Friendship House part of the family

Published 6:48 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2011

UNION FAMILY is a Friendship House Family. From the left, front, are Ali Brown, Alivia Alston, I'Lianna Union, Alijah Baker and Alston Baker; back, Alex Baker, Ashley Union and Nathaneel Union.

Part 2 of 2

When Friendship House of Jesus observes its 20-year anniversary on Thursday many folks will be reminiscing about the years they have been affiliated with the Friendship House and celebrating what it has meant to them.

Among those will be the family of Ashley and Nathaneel Union, who consider the people of Friendship House to be their extended family.

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Ashley said she was living with her grandmother across the street from the house on Martin Luther King Boulevard when the Friendship House opened there. She began attending when she was 12 or 13.

“It was something positive to do in a neighborhood that was a bad area otherwise,” she recalls. She said Jane Forsyth and Ruth Martin became good friends with her grandmother. They reached out to see what the problems were and really got involved.

“You can tell when someone really cares about you,” said Ashley.

And there were definitely problems in Ashley’s life. She tells that her mother and father were both addicted to crack cocaine. Her mother was in and out of prison for years before she got her life turned around.

Today, married and the mother of six children, with a troubled past of her own behind her, Ashley is still attending Friendship House. As she puts it, “If it were not for Friendship House, I don’t really know where I would be today. Probably hanging out on the streets in the projects, and on drugs. Instead, I am married, work full time and am a good mother to my children. Friendship House has taught me to be a leader.”

She comes to Friendship House after work every day and volunteers to help with the teenage girls. She considers she is someone they can relate to and she enjoys testifying to them about how God has changed her life.

“A lot of people I grew up with are still out there on the streets,” she said.

Her husband, Nathaneel, tells a similar story of his troubled young life. His parents were both addicts and he grew up in a series of foster care homes. He has had his own problems, as well, but today his life is changed.

He and Ashley have been married four years, and she introduced him to Friendship House, where he began by volunteering. Now he is a full-time employee, teaching the 6- to 8-year-old boys, coaching the sports teams and driving the van. He is also a pastor, and the couple hold church services in their home. They call their church the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, or “Triple T Ministry” for short.

Since the parents are at Friendship House each afternoon, five of the six children in their household also attend Friendship House after school and at special events. The youngest, being only 3, is not yet old enough to attend classes.

Nat says he likes working with the kids.

“I feel like my life has purpose now. When I see the changes occurring in the kids, it’s like changing the world, beginning with one kid at a time. I thank God for Friendship House and my job.”

Ashley agrees, adding, “When we turned our lives around, everything turned around.”

They both joyously declare their own parents are all now clean, sober and supportive parents as well.

Another family

Another family who continues to appreciate what the Friendship House has meant to them is Sandra Noble and her daughter, Angel Noble, both single, working mothers who have relied on the Friendship House to provide after-school care for their children.

Sandra’s son, Brent, is now 14, but he began attending at age 8. Her two grandchildren, Tyra, 11 and Tymere, age 9, go there after school every day except Friday, when Friendship House is closed.

Sandra said since there is no cost to send children to Friendship House, it has helped both her and her daughter economically, as they do not have to pay for child care. Friendship House does accept donations, however.

Sandra said Tymere likes the sports there and both children enjoy the music and activities provided by Friendship House.

Sandra is most impressed that the children must learn and memorize Bible verses and she thinks Tymere can recite practically the whole Book of Genesis.

Although the Noble family has grown up in the church, Sandra said there are some kids whose parents have never taken them near a church. Here they learn about Jesus, but also receive guidance and counseling in a positive, Christian environment. The older children are even helped with job training and preparation—how to find a job.

She is especially pleased with the music ministry and how it has helped reveal a lot of talent in the students. She also praises the trips the children take to the beach and to plays and cultural events as being life-changing experiences for some of the kids—who might not otherwise ever be exposed to them. She believes some have never been out of Bainbridge or Decatur County before.

Without Friendship House, Sandra said there would be a lot more kids without role models to look up to. She cites two Bible verses from the King James Version, which she thinks tells the whole story of Friendship House.

“Suffer the little children to come unto me,” said Jesus (Matthew 19:14), and “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).