Today's Messenger features a package of stories from News Editor Abigail McWilliam about Michael Palmer and an unlicensed children's care facility operated by the Harvest Baptist Church of Fort Dodge. According to the lead artitcle, the Messenger began investigating the stories when Michele Ulriksen contacted her to say Michael Palmer had returned to Fort Dodge.
Good reporting? Will there be any fall out? How long will the comments stay up on the Messenger's pages?
It's been awhile since the Messenger has done some "hard news" reporting and I had almost given up hope that they had abandoned investigative reporting altogether because of the potential fall out that can happen. The fact that they are willing to take the chance and do this type of reporting is a good thing in my mind as long as they did their homework. We won't see that for a few days, and hopefully they will continue the series with follow up stories.
Unfortunately The Messenger did not do their homework on this one. I am active in Harvest Baptist Church and very aware of the benefits that the Anchor Home offers troubled teens. If only Abigail (Messenger writier) would have taken a tour of the home and learned about the safeguards that are in place to protect the teens, she could have written a very positive article that benefited our community. The reason that the Anchor Home was unliscensed is that State regulations did not liscense homes that are privately funded. This home has always operated within the law. The Anchor Home has a open door policy and very respectful relationship with the local DHS staff. We are fortunate that in Webster Country we have very good employees that work with facilities such as the Anchor Home. The Anchor Home has always had an open door police and DHS has always had a great working relationship with the staff that run the facility.
Pastor Smith was in the process of boarding a plane in the Mpls. airport when Abigail contacted him and he was planning to return her call, but they went to press before he ever had the opportunity to return the phone call and respond to any questions.
Bill, as a journalist and a professional, the true facts surrounding this series of articles should really trouble you.
Thanks for your posting here Suzanne, and I hope you see this as a respectful forum to do that. It's in that spirit that my comments below are being written.
I've been following the story since it was published and I don't know the "true facts", but I'm not alone.
I've read the stories, I've read the comments, I've heard the "hearsay" on both sides.
There has been no follow up to Michael Palmer since the original story.
I've not yet read Pastor Smith's side either whether it be in the Messenger or the Register. Perhaps the reason that Pastor Smith's side is never seen in print is because he never gives it. You give a perfectly reasonable explanation for him not giving a response in the original story. But since then there have been other related stories and according to the Messenger he's declined to comment when asked. For example, the original story was published at the end of February, yet in a related story on March 13th he declined comment and is quoted in the article saying that he's still developing a response. My thought is, "what are you waiting for?" One thing most PR people will tell you is the best way to handle unfavorable PR is with a solid response that is brought to the public's attention quickly. Unless I've missed something somewhere (and that's possible) Pastor Smith seems to want to procrastinate his response which doesn't fare well for him or the situation. Without hearing Pastor Smith's side it's hard to form a positive opinion that is sympathetic to the Anchor Home being unlicensed and that it should remain that way. Beall and Bailey from the State Legislature are chiming in on what constituents are saying and what they think the state should do, but Pastor Smith declines comment.
Respectfully, if I had a vested interest in something that was under attack, that's what I'd be troubled by.
Pastor Smith has been consulting an attorney and the attorney has kept him from responding. They hope to have a face-to-face meeting with The Messenger staff and hand them a formal response this week. The young man, Trevor Fuhrman was blindsided by the article as were his parents and the staff at Harvest. Trevor was the first concern of Pastor Smith. The day after the article appeared a sheriff and 6 DHS employees conducted interviews with all the teens 1 on 1 with a staff member of the home in the room to protect the children.(the children are the responsibility of the Anchor Staff since they are caring for them) All of the parents of the teens had to be contacted prior to the interview and after the interviews. The home passed the interviews with flying colors and DHS just had two suggestions for possible improvement. The part people don't understand is that the facility was not in any way supposed to be liscenced, because they don't use any state or federal funds. That is completely normal for a private home. The local DHS was still inspected and they reviewed the facility on a regular basis and had a great relationship with the home. There were never any issues or any complaints by the children or their parents. The local DHS workers knew that the home was open to them 24 hours 7 days a week. Pastor Smith has great respect for our local DHS employees that he has worked with over the years.
Pastor Smith and the staff of Harvest run an enormous ministry. I think they employ between 20-30 people and have a college, a school, a church that has services 3 times per week, this week we have a Men's Revival meeting two nights and a large marriage conference on Friday and Saturday. Pastor Smith is in demand all over the US and Canada as a speaker. He travels about 1 1/2 weeks out of the month speaking and using all the money he gets to financially support keeping the Anchor Home free to the families that need it. I'll be the first to admit that I worked two blocks from the building and had no idea for the first 13 years that the ministry existed what was going on inside those walls. Two years ago when our family was invited to visit a Sunday Service, we attended and have never missed a Sunday service since.
It is an amazing ministry and when the teens graduate from the Anchor Home, they often get up and speak before they return to their home and share about their lives prior to coming to the home and what their plans are now that they have graduated. You'd have to be a pretty "hard" person to not have your eyes well up with tears.
The "funny" thing is that Sandy Mickelson (Messenger staff writer) was at the home just 2 weeks before the article appeared and interviewed Sharon Goodman who worked with the teens and got a great overview of the ministry at that time.
I respect all that you are saying about the timeliness of Pastor Smith's reply. But honestly, Pastor Smith answers to God, not the public, and he wants to make sure that his response is Christlike and not a quickly fired off answer that he hasn't prayed about. I know that may seem like a rather "standard religious response" to you, but if you knew the impact that church has on thousands in the United States, Canada, and worldwide you would fall over. The printing ministry was recently honored for sending 100,000 scripture books to East Africa. Currently they are working on a project to send many shipping containers of printed Christian materials to India. All of the materials are printed at the expense of the local church. They have 3 families from the church that are full-time missionaries to Malowi, Madegascar, and Peru. They financially support many, many other missionaries around the world.
Bill, church is at 10:45 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. I'll be at both services and would love to see you there. Until you realize what on earth is happening behind the doors of those buildings, you can never understand how much damage, reckless jounalism has done to the great work of Christ that happens from little 'ol Fort Dodge, Iowa !!! That ministry should be regarded as a PILLAR of our community. People travel from as far as Iowa Falls and well past Jefferson to be a part of that church each Sunday. I've attended church in this town for 47 years and I also attend as many events as various churches in this town and have never witnessed a ministry that does 1% as much as this one does.
All I can say, is that before you form an opinion, attend a service and take a tour of the Anchor Home and Harvest Baptist Bible College and church and school. Then you'll have a complete and totally new perspective of things. In Christ Love, blessings to you!
From the article: "The Rev. Marvin Smith, the pastor of Harvest Baptist Church, has repeatedly declined to comment on the possibility of state requirements being imposed on the Anchor Character Training Center."
From the article: "Marvin Smith, the pastor of Harvest Baptist Church and the Anchor Character Training Center, has repeatedly declined interviews with The Messenger. Smith did not return a phone message on Wednesday."