honored as state's 'Ageless Hero'
MADISON | At age 85, Alonzo Welch
could rest on his
achievements as co-founder of Sunnybrook Children's Home
and later Sunnybrook Estates.
But why, Welch wonders, when life has so many more possibilities.
Called a visionary for his
efforts to help abused, neglected and homeless children and the elderly, Welch
was honored Tuesday in Hattiesburg as a "Mississippi Ageless Hero," one of 24 in the state.
"Since of the greatest work I've done has been since I was 80," said Welch
, a Madison resident for the past 28 years."I'm always planning, always dreaming, always trying to work out something new.
"I suppose my main motivation has been my Christian commitment, my love for people and my compassion for individuals underprivileged and handicapped.They have been my driving force." Welch, who was orphaned at age 15, co-founded Sunnybrook Children's home in Ridgeland in 1964.
Forty years later he
started Sunnybrook Estates near his
Madison home to give the elderly an independent living community where they could have privacy and freedom.
These days, Welch
looking forward to a $4.5 million building program at the seniors' home that will add an assisted living facility to the 50-acre campus. His
dream for children includes expansion of the children's home by opening a ranch for boys in a more rural setting.
"There's very little for the emotionally disturbed, abused, neglected child between the failed home and the detention center," Welch
The home at 222 Sunnybrook Road would continue to house girls, and the expansion of a boys' ranch would allow more children and teens in need to be served at both locations, Welch
work with the two homes.He serves as treasurer of the children's home and secretary-treasurer of the seniors' home. "He's a most deserving individual of the state honor," said Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, a longtime friend, who Welch said was skeptical at first about the need for a retirement center in the city.
spent 25 years in the ministry before leaving it behind at age 45 to prepare a home for children in need.
The urge to go out and help others was so great that Welch
had to answer the call."I asked myself where would Jesus be is he
were here today.I feel he
would be working with the underprivileged and those in need." Welch
hasn't kept an accurate count, but by his
has helped 5,000 children over the last 40 years.For 30 years, he served as executive director of the children's home.
"I raised most of the money not through begging but through teaching, teaching them the necessity of giving," Welch
Children who lived at the home through the years keep in contact with Welch
said."I get calls all the time.They come by to see me.It is very gratifying the number that still show their appreciation." Welch
work through the years has strengthened his
"God wants people who dream, who walk by faith and not by sight.If I had started out as an atheist, I'd have to be a believer by now."
Another of Welch's
projects is the writing of his
said, when the urge strikes him.
"I just got to the point where we establish Sunnybrook," he
said."I hope to finish this year." The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi
Ageless Heroes program recognizes that seniors age 65 and older can be active, vital and accomplished.Welch
was honored as the central region's community involvement winner.