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.
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
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.”
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
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.”
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
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
“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.)