Burdette leans on experience to lead King’s Home
Story By Emily Sparacino
Photos By Dawn Harrison
Fourteen years ago, Lew Burdette answered God’s call to serve at King’s Home.
As a former executive and storeowner in the book business, Burdette transitioned into uncharted territory as the new president of King’s Home, a program that operates 22 Christ-centered homes for women and children escaping from domestic abuse and other dangerous situations.
“God just immediately stirred my heart,” Burdette said of the opportunity. “I knew this would be what the next journey was going to be.”
But to understand Burdette’s work as the person at the forefront of the King’s Home mission, you first must know the trials Burdette endured to arrive at his present spot.
BOTTOM OF THE WELL
Burdette and his three siblings grew up helping their father by sacking groceries and completing other tasks at his grocery store in small-town Roanoke.
As he was leaving work one night, Burdette, who was 15 years old, was abducted at gunpoint outside of the store.
The abduction was for ransom, but it soon turned into a messy situation in which the kidnappers beat Burdette, dropped him into a deep well down a dirt road in a remote area, shot him and left him to die.
Burdette languished, recited scripture and prayed to God in the bottom of the well for nearly two hours before he found the strength to climb out.
He then crawled about a mile along the dirt road to find help.
Despite the extent of his injuries, Burdette was released from the hospital less than two weeks later.
“Things don’t always go our way,” he said. “Every single one of us faces struggle, but the true test is how we handle adversity.”
Burdette said he learned lessons at the bottom of the well that have stuck with him through adulthood, such as perseverance, respecting others, respecting life and valuing one’s own life.
“We really don’t know what’s around the next turn, so appreciate your life,” Burdette said. “Never give up when things seem impossible and when all hope is lost. Don’t quit until you finish it.”
Burdette certainly hasn’t given up. His path before arriving at King’s Home more than a decade ago was filled with ups and downs.
Burdette worked in the book business for 16 years, 13 of which were with Books-A-Million, where he rose to chief operating officer.
He left Books-A-Million to start Kindred, a company with two Christian bookstores in the area.
The first store was a success, but Burdette encountered a roadblock with the second store, which opened after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I couldn’t make it as a small start-up,” he said. “That was a very hurtful experience.”
Burdette and his family lost nearly everything, barring their home.
“You learn and grow through some of the hardest times,” he said. “You grow through pain.”
Burdette’s background is perhaps what connects him so strongly with the residents at King’s Home.
“Obviously, something very hurtful and traumatic happened to me,” he said. “I can identify with that … the kind of hurt and tragedy that’s inflicted on you by somebody else. Everything just doesn’t always go the way you want and plan it.”
When Burdette heard about the administrative opening at King’s Home, he decided to see what God might have in store.
HISTORY OF KING’S HOME
King’s Ranch and Hannah Homes started more than 30 years ago and merged in the late 1990s to become King’s Home, which operates 22 residential group homes and six campuses in four counties.
Multiple King’s Home sites are located in Shelby County, according to Burdette, whose office is located on the Chelsea campus.
King’s Ranch, the youth program, serves boys and girls ages 10-21 in 12 residential youth homes, with primary referral sources being the Department of Human Resources and private placements.
Ninety-three percent of children in the program have been abused, 75 percent are classified as having severe behavioral problems and 90 percent arrive at least one grade level behind.
“We take kids that nobody else will take,” Burdette said. “That’s our call. We really point them toward Jeremiah 29:11, just helping them be successful because they haven’t been successful anywhere else.”
Nearly 80 children from 26 counties currently live at King’s Home, according to Burdette.
Each home has house parents and tutors for the children, who attend public schools with their peers.
“The therapeutic component is strong,” Burdette said. “House parents live at every home. We are a certified therapeutic program today.”
Burdette mentioned one teen that came to the home as an F student, but left as a senior with a college scholarship to the University of Alabama.
“They have that kind of opportunity if they choose,” Burdette said.
Women, mothers and children escaping domestic violence and homelessness find refuge at Hannah Homes, 10 residential group homes that offer services including domestic violence counseling, parenting skills, substance abuse classes, education, employment, housing and childcare.
Referrals come from churches, courts, law enforcement, other programs, mental health and the Department of Human Services.
The program serves residents for up to two years at the long-term residential homes, which are fully funded by private gifts.
King’s Home operates with a $5.3 million budget and, in 2015, recorded 46,270 bed days, along with 410 residents served. Funding sources include DHR (50 percent), community (35 percent) and thrift stores (15 percent).
King’s Home offers residents of all ages opportunities to heal from past experiences through various programs.
The horse program is designed “to help break down barriers that naturally exist within those individuals who have experienced unthinkable stress and trauma” through equine assisted therapy.
Another program is “The Potter’s Hands,” an art therapy program, focused on equipping at-risk children and women to express their creativity in a secure environment. The King’s Home pottery line, Prodigal Pottery, generates jobs and revenue for women at the home.
King’s Garden is a new educational and horticultural therapeutic garden program, and the “Hen House” program on The Farm affords children chances to care for chickens and gather their eggs for use at the homes.
At The Farm, residents learn lessons such as how to create a health nutrition plan, how to cook fresh vegetables and other skills they will need to live on their own.
“They’re learning so many life skills,” Burdette said. “You just never know how God is going to use all that stuff.”
King’s Home’s mission is to help residents regain their footing and to restore their hope in the process.
For women escaping domestic violence, having a job, buying a car and providing for themselves and their children are milestones they can reach at King’s Home.
Women who work at Prodigal Pottery, for example, are required to save 75 percent of their income, giving them a solid financial foundation for when they leave the home.
Residents are encouraged to remain as much a part of the community as they can while they live at the home.
Children attend public schools, and residents may attend worship services at area churches.
“We’re going to plant eternal seeds every day,” Burdette said. “We respect whatever anybody’s religious values are. Each home chooses to worship where they want to worship.”
In addition, homes start each day with prayer and devotion. Burdette emphasized that the King’s Home staff does not pressure residents to worship in a certain way or to adopt certain beliefs.
“We don’t save anybody; God does that,” Burdette said. “We know that we’ve pointed them in a positive direction.”
One of the biggest roles Burdette and his staff fill is a supportive role for residents as they navigate the road back to normalcy.
For Burdette, the role is what his past experiences prepared him to fill, long before he knew God would plant him at King’s Home.
“As a teen, I took life for granted,” Burdette said. “Life is fragile. I encourage our kids to make the most out of every minute. Live life to the fullest. Don’t ever give up.”