life skills instruction to ensure student success.
Over the past five years, Epworth students have graduated from Columbia College, the University of South Carolina, Spartanburg Methodist College, Winthrop University and Benedict College with bachelor and master degrees. The program continues to grow with 12 students currently participating and more than 20 after graduation this May.
In addition, Epworth provides students with a home during their higher education journey. Three staffed apartments are maintained for students who do not have family to visit over the holidays or school breaks. And students attending technical school may live on campus year-round. All higher education students receive Christmas and birthday gifts.
Khalilah, who will graduate from Claflin in May 2017, is making the most of her college years. She is a great student and a member of Sigma Alpha Pi, the National Society of Leadership and Success. Last summer she worked for the Columbia Urban League’s Youth Leadership Academy. This summer she is heading to Clemson as a Program Advisor in the Emerging Scholars Program.
Khalilah is confident about her future. She thinks she would like to work with youth and perhaps be a motivational speaker. She is proud to represent kids who have grown up in group homes. “When people meet me I don’t match the stereotype. I surprise them by the things I have accomplished, my appearance, the way I speak and how I carry myself,” she explained. She recently had the opportunity to tell her inspiring story at the 2016 Friends of Epworth Gala. Khalilah’s words moved the audience to tears of joy!
For more information about Epworth Children’s Home and its programs, please visit www.epworthchildrenshome.org or call (803)-256-7394.