Stories Of Impact

Ben Parham


I was 9 years old when I came to Christian City on Mother’s Day in 2002.

There were four of us – my older brother who was 13, my 11-year-old sister, and my younger brother who was 5.  We were taken out of a very messy home, and I came to Christian City with just a black bag of clothes. It was very sad at the time, but now I know it was for the better.

A year after being at Christian City, my grandma passed away. If we had stayed with her instead of going to Christian City, we would have been homeless after her death. I realized then that Christian City was for the better.

But, Christian City was different. We had a much bigger family there, and it took about a year or two of getting used to living with a bigger family. And we all went to private school, which was great. I went to private school from 6th grade up to graduation – Bedford through middle school and Lighthouse for high school. The camps were awesome, too.  I loved WinShape Camp and Squirrel Hollow Camp.

We went to church every Sunday when I lived at Christian City. I went to Peachtree City Christian Church and was involved in some of the youth activities. Going to church every Sunday was new to me, but I liked it. I got to meet new friends and a lot of people.

While at Christian City, I lived in two of the first cottages built in the 1960s – Flint Cottage and Price Cottage. They were made of cinderblock. Flint Cottage is now the new Recreation Center for…

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retired seniors who live at Christian City. I was able to walk through it while it was being remodeled in 2018.

The Children’s Village of today was built during the time I was living at Christian City.

The new cottages were awesome! The buildings were all new with the latest designs, including drywall instead of cinderblock. Our furniture was new, too. I actually moved into the first new cottage that was built, and the open floorplan made a big difference. We had a study area with three new computers instead of one computer for eight people to use like at the older cottages.

When I think about what life was like at Christian City, I remember pushing the grocery carts when the family went shopping at Sam’s Club, Walmart or Kroger. We always needed several carts! A typical day for our family with Mom and Dad Cater began with getting up in the morning and getting into the van to go to school. After we were picked up from school, we went home and did homework. Afterwards, sometimes I’d leave with Dad Cater to pick up kids who played sports. We’d come back home and Mom Cater fixed dinner. Mom and Dad Cater were good cooks, and I learned a little bit about cooking from them.

After dinner, we had to do chores. Each person had an assigned chore for a week.  I’d clear the table, load the dishwasher, and wash dishes. I didn’t like that part. Doing dishes was my least favorite chore, but I didn’t mind vacuuming, because it was easy with the big open floor plan of the house.

Mom and Dad Cater cared about us kids. If we needed something, they helped us get it.  They were easy to talk to. If I had a hard day at school, I could talk to Mom and Dad Cater and they would help me calm down.

I volunteered at Graceland Thrift Store at Christian City when I was 15. We weren’t paid, but we got an allowance. One important thing I learned at Christian City was to save money. I was taught to work for what I wanted, and money was put into a savings account. I still do that. It is true that you value things more when you work for them.

After I graduated from high school, I moved over into the graduate transition apartment located on the older campus at Christian City. I lived there for 6 months.

I’m 26 now, and I’ve been in Florida for 7 years. Life was moving along pretty good until last year when I lost my home in Mexico Beach during Hurricane Michael, a category 4 storm.

My wife, Brittany, and I were engaged at the time. She is a police officer, and she was still on duty when I was told to evacuate. All our belongings had been placed upstairs in our house with only flooding expected. Brittany was told to evacuate the next day, and we rode out the storm together in a hotel in Dothan, Alabama, watching CNN the whole time.

When we saw the news the next morning with overhead footage of the destruction, we knew everything was gone and we had nothing to go back to. The 100-mile drive from Dothan to Mexico Beach took 13 hours. We salvaged some stuff – a toy box, some memorabilia, and I got some of my work clothes out of the rubble.

In November, we decided to get married on the slab where our home had been located.

We cut down trees and found wood in the rubble to make the benches, and everything for our wedding was donated, including food. Brittany’s dress was donated from Bainbridge, Georgia, where she grew up. Our photographer came all the way from Orlando. She heard about our story and wanted to take free wedding photos for us.

Everything was set up the day of the wedding, and it was a major hit. Brittany’s police sergeant performed the ceremony. Since we didn’t have electricity, our music was played from a police intercom and a phone. Even the police chief got involved. Since there were no street signs, the chief and a fellow officer put his police car at the top of the road to mark where our wedding was being held.

It was different, but I would not change a thing. It was memorable, and it made news headlines! It was closure for us to get married on the foundation slab. Brittany described our wedding as being “from the end of an era to a new beginning.” That made sense to me.

We’ve decided to move 15 minutes inland. A friend bought the land for us, and we just closed on the property. We’ll have a modular home placed on it and go from there.

I’m a volunteer firefighter, and my paying job is with the Mexico Beach public works department. My job is to dredge the mouth of the canal to make boaters happy. Right now, we have no boaters, because of the storm. I dredge the canal to keep it open, so water keeps flowing out.

When I first came to Florida and took a job in the City public works department, my boss asked if I knew how to operate a barge. When I said I didn’t, he told me I was about to learn. I’ve been operating a barge for seven years now. I know the position very well, but I’ve also worked every position in the city. For the past two months, I’ve been working in the sewer and water department. I can do every position, and my goal is to move up in city employment.

I credit my time at Christian City with preparing me to be a good employee and hard worker.

When people ask me where I grew up, I tell them I grew up at Christian City, a foster home in Union City, Georgia. I get asked that a lot down here in Florida. I learned a lot from being at Christian City. If I hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today.

I still enjoy church in Florida like I did at Christian City. My church here was destroyed in the storm, but I have a new home church. It takes me an hour to drive there, and sometimes we miss because of our work schedules. It’s so important to have a church family when you’re going through hard times.

If I were asked to talk to a 9-year-old boy who had just come to Christian City to live, I would let him know the house parents are there for him. I would tell him it may be hard for a couple of months, but it will get better and he’ll make friends. There’s always somebody he can talk to. I’d let him know it’s going to be okay, because I’ve been there. I remember what it’s like.

See the TV story about Ben Parham’s unique wedding on the slab of his hurricane-devastated home.