The Girls Shelter is a residential program for females 12 – 17 years that have been court ordered out of their homes. We provide a homelike environment while teaching them life can be much more positive than they are used to living. We are run by a 21 member Board of Directors composed of community members who share a positive vision for these young women. We are licensed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Monitored by the Fort Smith Fire Dept and Sebastian County Health Dept. We are subcontracted through Comprehensive Juvenile Services since 1977 and a United Way Agency since 1982.
Our mission is to provide a safe,encouraging atmosphere in a residential setting for underprivileged females aged 12 – 17 years; to promote positive behaviors,character enhancement and educational advancement; to reunite with family.
Many of our residents have had a less than desirable childhood. Common histories include physical and sexual abuse,
parents with drug issues, parents in prison and homelessness.
We teach personal responsibility, independent living skills and positive social skills. We provide case management,
individual and family counseling.
We provide a safe home environment, all food, transportation, personal items, and clothing. They receive individual and family counseling.
As one board member put it, “We have one year to pour all the good into them we can possibly give them”.
The Girls Shelter opened June 1, 1970. It was a refuge for young ladies twelve through eighteen years of age who for some reason could not remain in the home. Before we opened these girls were placed in adult jail for lack of a proper place. This greatly troubled many in the community and henceforth the vision of a “Girls Shelter” evolved. Judges, school officials and many concerned citizens banded together to make their vision a reality. The First Methodist Church leased the Shelter a house at 201 North 16th for a dollar a year. After many hours of praying, planning, pleading and “elbow grease” the Girls Shelter of Fort Smith, Inc. opened its doors as a temporary emergency facility governed by a twenty one member Board of Directors made up of local business persons. Maurice Carter served as the first Board President. It was licensed by the Department of Human Services and approved by the Fire Department and Health Department. Thirty five girls had a home here the first year. In 1974, the Shelter had to close its’ doors for three months due to financial and staff problems. Upon reopening, board member Claudia Vaughn became the volunteer director, hiring Doug and Judy Moody as live in house parents. They served until Oct 1, 1976 when Jan and Mary Dale Colvett were hired as live in house parents and Gary and Jama Kaye Watkins as relief house parents. In 1977 the Girls Shelter subcontracted with Comprehensive Juvenile Services as a placement agency and a liaison with the juvenile courts. At this time Christine Watkins, a long time board member, became volunteer co- director. In 1979 – 1981, the Colvetts needed some time away and took the job of relief house parents while Willie and Willene Pitts then Jerry and Ann Hoffman served as live in house parents.
In 1981 the Colvetts returned as live in house parents. The First Methodist Church informed the Shelter they were in critical need of expansion, making it necessary for the Shelter to relocate. After many months of searching, an adequate house was found. Thanks to the generosity of the Fort Smith community, we were able to purchase and remodel our new home meeting the standards of all involved licensing agencies.
On February 4th,1982, we moved to 816 North 21st Street. Also that year Jama Kaye Watkins was hired as Social Worker.
In 1984 the State of Arkansas and CJS informed us of the growing need for long term residential treatment in our area. After much consideration, the Shelter changed from emergency care to long term care. Due to additional financial responsibilities, we applied and were accepted as a United Way Agency.
In 1986 — Lois Miller was hired as live- in houseparent. Mary Dale changed to day shift with clerical work added to her duties. In 1987 – Debbie Jones was hired as relief houseparent after serving a three year term on the Board of Directors.
1994 – Debbie and Lois switched positions.
In 1996: Mary Dale was given the position of Administrator, Jama Kaye the Director of Social Services and Debbie the Direct Care Manager. The Shelter Board of Directors started working toward a new “vision”. A two acre lot was purchased at South 26th and Raleigh as a building site for a new, larger home for our girls.
2001 Construction began on a 7000 square foot facility. Lois Miller retired.
April 1, 2002 We moved into our new facility.
2004 Claudia Vaughn passed away after serving as volunteer director for 30 years.
2005 Facility officially debt free.
2007 Christine Watkins Stipsky passed away after serving as co director for 30 years.
2010 A five member Executive Board was established as a liaison between the Board of Directors and the staff to facilitate daily operations. Elected: Cleve McDonald, Gary Newton, Tom Ashwood and Virginia Shepherd and the current president. Dr. Jim Brown was honored for 35+ years of dedication to the board.
2011 Mary Dale Colvett became the Executive Director. 2013 Mark Myers replaced Tom Ashwood on the Executive Board & Jama Kaye Watkins retired.
In our forty four years of providing a home for over 700 young ladies, many things have changed but most have remained the same. This letter written on the Shelters’ first anniversary still says it all.
For 365 days, Fort Smith has had a home for girls who desperately needed a warm and loving environment. Now over 35 girls have stayed at the Shelter. Some have stayed overnight; some stayed for months; some years. During this time, much has been learned by the Girls Shelter 5oard of Directors, staff and the girls themselves. One early lesson: Don’t expect smooth sailing; upsets are the rule and not the exception.
Some days were discouraging; others were hilarious; most were hectic. Many more were unbelievably rewarding. Our girls have experienced many difficulties in their lives making them mature beyond their years. We want to thank everyone who has helped the Shelter this past year. The past 365 days have been exciting ones. We know that each of the next 365 days will bring both hard work and joy to everyone connected to the Shelter.
Our work continues