120 Years and Beyond: A Message From UMFS President and CEO Greg Peters

January 13, 2020

Greg Peters is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and President and CEO of UMFS. He’s been with the agency since 1980.

As we begin 2020, UMFS celebrates 120 years of service to children, teens and families. Our journey has been filled with twists and turns as the needs of children, families and communities have shifted, presenting complex challenges and opportunities for growth along the way.

(Photo: Children gather at the main entrance of the Virginia Conference Orphanage of the Methodist Church in this undated photo.)

Forty years ago, my journey began as the United Methodist Children’s Home changed its name to United Methodist Family Services (UMFS). This change was much more than just a new name; it was a culture shift to address the current and future struggles facing children and families throughout our communities.

Our leadership, volunteers and staff relied on resolve and resiliency to face system gaps that were preventing our children and families from achieving their full potential. Taking risks, being innovative, collaborating with others, and relentlessly pursuing solutions was and is the promise and journey that demanded our focus.

It was clear in the mid-1970s that we had wavered from our culture of meeting the changing needs of our families and communities. We were serving only a few children from Richmond in the way we had served them for the past four or five decades. I believe this was the closest we have ever come to closing our doors. This wasn’t because there was no need for our mission, but the execution of our mission had become static and not relevant to the changing needs of children and families.

Fortunately the Board and leadership realized before it was too late that our transformation must be bold, dynamic and compelling. That’s when two major shifts occurred: closing gaps in our human service systems that were preventing children and families from a journey of resilience and growth, and expanding our reach with innovative approaches and an unwavering commitment to at-risk children and families.

(Photo: Children sit alongside their cottage mother in this circa-1950s photo)

Following this important shift, UMFS claimed many firsts. We were the first nonprofit organization to bring special needs adoption to Virginia. We created the first statewide program for post-placement services for adoptive families. Project LIFE was developed with the Virginia Department of Social Services to address the critical problem of youth aging out of foster care. We created the first unlocked residential treatment program for sexually reactive youth. Prior to the UMFS Child & Family Healing Center, the only program options were juvenile detention or locked psychiatric facilities.

Leland House — our partnership with Fairfax County — was the first community crisis stabilization program for children with life-threatening mental health issues. Guardian Place was the first project in Richmond to provide affordable housing for senior citizens. Courage to Succeed, a partnership with Reynolds Community College, was created to fill the gap for young adults with autism that were struggling to transition to college and develop social skills leading to independence. And recently, UMFS was chosen to partner with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health to create a training center for high-fidelity wraparound services to train professionals throughout Virginia.

Closing gaps and advocating for children and families is what UMFS does. We are committed to being a community solution provider. We are committed to innovation. And we are committed to being a critical resource to children and families as they develop tools to address life’s many challenges.

This year, we are embarking on a major transformation that will ensure we remain a relevant mission for children and families for the next 120 years. Our original site in Richmond is undergoing renovations that will give us the ability to experiment and grow as we develop more preventative and evidence-based practices. We will continue to promote a community of diversity that’s inclusive all racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious and economic backgrounds. Most importantly, we are implementing a dream that’s several decades in the making, which is to lead our industry in creating a culture that embraces children, parents and guardians as integral partners in all we do. The future journey belongs to them, and we are a vehicle to assist in their trip of a life of resilience and opportunity.

At UMFS, our passion is unwavering. At UMFS, our commitment to social impact for all children and families continues to grow and transform lives and communities. At UMFS, we will continue to be champions for children, teens and families for many years and many decades to come.