Jason and Maggie Dunn are on a mission to provide foster youth who have been the victims of abuse and neglect with a place that gives them love, care, support and healing, so they can find homes and families of their own.
And they plan to bring that mission to the picturesque horse country in northeastern Oxford Township.
“So much of their life has been ugly and we’re excited to show them they deserve beautiful things, too,” said Maggie, a therapist.
The Dunns are the founders of the Detroit-based House of Providence, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing “a therapeutic and familial environment for minors” in the foster care system who have been unable to find “a permanent family of their own,” according to the website www.thehouseofprovidence.org.
House of Providence recently purchased the 118-acre Hunters Ridge Hunt Club property, located at 3921 Barber Rd., near E. Davison Lake Rd., for $800,000.
The Dunns plan to eventually relocate and expand House of Providence’s operations from Detroit to the Oxford property.
“We just knew we wanted to be in horse country, farm country. It’s beautiful up there,” Maggie said. “Hunters Ridge is the only place we really wanted this whole time. It’s not like we looked at a bunch of different properties. That was it.”
Because a big part of their mission is to provide a family setting to help foster youth heal and learn how to trust others, the Dunns are not planning to build dormitories to house hundreds of kids.
Their plan is to eventually construct three ranch-style, residential houses, each sitting on parcels in “the 30-acre range,” according to Jason. Each would serve as separate housing for three groups of foster kids – girls, boys and disabled youth.
“Every home will be beautiful,” said Jason, a licensed minister.
The Dunns said each house would be capable of accommodating up to 10 kids, but they prefer to keep the numbers between six and eight.
“We stay small purposely,” Jason said.
He explained House of Providence’s goal is not to “warehouse” kids. Quite the contrary, the organization wants to help them become “whole” and “healthy” in a familial atmosphere, he said, so they can one day find a family of their own and not “have to live life alone.”
“Family is it – that’s what they need,” Maggie said.
Jason noted setting up the Oxford campus won’t happen overnight because there’s still lots of fund-raising that needs to be done in order to make it all happen.
“It will be a process,” he said. “I know it’s not (going to be) in six months or in three months.”
In addition to funding, the Dunns would need to obtain numerous approvals from the township including lot splits and a special land use permit, a requirement when there’s more than six foster kids being housed.
“We’re not in any rush,” Maggie said. “We want to just do it well.”
Who does House of Providence serve?
House of Providence is licensed through the state to serve foster youth ages 9 to 17, according to the Dunns. Currently, the organization serves only girls, but it plans to expand to boys and disabled youth with the Oxford campus.
House of Providence helps youth who have suffered “extreme abuse and neglect” and lack stability in their lives because they’ve been unable to find permanent homes and families. Maggie stressed that none of the youth House of Providence takes in have criminal backgrounds.
“They’re not bad kids,” she said. “They don’t have any juvenile justice history. They’re not delinquents. They haven’t done anything wrong. They’ve just been cast aside.”
These youth have either bounced from foster home to foster home or “been institutionalized because there’s not enough homes,” according to Jason.
“They’re not kids that cause trouble,” he explained. “They’re kids that nobody wants, nobody cares for.”
“They’ve just been totally let down and abandoned,” Maggie added.
Many of the children who are never adopted and age-out of the foster care system at 18 end up incarcerated, homeless, unemployed, pregnant or working in some area of the sex industry, according to the House of Providence website.
“Statistically, it’s ugly,” Jason said.
The Dunns have been foster parents themselves for many years and they saw how much older kids “struggle” in the system because it’s difficult for them to find permanent homes and families.
“Michigan is the third worst in the nation (when it comes to) the child welfare system,” Jason said.
“We felt compelled to be a solution for these kids who are languishing in Michigan’s foster care system (through) no fault of their own,” Maggie said.
Thus, House of Providence was established in 2012 to help foster kids and prevent them from having bleak futures.
“We just saw the suffering of these kids who hadn’t done anything wrong. They were just forgotten and invisible,” Maggie said. “That was the catalyst.”
“When you really look into the eyes of a child that has nobody, how can you not do something?” Jason said. “We wanted to be a part of the solution.”
Jason said it’s important for people to remember they are where they are “in life because somebody stopped, they invested, they loved us and they believed in us.”
“Every one of these children, that’s all they need.”
House of Providence works with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which provides referrals.
“I get emails all the time,” Maggie said. “We’re a very sought-after program because of our success rate and how well the girls do.”
But House of Providence doesn’t just take anyone. “I am extremely picky about who we’ll let come in,” Maggie explained. “I personally go out and meet and interview every kid.”
The main requirement for a foster youth to be accepted by House of Providence is she must want to be there.
Maggie said in order to be successful, there has to be “buy in” on the youth’s part.
“You have to want to be there or else, it’s chaos,” he said. “We’re not into running chaos.”
House of Providence is based in Detroit, but its residents are not limited by geographic location. “We don’t have girls just from Detroit,” Maggie said. “We have girls from all over (the state).”
She said they’ve come from Oakland and Macomb counties, Grand Rapids, the Lansing area and Bay City.
Jason noted it doesn’t matter where the girls come from. “It’s not about economics,” he said. “It’s just broken humanity.”
House of Providence has a 7,500-square-foot facility in Detroit that can house up to 10 girls. Currently, eight girls live there, according to the Dunns, who noted they like to keep the size at about six to eight.
The building is situated on House of Providence’s very own little oasis amidst urban life. “We bought an entire city block (and) we created a beautiful outdoor space, so they get outside a lot,” Maggie said.
The property is fenced for the girls’ protection. Outside that fence, “it’s another world,” Jason said.
Life at House of Providence is designed to be just like it is in the average family home.
According to the Dunns, the girls sit around the table and eat meals together. They go to school via the Oxford Virtual Academy (OVA). They play sports, take swim lessons, participate in a church youth group, go to the movies and the mall, and engage in other “fun outings.”
“We just make (life) as normal as possible,” Maggie said. “We try to give them stability, a sense of family, (a feeling) that they’re not invisible, people love them.”
Maggie was very complimentary of the services provided by OVA.
“They have really closed the (educational) gaps for those girls and really helped them to gain so much ground,” she said.
The staffing at House of Providence is designed to give the girls as much support as they need and ensure they never feel alone.
“The girls have a lot of individual attention and they’re very well-mothered and nurtured by our staff,” Maggie said.
“We have staff 24 hours a day, so kids are never unsupervised,” Jason said. “There’s never a time that there’s not staff.”
There’s always at least three staff members on duty, according to the Dunns.
“We very much overstaff. Whatever the state minimums are, we go above and beyond that,” Maggie said.
“We definitely overstaff because you want to provide (for) and meet every need that’s out there,” Jason said.
Jason noted their staff is just as invested as they are in House of Providence’s mission. It’s not just a paycheck to them.
“They’re there because they believe in these kids,” he said. “They love them and they want to see them (be) successful.”
What are the girls like?
“They’re just normal kids who haven’t had the same opportunities as others,” Maggie said. “They’re not to be feared. They’re wonderful children who are resilient and strong and funny and kind.”
“They’re talented. They’re athletic. They’re incredibly smart,” Jason said.
He’s amazed they’re able to wake up with a smile every day after what they’ve been through. “They are some of the strongest individuals I’ve ever met in my life,” Jason said.
The Dunns believe it’s important for people to understand who these foster youth are before judging them.
“I think sometimes we create stereotypes and assumptions based out of ignorance,” Jason said. “We assume that anybody (who) isn’t like us or didn’t grow up like us, somehow there’s something wrong with them – we should be fearful of them.”
“I think it’s sad that people create assumptions without ever really getting the facts,” he added.
According to the Dunns, the girls at House of Providence spend an average of about 18 months there before they’re placed with a family.
While there, the girls learn to “trust again” and to “accept the love of parents and lives (within) the confines of a family,” Maggie explained. “We just slowly transition them into family life.”
When asked what happens to the girls who don’t find families, the Dunns said that’s never happened at House of Providence.
“It’s amazing what consistent love (from) safe adults can do to stabilize a child,” Maggie said. “We are definitely the lucky ones to get to be in their life and walk (on) their journey of healing with them.”
“It’s amazing how the Lord always provides a family for every kid,” Jason said. “He says I’m a father to the fatherless and He really is.”
Making the move to Oxford
The Dunns are excited about bringing House of Providence to the 118-acre property in Oxford because of all the advantages and opportunities the kids will have living in a rural environment as opposed to Detroit.
Jason said just placing these youth in a country setting will greatly improve their state of mind and outlook on life because they no longer have to deal with the “stresses,” the “harshness” and the “chaos” of city life.
In Oxford, House of Providence’s youth will be able to enjoy nature.
“The outdoor experience allows kids to bond, (to) heal,” Jason said.
For example, out here, the kids will be able to benefit from equine therapy by riding and helping care for horses. “We can’t have horses where we are,” Jason said.
Maggie is looking forward to being able to expand the extracurricular opportunities for House of Providence youth via Oxford Schools’ athletic and fine arts programs.
Other than adding three houses to the property and whatever else is necessary to do that, such as a private road, the Dunns intend to keep it as natural-looking as possible.
“What you see is what’s always going to be,” Jason said. “Everything’s going to stay incredibly beautiful, just as it is.”
Natural beauty is a big reason they purchased the property, so “to eliminate that would be foolish on our part,” Jason said.
“You probably won’t even see the homes from the street,” he noted.
They do not plan to put a sign out front and Jason indicated their operation will be a very quiet one. “You probably won’t even know that we exist,” he said.
The Dunns plan to live on site in the existing two-story colonial house built in 1888.
“It’s in pretty rough shape, but we’ll renovate it with our own finances, not through the organization,” Maggie said.