OUR OPINION: Alpha House served boys with respect and nurture

By NEMS Daily Journal

Alpha House Home for Boys, a stalwart, effective and low-profile institution helping boys who live there by court order to find stability, nurture, discipline, and self-respect, will close March 31, 2013, after 40 years of remarkable service.
Founder and executive director Jerry Clayton saw the need for the kind of place Alpha House became while he was serving as chancery clerk of Lee County, doubling as youth court referee. He said increasingly complex regulations, changes in how boys needing structure and mentoring are placed other than with parents, and financial pressure evolving from competition for nonprofit funds led to the board of directors’ decision to cease operations.
Clayton, who was a state-champion boys’ basketball coach at Tupelo High School before election as chancery clerk in 1968, has been tireless in his work for the home and its residents – for 16 years without pay while chancery clerk and since 1988, when he left elective office, as a salaried director.
In a conversation Tuesday, Clayton reminisced about the successes, the challenges and the lives changed for the better among the boys who lived there during the past 40 years.
Some former residents, but proportionately few, did not succeed after leaving Alpha House, but Clayton beams with pride when he talks about now-adult men who work in good jobs at places like Toyota, some who own their own businesses, doctors, financial advisers, teachers, a NASA interplanetary space engineer, and many others who hold strong positions and lead their families.
“I can’t thank the community that made the Alpha House possible enough,” Clayton said in an interview with reporter Riley Manning. “Hopefully other organizations will rise to meet this need. I have faith in the spirit of Tupelo.”
Clayton’s concern should be followed through with careful monitoring of whatever systems or facilities take Alpha House’s place.
One of the new regulations, arising out of a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Human Services, gives preferences in placement to relatives or the foster home care system.
While the law must be obeyed the system won’t necessarily work as perfectly or efficiently as its designers envision.
Alpha House met an incredible need, especially serving boys from within 50 miles of Tupelo, but it had a more distant reach in some individual placements.
The successor system must be held accountable, as was Alpha House.