Ted Embry knows how hard it can be to serve people in crisis. He was area director of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries in Oxford when it was first created in 1997. He helped approximately 1,000 children needing emergency or long-term care before he retired in 2016.
Embry’s work of serving others has not ended. Because he knows the toll of public service, he is working with former Calhoun County Department of Human Resources director Erin Snowden and Chaplain Jim Wilson to expand a 20-year-old program called the Northeast Alabama Crisis Response Team.
In addition to helping first responders, members of the team now arrange support for nurses, teachers, volunteers and other public servants who have experienced a life-changing moment during the “bad days” when serving the public.
These days usually involve times when professionals and volunteers see death, violence and traumatic events — all of which have the potential to create extreme stress.
“It is very rewarding to have a positive impact following a traumatic event for our area public safety professionals and public servants who give their all to their work,” Embry said.
Embry, Snowden and Wilson host monthly meetings for the response team by arranging speakers and role-playing events aimed at improving their intervention skills. They also provide those in distress with mental-health and peer counselors, and strive to teach public servants and their family members how to heal emotionally and psychologically.
Recently, Embry sat down to discuss his work with the response team and his life after retirement. His wife, Nora, also came to the interview but left soon afterward to visit a friend whose loved one had died. Grief support is part of her ministry. She and Embry assist with the grief-support ministry of Golden Springs Baptist Church, which they attend.
‘Called to help families’
Embry reflected on the first years of the Oxford children’s home, which was patterned after a similar ministry in Mobile.
“In Oxford, we have been able to develop a broad-based ministry,” Embry said. “It includes helping children in crisis through the Friendship Home Emergency Shelter, developing a strong foster-home program, and offering counseling services for individuals and families. Services they provide include short- and long-term care for children and respite care for house parents. The staff has planted the seeds for the future development for a family-care ministry for single mothers and her child/children.”
Embry said he and Nora often filled in for house parents who had emergencies or illnesses.
“I have always felt that I had been called to help families,” Embry said. “I came from a stable, loving family and felt that children should have the right to grow up in a family where they didn’t have to experience fear, brokenness, abuse or violence. That should be a right for children.”
A steep learning curve
In 1970, Embry graduated with a degree in education from Jacksonville State University, where he met Nora. Later, they married and took a job as house parents to 13 children in Oak Grove Children’s Home in Charleston, S.C.
“The learning curve was steep,” he said.
During that time, he taught school during the day and returned to the home each afternoon to help Nora care for the children.
At the end of the school year, Embry and Nora returned to Calhoun County, where he worked for the Department of Pensions and Securities, currently the Department of Human Resources.
In 1973, they moved to Knoxville, Tenn., where he obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee. Following graduation, he began work at the Calhoun-Cleburne Mental Health Center as a therapist in the adolescent and children’s unit. By 1979, the heart the couple shared for helping people led them to enter the ministry.
By then, they were parents of two daughters. The family moved to Louisville, Ky., where Embry, in 1982, obtained a master’s degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Building up the children’s home
After graduation, he accepted the position as minister at Wadley Baptist Church, and Nora began teaching special education. By 1985, an opening at the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries in Mobile gave Embry the chance to work with Paul Miller, who became his mentor in developing services for children and families.
The program’s board members saw a need for services in Northeast Alabama. They established a home in Oxford and selected Embry to be the first director.
Rod Marshall, CEO of the children’s home headquarters in Birmingham, said he worked with Embry for 25 years.
“He is one of the most resourceful men I have ever known,” Marshall said. “He has a gift for networking and finding the people who have a heart for the ministry. There is no way we could have become as established in Calhoun County as we are without Ted Embry.”
Coping with children in crisis
Embry said his and Nora’s faith helped them persevere and to work to bring children “from crisis to stability.”
“When the children enter the programs, they are mad, sad, or glad,” he said. His goal became helping them, no matter their situation.
When asked how he had the strength of character to see so many children in crisis and to stay positive, he had several reasons.
“I had people praying for me,” Embry said. “Nora gave me unwavering support. I was surrounded by many a great staff. Even now, everyone at the children’s home has the same purpose, improving life through faith.”
There were times, though, when he had to “recalculate.” One of his favorite escapes was running, which he still does. The alone time has always given him perspective.
In retirement, Embry enjoys his volunteer work on the Northeast Alabama Crisis Response Team. He also volunteers for the Department of Human Resources and the Calhoun Baptist Disaster Response Team.
The Embrys enjoy traveling, and they have a camper and visit their grown daughters. Embry is also working on a book about growing up in the Munford area, where he was raised with three brothers. The title is “Harry, Ruth, and the Wrecking Crew.”
Sherry Kughn is a local freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com.