By: Kendall Louis
It started 85 years ago when a mother, grieving from the loss of her young son, began a personal healing journey by helping other children. On Jan. 1, 1930, Lena Pope founded a home in Fort Worth that bears her name to this day. The Lena Pope Home began as a refuge for neglected and homeless children. With the help of the Martha Sunday School Class, which Pope taught at the Broadway Baptist Church, plans were made for six abandoned children to live in a rented building. On the first day, 25 children arrived. Pope knew that fundraising would be a challenge in the middle of The Great Depression, but, as many of Fort Worth leading citizens soon discovered, it was impossible to say ‘no’ to Lena Pope.
“Mom” Pope managed the home until 1962. It is estimated that by 1970, the home had housed more than 10,000 children. Lena Pope died on Nov. 24, 1976, at the age of 95.
Over the years, the nonprofit has progressed to meet changing needs in the community. The focus today is on helping families through counseling and education.
On Nov. 9, Lena Pope celebrated the grand opening of expanded and enhanced counseling and education facilities at a new 40,000-square-foot Fort Worth campus located at 3200 Sanguinet St. The facilities include the Youth and Family Center, an Early Learning Center, a Nature Explore Playground, and Counseling and Administrative Offices.
Todd Landry, executive director of Lena Pope, says the new facilities represent a major step forward for the mission of Lena Pope. “More children and families will receive the services they need, and the community will be stronger and healthier as a result,” Landry says. “I believe that Mrs. Pope would be so proud of our board, staff, and the entire community that has come together so that our children have a future filled with hope, happiness, and success.”
Marty Leonard has served on the home’s board of directors for 54 years. She also served as honorary chair of the ‘Yes, Mrs. Pope’ capital campaign. “I knew her fairly well,” Leonard says. “She was always Mrs. Pope to me, but the children called her ‘Mom’ Pope.”
The ‘Yes, Mrs. Pope’ came from a story involving Fort Worth city leader and the home’s benefactor, Amon G. Carter, and Pope, Leonard says.
“On the 75th anniversary of the home, Ruth (Amon Carter’s daughter) told a story about the phone ringing during dinner, and Mrs. Pope asking to speak to her father,” Leonard begins. “Ruth said all she could hear was this one-way conversation: ‘Yes, Mrs. Pope; Yes, Mrs. Pope; Yes, Mrs. Pope’ and that was the truth. She used to go to my dad’s office when she wanted something. His secretary would tell her he was busy and couldn’t see her right now.
Mrs. Pope would say ‘Oh, that’s OK, I’ll wait.’ She’d sit there as long as it took,” Leonard says laughing. “She was the most tenacious person I’ve ever known. She knew how to wrap those top businessmen around her little finger. Whatever she needed for the kids, she’d figure out a way to get it. She was stubborn, and she knew her mind. She never gave up. That’s what made her succeed.”
Foremost, Lena Pope believed in keeping the families together, Leonard says.
State District Judge Don Cosby, 59, knows this better than anyone. He entered Lena Pope in the building known as ‘Babyland’ with his older brother and younger sister when he was 3 years old. At age 7, the children moved to what Cosby calls ‘The Big House.’
“I remember the house parents telling us to be good if we wanted to move into The Big House. For us, that was advancement,” he says. Cosby’s mother took them to Lena Pope Home after their father left the family. His mother, Asako Cosby, is Japanese, and at the time spoke little English. She had no means of supporting the family. Lena Pope offered her a job in the home’s laundry and a place to live in the home. Fifty-five years later, she still helps out at Lena Pope. “I’ve been blessed,” Cosby says. “I remember Mom Pope always being around. She would read Bible stories to us. She just made a point of being there and looking out for us.”
Lena Pope’s grandson, John Aldrich, remembers working with his grandmother in the home’s gardens. “The area where the new building is now was just a field with Babyland on top of it,” Aldrich says. “My grandmother loved to garden, and she had a series of flower gardens all over that property. When I was a kid, she would say, ‘Buddy, you need to come help me water.’ I would drag that hose all over the property while she stood there and hand-watered the flowers. She wanted it to look nice.”
Aldrich also recalls her persistence in raising money. “All she did was raise money for the home and those kids,” he says. “She dedicated her entire life and everything she had to those kids. They would gather around her like a bunch of little puppies.”
With its charter school, Chapel Hill Academy, Lena Pope offers a tuition-free, quality education for elementary-aged students.
Another way that Lena Pope fosters education in the community is through the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program. This program provides an alternative education setting for students who have struggled to succeed on their home campuses.
The Lena Pope Early Learning Center provides all-day care and learning for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. The center will accept childcare subsidies, as well as private pay.
Glenn Darden, Capital Campaign Chair for Lena Pope, says the ‘Yes, Mrs. Pope’ campaign had extraordinary support. “Beginning with 100 percent participation from the Lena Pope staff and board of directors and continuing with significant contributions from regional foundations and individuals, we have raised a total of $13.2 million. Our heartfelt thanks go out to all who helped Lena Pope reach this milestone,” Darden says.
Pam Pigman, Lena Pope Board president, thanks the Fort Worth community, which she says has been “an awesome force” behind the campaign. “We are excited to share our beautiful, state-of-the-art new buildings with the entire city.”
For more information about Lena Pope programs, visit lenapope.org or call 817.255.2657.
By: Kendall Louis