After his wife died in a fire, this single father found hope in an unexpected place

After his wife died in a fire, this single father found hope in an unexpected place

Children’s home expands its mission to serve fast-growing segment of the U.S. population.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — In an instant, Neil Zierden’s world fell apart.

An accidental explosion at Firepoint Products Inc., the Florida business Zierden co-owned with his 40-year-old wife, Rhonda, killed her and an employee, George Harthman, 54.

Zierden was lost in his own grief and faced with raising the couple’s two young children — Miranda, now 9, and Brett, 7 — on his own.

“We just didn’t really know where to turn or what to do,” Zierden said, recalling the aftermath of the May 7, 2016, tragedy. “I’ve never been a mom.”

Enter Mount Dora Children’s Home, which is associated with Churches of Christ.

“It was obvious that he was a hurt man,” social worker Johnnie Coley said. “So when he came to us, we brought him in. We loved him. We used all the resources that God has given us to help.”

For decades, the children’s home — founded in 1945 in this picturesque town of 13,000 about 35 miles northwest of Orlando — cared for boys and girls in traditional group-home settings. It still operates two such homes overseen by foster parents in this community with sprawling canopy oak trees.

However, frustration with helping children temporarily only to return them to dysfunctional households prompted the creation of a new program serving entire families.

On its campus not far from the town’s specialty stores and antique shops, Mount Dora Children’s Home equipped private homes and apartments to serve single parents and their children.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the July 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.