Foster Granny is getting the job done, day by day

Thursday, June 3, 2004
Virginia Litchford, 61, has taken on a task that few younger people could accomplish ---- the complete renovation of the old Berryville nursing home. She plans a safe and loving haven for foster children. CCN / Ken O'Toole

BERRYVILLE ---- When it first came to light that a retired "granny" wanted to take on the task of fixing up the old Berryville nursing home and turning into a haven for foster children, there were some who believed it could not be done.

Virginia Litchford, 61 "and proud of it," has managed to enlist the support of the community to the point of getting the project off the ground, including volunteers, supplies and plenty of good wishes.

In the dead of winter last year, Litchford gave a tour of the facility off Springfield Street that revealed electrical wires hanging from the ceilings, junk appliances all over the place, peeling paint, and a whole lot of dirt.

The roof leaked, but she patched it herself, and a local roofer told her she did a "pretty good job" for an amateur.

"Foster Granny" Litchford appeared to be on a mission, dreaming an almost impossible dream, but she said her love of children and determination would overcome any obstacles she faced.

Now, her project has blossomed like spring itself, and her plans to renovate the huge old former nursing home on Simpson Street into a place where foster children can find affection and a safe temporary place to live seems to be working.

The facility, near the city park, has its problems ---- some of them seemed insurmountable at first glance.

It has been a decade since the nursing home moved to a new building near the hospital, and since then the building has fallen into disrepair.

"The place has been run down to the point that the whole thing needs major renovation," she said last winter. "In fact, most of the place is a mess."

"And it needs a whole lot of muscle power," she said at the time.

Litchford plowed ahead, and now she has a list of volunteers that could help her dream come true.

Ed Regnier, a master plumber, volunteered his services, saying, "I want to make sure the electricity is safe for the children." He also volunteers at the Berryville Community Center.

"Life has been good to me, so I am just giving something back," Regnier told Litchford.

Maverick Supply has offered Litchford discounts on plumbing and electrical supplies, and Wal-Mart has also offered free supplies, Litchford said. Also among the contributors are Meeks Building Supplies, and A-1 Roofing in Harrison.

Of course, all these supplies will be useless without more volunteers.

Now that the ball is rolling, Litchford is feeling much better about the project.

"This community has been wonderful," she said.

Now all she needs are volunteers and some more supplies, such as paint, brushes, ceiling tiles, floor coverings, light fixtures, fluorescent light bulbs, door knobs, faucets for bathrooms and kitchens mildew removers and cleansers.

Volunteers are also need for roofing repairs, as A-1 Roofing of Harrson has estimated $1,400 to $1,500 in discount repairs.

Litchford is in the process of getting her parenting class certificate from the Department of Human Services in Harrison.

Also, she is a retired nurse.

But she is driven by more than the project at hand.

"When I was nine years old, my dad died, and I know what it's like to live and be without a parent," she said.

"I also read a book when I was young about children that nobody wanted, and that stuck with me. I want to help children."

With six children of her own, and a background in taking in foster children, when she decided to retire as a nurse, she said, her children convinced her that she needed to keep going, to keep her heart working for children, or she wouldn't last long doing nothing.

"I want to be a foster granny, and that's what this project is all about," she said.

Litchford was given a free five-year lease from the owners of the building, B and K Investments, in exchange for work on the building. If the project works, then Litchford hopes to be able to pay lease terms at the end of five years.

After she gets all her certificates and, hopefully, volunteer "muscle power" and some funding, she plans to start as soon as she can taking in foster children, which she says she has learned "there is a great need in this area" for such a project.

Litchford has applied for some grant funding, but it is not very likely that she will receive much due to the state's financial crunch.

"I'm thinking about four to six children, or less, for right now, but the police and others have told me that even that many would be a great help for the community," she said.

The "foster granny" seems undaunted by the task at hand. The 11,559-square-foot building has been deserted for some time, and it shows.

"I just need money, volunteers, and supplies," she said.

She wants to run the place herself, with no employees.

She said she's got no health problems, has worked hard all her life, and plans to continue to do so. Anyone interested in helping with the project can call Virginia Litchford at (870) 423-7420.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: