BCH celebrates rich legacy — 125 years
    November 1 2010 by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications

    On November 11, 1885, nine-year-old Mary Presson walked onto the campus of the new Baptist Orphanage in Thomasville and became the first child ever admitted into care. At that moment, founder and longtime Baptist John Haymes Mills’ dream of establishing a Baptist-operated orphanage was realized.

    Mary Presson’s walk up the steps into the John Mitchell Cottage began a legacy not measured by words or statistics, but by innumerable lives renewed and restored throughout the institution’s 125-year history.

    BCH photo

    Michael Blackwell, president of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BSC), talks with current residents at the Mills Home campus in Thomasville. The campus is BCH’s flagship campus, which originated in 1885 as the Thomasville Baptist Orphanage.

    The original Baptist Orphanage has grown into Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BSC), with facilities across the state. It has served children and families through parts of three centuries marked by war, depression and the ups and downs of society. Through times good and bad, it has never wavered from its mission to bring hope and healing.

    “Changed lives, that’s what we’ve always been about,” says Michael C. Blackwell, president since 1983.

    In the late 19th century, children endured the repercussions of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Because of war deaths and poverty many families consisted only of women and children.

    Food, shelter, clothing and education were scarce. North Carolina had only one orphanage at the time, currently known as the Masonic Home for Children in Oxford. Mills, who was instrumental in establishing that facility, believed there was a need for more facilities dedicated to rescuing children.

    With the support of seven other men, Mills spearheaded a committee to stimulate support and purchase a suitable site for the orphanage. That site would be in the city of Thomasville on a piece of property purchased just a few miles away from the Rich Fork community farm where Mills lived. The first cottage was erected in 1885. Today, BCH’s Mills Home residential campus, Thomasville’s oldest, continuing business, still resides on that original piece of property.

    Throughout the years, BCH has grown from its Thomasville campus to establishing care facilities in 18 communities. Stretching from western North Carolina all the way to the east coast, BCH’s child care network includes four residential campuses, four group homes, two wilderness camps for at-risk boys and girls, a residential ranch, three five-star Weekday Education centers, and a home for single, teenage mothers and their babies.

    BCH’s newest group home, Britton Ministries in Ahoskie, opens in December.

    “We are particularly excited about the new home in Hertford County,” Blackwell says. “There is not only a tremendous need in that area for our services, but Mary Presson, the very first child admitted into BCH’s care in 1885, came from this county. It’s fitting that we would establish this home during the year we celebrate our 125th anniversary.”

    In 2000, BCH was approached by the Baptist State Convention to establish the Developmental Disabilities Ministry (DDM). DDM provides care for special needs adults in nine group homes throughout the state. BCH will begin fund-raising efforts in 2011 to build two new DDM homes in Raleigh.

    DDM provides residents the opportunity to reach their highest potential through independence, learned self-help skills and training.

    Just as important, the ministry gives their family members the peace to know that their children will always have the care they need.

    “There are so many families that have worried about the future care of their adult children,” Blackwell explains. “DDM is filling a great void.”  

    NCBAM born
    The newest addition to BCH’s services is the North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM). In 2008, the Baptist State Convention asked BCH to create an expansive non-residential ministry offering a statewide network of information and resources to aging adults and their families.

    With headquarters in Thomasville, NCBAM staff works closely with Baptist churches, associations, and social agencies to meet needs.

    “NCBAM has quickly become a vital part of ministry through the hands and feet of North Carolina Baptists positioned across the state,” Blackwell says.

    “And as with DDM, it is a great example of BCH’s willingness to adapt, expand, and change in order to help families with the multitude of challenges they face.”

    Blackwell is no stranger to change. One of the most significant decisions he has made during his tenure as BCH president is leading the agency to become more family focused and child centered.

    BCH photo

    Harrison Powell, from left, Allen Carroll, and Bobby Floyd enjoy watermelon in the mid- to late 1940s. The three children lived at Mills Home in Thomasville and gathered in “the valley,” a grassy area in the middle of campus, daily from 6 until 8 p.m. during the summer. Each summer children looked forward to the two times they would have a watermelon cutting.

    “The number of orphans kept decreasing over time,” Blackwell explains. “Today, we outreach to children and families in crisis. Some children are victims of abuse and neglect, others are desperate to overcome feelings of anger and hopelessness.”

    As a nonprofit agency, BCH depends on the financial support of North Carolina Baptists and others to provide for the children’s daily needs.

    “Our friends see their giving as an investment,” says Blackwell. “We are blessed with supporters who see their generosity as a way they can be a part of our ministry and share in the successes of our boys and girls.”  

    Many successes
    Some would be surprised to learn that a pair of professional athletes spent their formative years at BCH.

    Pat Preston was a college All-American who played professionally with the Chicago Bears from 1946 to 1949.

    Johnny Allen pitched for the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians and set an American League record of 17 consecutive wins that stood for 60 years. He was honored as Sporting News’ Major League Player of the Year for 1937 and is credited with inventing the “slider” and the legendary “spit ball.”

    Both men grew up at Mills Home.

    This year, BCH’s residents and staff members have engaged in a year-long “Quasquicentennial” celebration commemorating the ministry’s 125th anniversary.

    On June 15 every BCH staff member and resident came together at Mills Home for a day of fun, fellowship and worship.

    “Looking out into the crowd of young faces I couldn’t help but remember past children who have called BCH ‘home,’” Blackwell says. “They came to us battered by the storms of life, but left with their heads held high — their lives repaired and their hope replenished.”

    And while BCH has experienced its share of change throughout decades of ministry, one enduring constant has been the agency’s Christ-centered focus.

    “Our mandate is biblical … our model is Jesus,” Blackwell says. “At Baptist Children’s Homes, no goal is accomplished, no life is transformed, and no success is obtained apart from God. Every day we witness miracles happening in the lives of children and families because we have the privilege of introducing them to the Miracle Worker.” 

    With 125-years under its belt, Blackwell is confident that BCH is poised to continue its agency mission of helping hurting children … healing broken families well into the future.

    “Thanks to the unwavering support of North Carolina Baptists and the leadership of our Heavenly Father, BCH is charting an exciting pathway forward by bringing hope and the promise of a better tomorrow to those we serve,” he said.

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Ragsdale is communications director for Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina.)

    Related stories
    Children’s Homes growth reflects needs
    Guest column by Michael Blackwell: There’s still a place for children's homes: Don’t let anyone fool you
    11/1/2010 2:26:00 PM by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications | with 0 comments

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