Fulfilling Forever Families
When June Willett Groom first heard prisoners singing in the stockade of a military base in Germany, she wondered why those men sang “her” songs and hymns. She sat stoically as she listened in the back of the room.
“I thought I was better than they were,” June recalls of that day in 1979. But as the men continued singing, God spoke to Groom’s heart as she looked up at the stained-glass window of the chapel. She sensed God telling her she was a stained-glass window, but He never had been allowed to touch parts of her barred-off heart. Through the window, Groom could see prison bars.
Groom began sobbing, as she immediately felt an intense compassion for these prisoners. She stood to her feet, and hugged one of the biggest inmates in the group, much to the surprise of her husband, Jerry D. Groom.
June met Jerry during her first year of high school. They later married and Jerry joined the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Germany, but when the couple returned to the U.S., the Grooms attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas. They then pastored in Fort Worth, and soon found themselves back in Germany as AG world missionaries, ministering from 1977 to 1981 to American servicemen and servicewomen.
While serving at the military base, Jerry began working with prisoners in the stockade. June wasn’t interested in helping him, until that day when she reluctantly went with her husband — and God spoke to her heart. For the rest of their missionary term, they visited prisons throughout Germany.
When the Grooms came home to itinerate, Chaplaincy Ministries, a department of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, approached Jerry about working as a Pentecostal chaplain in the Texas prison system. Jerry agreed, and served 26 years as an endorsed chaplain, eventually becoming director of prison chaplains for the state of Texas before retiring in 2007. Since then, he has pastored Kaufman First Assembly in Texas.
When Jerry agreed to work in the Texas prison system, June also applied, becoming a correctional case manager. Because of God’s favor, June received promotion after promotion. Doors kept opening until she was offered the position as senior warden for a new men’s prison in Houston, Lychner Unit, housing 2,300 prisoners.
As the prison opened, June served with integrity and earned the respect of her superiors, her staff, and the inmates. Another promotion followed, with Groom appointed warden of a larger prison, Lucille Plane Unit, which housed female inmates and included a 500-bed drug rehabilitation facility.
In this penitentiary, Groom listened to women’s stories of brokenness. She started various helpful programs, including an in-house Girl Scout troop, so daughters could be with their moms during meetings. Groom devised other reforms during the 20 years she served in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She retired, but has found new ways to serve.
“I never became a ‘corrections officer,’ but my whole career was in treatment,” Groom says.
In 2013, Groom started ministering to families in crisis through the Council on Family Violence in Austin, Texas. She then received the gift of a building that had once been a nursing home. Although the structure needed much renovation, Groom saw it as an answer to prayer to start a ministry to women and children in crisis called Forever Families.
After two years of praying, asking for volunteers and donations, and working hard, Groom opened Forever Families in 2015, in Kaufman.
“The moms and children who come in are so surprised and excited, because it looks like a home, not a facility,” June says. The families come from all kinds of crisis situations, including domestic violence, recent incarceration, Child Protective Services referrals, and drug courts.
At Forever Families, they can find healing, safety, and a beautiful place to call home. Each family apartment has its own bedroom, bathroom, and living room. Families share a larger common living room. The dining area has tables suitable for each family to sit together. A separate area allows for teaching and care of children.
The greatest challenges, Groom says, are the women’s low self-esteem, few job skills, poor education, and lack of spiritual teaching. Recently, Forever Families was able to hire a clinical counselor to help address these needs.
At Forever Families, women like Natalie learn what it means to become healthy and to be a good parent. Natalie Hargrove’s mom died when she was born, and a relative introduced her to cocaine when she was 14.
She is now clean and making a new start with her daughter, Tandi, at Forever Families. Hargrove has a job as a certified nursing assistant and is in college studying to become a medical assistant. Recently in a Forever Families dining room, tears ran down her cheeks as she cut the cake for her 4-year-old daughter’s first-ever birthday party.
Groom, 71, received the Woman of Honor award at the Her Green Room luncheon at General Council in August in Anaheim, California, in recognition of her outstanding work with women and children. She has been interviewed by the National Women’s Department online community for ministry wives.
“Leaders like June who truly give their all to serve and help the marginalized and forgotten are fulfilling the magnificent model of Christ-like servanthood,” says Kay Burnett, national Women’s Ministries director.
“I never would’ve written this script for my life,” Groom says. “But as hard as it’s been, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. The women who come to me have only known judgment and abuse. Every chance I get I apply grace and watch what God does.”