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In 1919, the first African-American physician in Pennsylvania and one of 10 African American female physicians in the nation, Dr. Melissa Thompson Coppin, established Women’s Christian Alliance. Created to help facilitate the relocation needs of black migrants from the rural south, WCA went on to become the city of Philadelphia’s first African American foster care agency and in 1958 became a licensed adoption agency. The genesis of this historic organization was a meeting of black churchwomen. The meeting happened in April of 1919 at Mother Bethel, the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in the world, and the first to occupy the oldest piece of property continuously owned by blacks in America.
WCA is a non-sectarian nonprofit organization located in the heart of North Central Philadelphia. It began as a safe haven for African American families who were part of the great northern migration. Throughout the 20th century, WCA has expanded its programs to meet the emerging needs of children and disadvantaged families. Ranked in 2010 as the number one foster care agency in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by the Department of Human Services, WCA has continuously maintained national accreditation from the Council of Accreditation dating back to 1977.
In its infancy, WCA was one of three agencies that focused on the care of black children. But because of the history of “discriminatory” practices in the child welfare system, according to Children of the Storm: Black Children and American Child Welfare (1970) by Andrew Billingsley & Jeanne M. Giovanni, “Agencies under black sponsorship simply did not have access to the endowments, donations, and other private funding resources that white agencies did.” On top of having to overcome discriminatory practices in 1940, Dr. Coppin’s death gave birth to an expectation that the agency would cease to exist. Dr. Coppin mentored her replacement in the former schoolteacher and fashion designer, Sara Sinclair Collins, who brought with her a passion for working with children and WCA did not miss a beat.
Committed to Dr. Coppin’s vision, Collins took over as Executive Director. During an exclusive interview conducted at the end of her first three years, she provided an impressive progress report and the expansion of Dr. Coppin’s vision for the future of the agency. “During these three years, change has been the operative word. As an agency, we have transitioned from an organization whose services were all financed through a single source to more diversified funding, increased both quantity and quality of services, developed a Quality Assurance Program, increased annual adoptions and have a completely funded Adoption unit, expanded Behavioral Health Services and opened our agency to community residents through multiple services offered in our Family Center.”
Over the years, WCA has expanded to include a “Continued Care Special Services Unit.” Inaugurated in the fall of 1966, this unit offered intensive casework services and in depth counseling for those children with emotional disturbances, mental health challenges and other problematic behavior patterns which required psychiatric counseling, therapy or other treatment modalities.
Other programs included “The Belmont House.” This was an 11-room building that facilitated the channeling of the energies of girls into productive avenues by providing warm, friendly and understanding relationships. When basic social problems were resolved, these girls were then placed in foster homes or reunited with their biological parents.
In addition, in recognition, after years of experience of the need for a different type of therapeutic environment, WCA renovated the building adjacent to its administration building and opened a “Group Living Center for Boys.” The center provided a comfortable setting for those boys who had a difficult time adjusting to foster parents on a one-on-one basis. During their stay and with the assistance they received from psychological and psychiatric services, it was believed that this would be enough to enable them to once again live harmoniously in a foster home setting.
Presently, the agency continues to place children in environments where “stable” homes and “empathetic” foster parents are certified and willing. We are recognized for repairing children’s' broken spirits where caring and sharing are the optimum forms of showing appreciation and giving back to the community. This sentiment is echoed by Victoria Barfield, a 43 year-old WCA foster-parent, who is a great example for this case in point. Not only does Ms. Barfield provide the child in her care with a stable and “loving” environment, she develops a rapport with that biological mother or father if the objective is the child’s reunification with its parents. She shared this thought: “I just don’t shut the other parent out. I try to impart to them the skills I’ve acquired as a parent and as the owner of a child day care. I try to help them to become a better parent to their child.”
WCA Board of Directors is the governing entity of this prestigious agency and has had much transition through the years both in Board and administrative leadership. WCA has had some phenomenal Board Members over it long history. In 2015, Rev. Dr. A'Shellarien Lang was elected and appointed as the Board Chair. Dr. Lang is an Intenerate Elder in the First Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, National Director of Training for Healing Communities USA, Pastor, Prolific author, and social justice advocate. She brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to the WCA Board. Women's Christian Alliance continues to expand their reach as a holistic social service agency as they continue to incorporate local, state, and federal programs to meet the needs of the entire family. Lisa Rhodes, has been appointed as the Executive Director in 2015. She brings over 20 years of managerial experience from her successful work experience at prominent Fortune 500 Companies. The Women's Christian Alliance Board, Staff, and Community Partners share the joint belief the we serve to love, lead, and lift families.
WCA continues to meet the needs of Philadelphia’s children, youth and families by providing Foster Care, Kinship and Adoption (SWAN) services; Prevention services through our Family Empowerment Service (FES), Academic and Mentoring with a Purpose Program (RAMP-UP); Early Childhood Education through our Learning Development Center (LDC); after-school and summer programs through Out-Of-School Time; and youth summer employment opportunities through Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) program.