BCH celebrates rich legacy — 125 years
J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications
November 01, 2010

BCH celebrates rich legacy — 125 years

BCH celebrates rich legacy — 125 years
J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications
November 01, 2010

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


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


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


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