U.P. Kids: Moving into the future

EDITOR’S NOTE: The second part of a two-part look at the former Good Will Farm, now known as U.P. Kids. Today’s focus is the scope of services provided by U.P. Kids.

HOUGHTON – As its name indicates, U.P. Kids is an organization dedicated to serving the needs of children, but how that has been done has changed since it started as an orphanage in 1899.

Starting as the Good Will Farm orphanage, transitions over the decades changed its focus from an orphanage to an organization which provides services to children 12 to 17 years old, some of whom live in a group home in Houghton, some of whom live with their families and some who are in foster care or have been adopted. In 2012, the name changed to U.P. Kids to more accurately indicate what the organization does.

“The children who come to live at U.P. Kids have been having trouble either at home or at school,” said Mark Lambert, U.P. Kids executive director. “Many of them are sent to the organization by the courts.”

Lambert said although the organization traditionally served boys and girls, a decline in the past five years in the number of girls coming to them has caused them now to house only boys.

“It’s just a part of the trend. The last five years we would have two or three girls, then it would go two or three years where we didn’t have any.”

Until this past summer, Lambert said boys were living in a large house on MacInnes Drive in Houghton, which was the former orphanage, and the girls were in a smaller house next door. The large house is in the process of being sold, and the boys are living in the smaller house. A maximum of eight boys can live in the 3,000-square-foot house.

Helping both boys and girls get into foster care or into adoption is still part of what U.P. Kids does, Lambert said.

“That’s really going to be the core of our future,” he said. “We certainly have lots of girls in foster care.”

U.P. Kids provides some services to children in the entire Upper Peninsula, for both children in foster care and those who were adopted, Lambert said.

The U.P. Kids offices were moved recently to the former Yalmer Mattila Construction Company building next to the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. The U.P. Kids Big Brothers/Big Sisters program is housed there, also.

One of the BB/BS programs is the traditional program, in which a volunteer spends two or three hours with a child at least one day a week, Lambert said. The other program is called High Five, which pairs high school students with elementary school students one-on-one once a week in a school setting.

“Between the two programs, we have about 200 (children),” he said.

Lambert said the Big Brothers/Big Sisters and High Five programs are prevention programs focused on keeping children from getting into trouble and to keep families together. Prevention is a growing part of what U.P. Kids is doing now.

Funding for the residential program and the foster care and adoption programs comes from a Michigan Department of Human Services per diem payment, Lambert said.

However, that amount isn’t enough to pay for overhead, including salaries. Fundraisers, such as the Bowl for Kids program, help pay for the BB/BS program, and other needs.

“It’s part of our strategic plan to expand our fund-development area,” he said.

Private donations can be sent through the organization’s website at (go to How to Help), brought to the office at 57 Huron St. in Houghton or mailed to P.O. Box 428, Houghton, MI 49931.

Lambert said some children may still be living with their families, but they still need some of the services U.P. Kids offers, and expanding the number of children served in their homes in that kind of situation is one of the goals of the organization.

“Some of our programs are specifically working to keep the kids in the home,” he said. “In foster care, most of the kids are going back home.”

Finding more ways to serve children in need and strengthening the existing programs is the goal of the people working at U.P. Kids, Lambert said.

“Our whole thing is about providing what families need to raise healthy children,” he said.