Full Circle


I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on the little community of Cookson Hills. It was December 27, 1978. My husband, Roger, and I pulled onto campus, driving a 1971 Opel Kadett and pulling the smallest U-Haul trailer they rent. We had been married two weeks before, and after a brief honeymoon in Yellowstone, we said goodbye to our Wyoming family and home, packed our trailer with wedding gifts and the only two pieces of furniture we owned, and set out for the hills of Oklahoma. Our hearts were full as we launched confidently into our dream of ministry. I was 18.

In ways we could never have imagined, the next 13 and a half years would prove to be the most formative chapter of our story.

Fast forward to May 18, 1992. We loaded a slightly larger U-Haul trailer in the pouring rain, packed up our three children, and set out for Joplin, MO to start a new chapter. Our hearts were heavy and our cheeks wet with tears as we left kids and friends who meant all the world to us. While we were confident in God’s leading, we left a piece of our hearts in the Oklahoma hills that day.

We learned and laughed and loved during those Cookson Hills years. Every December since, we remember the 35 kids who called us Mom and Dad when we unwrap their Christmas ornaments and place them on the tree. Sharon, 1985. Matt, 1983. Eugene, 1984. Diana, 1988. Tommy, 1986. Mark, 1990. Josh, 1987. Michelle, 1983. Nikki, 1985. Brandie, 1986. Crystal, 1989, Scott, 1986. One by one, we hang precious memories on our tree and say a prayer for our kids.

In 2014, I started a new chapter with Cookson Hills when I joined the board of directors. What a privilege to serve this ministry again! Standing on the brink of Cookson Hills’ 60 year anniversary, we look to the future and pray for God’s continued guidance and provision. Much has changed in 60 years, but unfortunately, our services are still in high demand. Hurting families and kids still need a place of refuge and healing and hope.

We just completed our annual board retreat, and here are a few of our priorities for the near future:

1. Our first priority will always be to ensure we are serving children and families well. That requires attention to:
• the way we hire, train, and support our staff
• the quality of our education, counseling, and programs
• the processes from intake to discharge that lead to a successful plan of care

2. Our infrastructure improvements are 85% complete, thanks to your very generous help with our capital campaign. Thank you!! We hope to complete these improvements in the next 24 months.

3. We are very focused on meaningful connections with our ministry partners. We want to ensure we are communicating with you well, understanding your needs, being open to new ways to serve, and building effective partnerships with other ministries. In a changing world, we must consistently challenge the status quo to remain relevant and effective.

In the 38 years I have been affiliated with Cookson Hills, God has intervened in hundreds of stories, including mine. Praise His name! I can’t wait to see what He’s going to do next!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Aileen Gronewald, Board Chair, is from Joplin, Missouri. She delights in her family and calls her grandchildren the “frosting of life.” She’s an avid reader, an aspiring writer, loves fashion, fishing, and Fantasy Football.