Ennis Center History

Ennis Center History
An Account of Early History by Jill E.

It was an endeavor that we all knew might fail, but we followed a bright young man, Robert Ennis, and left the employment of an outpatient psychiatric clinic to form a new agency in September of 1978.  There was no money with which to form a competitive new agency; however, we believed in Bob’s mission – to provide services to clients as often as needed, for as long as needed, despite the limitations of insurance coverage or lack thereof.

We borrowed used office furniture and a typewriter, and Bob borrowed $6,000 from a friend to help get the agency off the ground.  Dedicated to his mission, Bob worked without pay for months.  We got by on a few small contracts that Bob had negotiated and saw private clients based on whatever they could afford to pay.

By March of 1979 we had acquired a contract for specialized foster care.  We sought and obtained tax exempt status, and Genesee County  provided us with a start-up group of 33 foster homes and we began placing children referred to us.
We moved into a large, old house that had been converted into an office building which we painted ourselves.  However, we soon learned we had to share the space with the previous tenants – a healthy pack of mice that broke into our desks, eating leftover ketchup packets and tracking little footprints all over our papers.

As operations grew, so did our need for additional space.  Always operating on a shoestring budget, the only rent we could afford was on the old building next door.  We coped with communications difficulties caused by the division of staff and ran back and forth in all kinds of weather.
Because we were a young agency, it seemed that the majority of the youth referred were kids that no other agency would accept.  They were older kids that had already demonstrated some severe behavioral problems – fire-setting, auto theft, drugs, sexual and physical abuse, assault and even murder.  Nearly all of our kids then were habitual runaways.  Some were suicidal, so therapists and caseworkers would stay with them around the clock to ensure their safety.  We had kids who derailed trains or kidnapped adults at gunpoint.  We even had a youth that holed himself up in a bathroom, holding a knife to an infant’s throat.

In June of 1982 the D.J. Healy, a children’s shelter in Detroit, was being closed and a large number of younger children needed to be placed on short notice.  With only a couple of days to plan and sparse, if any, referral information, we placed 22 of the most horrifically abused children we had ever treated, all of them on the same day.  Most of the children were terrified and crying.

One of the children placed that day had a strange, terminal disease that we had never heard of called Moya-moya.  She wore a helmet due to severe head-banging and upon meeting the worker assigned to her, promptly bit the worker as hard as she could.
Bob carried around a particularly angry 4-year-old girl that day who kept screaming and cursing at him, yelling “b**ch, b**ch” as she hit Bob.  Later, that child’s foster parent phoned our office in tears over the severe scars she found on the child’s genitals.

We were glad that we could provide an option that day for so many children needing foster homes.  The experience created a life-long impression on us – seeing so many severely abused children who were thrown into yet another terrifying situation.  They didn’t know us and they didn’t know where Flint was.  They thought they were being taken far, far away from any home or family they might have known.  We wept at the magnitude of their collective pain.

In 1983 we outgrew the two old houses but, again, couldn’t find suitable rental property.  We also could not obtain financing to buy a building since our State contract was viewed as one that could be cancelled at any time.  Eventually, Bob was able to personally secure financing to purchase an office building in Flint – the same office we still use today.

In 1985 we established our Detroit office on Greenfield Road and our agency began to grow so rapidly we could scarcely keep up.  Still working without computers, contracts for general foster care, adoption and Families First (a family preservation program) were added to our  services.
In 1987 our Pontiac office opened and we began to computerize some aspects of our work as we continued to grow.  Our consistent level of quality and standards led to federal grants and grants from private foundations.

In 2009, we were asked by the St. Clair County Department of Human Services to open an office in Port Huron through which we provide foster care.
Over the years we have encountered many obstacles, but the leadership of our agency always found a way to survive each crisis.  Additionally, the leaders were never too busy to take on the fight for a child.  They have led the way for kids – contributing to legislation, developing groundbreaking programs and always looking to fill the gaps to guarantee that children receive the care that they need.


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Ennis Center for Children does not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, creed, age, sex, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, genetic information, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. Ennis Center for Children is an equal opportunity employer.