Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Family Services
Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Family Services was founded in Monticello (Drew County) in 1923. A century later, the mission of the therapeutic residential treatment nonprofit is: “To heal, prepare and empower children, youth and families in need.”
In 1910, Lulu Williamson, the founder of Vera Lloyd, worked with other local women in Monticello to open a day nursery to provide childcare for local mill workers. In response to abandoned children being left at the nursery, she expanded her work, leading to the creation of a children’s home in 1923; it was named the Presbyterian Home for Children in 1924. “Mother Williamson,” as she was called, was a woman of strong faith and convictions, as her grandson, J. Gaston Williamson, remarked at the rededication of the home’s Williamson Hall on August 3, 1991. When she was asked about financial support for Vera Lloyd, he quoted her as saying, “If all other sources of replacement funds prove insufficient, I will simply place a wash tub in the front yard and the Lord will fill it up with money.”
To further support the home’s establishment, Annie B. Wells donated her residuary estate and 1,059 acres of land in Monticello to create a residential campus after her death in 1915. In addition, Vera Lloyd of Marianna (Lee County) provided financial support in her will to build a Presbyterian orphanage in Monticello, with the stipulation that the facility be named in her honor. The name was officially changed in 1924, becoming the Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Home for Children. Lulu Williamson also worked to obtain funding, with the Pine Bluff Presbytery in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) as the initial support system; it was replaced in 1924 by the Presbyterian Synod of Arkansas. The synod gave $22,000 from the estate of Vera Lloyd to advance campus developments.
True to the agricultural nature of the community and societal expectations at the time, the boys and young men were taught farm chores and skills, while the girls and young women learned cooking, sewing, and other household duties. The September 27, 1952, issue of the Bulletin newsletter gave insight into typical campus activities, stating: “With the proper equipment to farm our land, raise feed and improve our pastures, we should have a well-balanced milk and beef herd, ample pork and poultry products, and provide much of the fresh produce for our kitchen.”
Initially, Vera Lloyd provided homes for children whose parents died or could not care for them. Sibling groups were common, and the modern home continues to welcome siblings. In the past, residents sometimes stayed for years until they found employment, married, or turned eighteen. Federal and state legislation changed the nature of state care over the years, and residents in the twenty-first century stay on campus for a shorter duration, typically staying as long as needed to complete a personalized treatment plan. When new residents arrive, they are still given a handmade quilt and a Bible, one of the meaningful welcoming gestures frequently mentioned by previous “Vera Lloyd kids.”
Vera Lloyd provides therapeutic residential treatment for children and youth from across the state, working closely with the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Funding is provided by church support, individual gifts, state contracts and reimbursements, grant awards, and corporate donors. By 2023, programs included Emergency Shelter Care, Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP), Therapeutic Group Home, and Supervised Independent Living Program. QRTP addresses the unique needs of children and youth in foster care, which can be an unstable system; many youths have had approximately fifteen placements prior to arriving on campus. Therapeutic Group Home is a step-down transition program for juvenile adjudicates, referred from the Division of Youth Services. Supervised Independent Living is the most recent addition, focusing on youth who commit to remaining in state foster care on an extended basis. For all programs, staff work to prepare youth in state care for successful and productive lives once they leave Vera Lloyd.
For additional information:
Beane, C. “They Called Her Mother Williamson: The Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Home and Family Services.” Drew County Historical Journal (2004): 31–38.
Brown, Tom Finley. “Youths Try Out ‘Working Vacation.’” Arkansas Democrat Sunday Magazine, September 4, 1960, p. 6.
DeArmond, Rebecca. Old Times Not Forgotten: A History of Drew County. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1980.
Healy, Mrs. Walker B. “Venture in Faith.” Arkansas Gazette Magazine, August 25, 1940, pp. 7, 10.
Holley, Donald. “No Soap!” Drew County Historical Journal (2004): 42–44.
Jones, I. G. “Growing up at Vera Lloyd: Reminiscences of a ‘Home Child.’” Drew County Historical Journal (2005): 49–53.
Nelson, Olive H. “Home for the Homeless.” Arkansas Gazette Magazine, January 15, 1939, pp. 2, 6.
Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Family Services. https://www.veralloyd.org/ (accessed August 31, 2023).
Marci Bynum Robertson
Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Family Services
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