Mountain Top began in the mid nineteen seventies as one of the early community outreach projects of MUST Ministries, a faith-based organization in north Georgia dedicated to providing services to persons and families in crisis. Two college roommates, Wayne Williams and Rex Kaney, were the first directors of MUST. They began working with at-risk youth in Cobb County who were either wards of Cobb County DFCS or Cobb County Department Of Juvenile Justice system and identified a need for the establishment of a residential program for at risk teenage boys.
They soon obtained the use of a parcel of 350 plus acres of mountain property near LaFayette, Georgia, which had previously been purchased and paid for through the leadership efforts of Dr. Candler Budd, a great Methodist visionary. This property had been deeded to the Atlanta-Marietta District of the United Methodist Church with the intention that it was to be used as a camping and retreat facility.
The facilities in 1980 included a four bedroom home. The home had only a wood stove for heating and window screens as air conditioning and remained that way until 2004. The water still comes from a spring up the side of Chestnut Mountain.
The home was converted to use as boys’ home with modifications to the upper level bath and later the addition of a rest room and shower wing. Though the home was not originally designed as a group home, it at times had as many as twelve boys in residence.
In 1986 Lillian Darden, Dr. Budd’s daughter, convinced Tom Murphy, Speaker of the House of the State of Georgia, that Mountain Top could keep boys in a better setting and cheaper than the state’s prison system and obtained state endorsement and support. At that time the boys were all wards of the juvenile justice system. They were adjudicated to Mountain Top, a tranquil mountain setting with no fences and no locks.
Mountain Top employed a school teacher to assist their passing the G.E.D. exam. They were all proud of that accomplishment, and they think of Mountain Top even today as though it were their high school. In 1998 funds were raised to build a school building.
In 2000 a wood shop was built and opened to the boys, the equipment was updated, and a vocational education program was installed. The school operated until 2004 when we began taking boys from DFCS, which allows the boys now to attend public school.
We then embarked on a program to upgrade Mountain Top’s facilities and services. We learned of a new model that aimed to create a family atmosphere through a loving couple as house parents. Each family home provided residence for eight children and their houseparent couple. House parents are responsible for the daily care, nurturing, and teaching of life skills to the children in the family home. The family units receive additional support from a trained Director and additional management staff who give support in medical, psychological, and financial needs. Most important is the house parent who, through their example, show the boys how healthy relationships can work. We want to imprint how love, discipline, and consistency can create a comfortable and effective atmosphere.
Late in 2004 we designed and built our new Dogwood Lodge that is based on houseparents as caregivers and not couples. It is what many now consider to be a state of the art boys’ home.
The lower level of the old school building was turned into a 26-bed bunk house for mission teams that came from all over the United States to help with construction of this new facility. The upper level housed the boys and provided offices for the operation.