TAKE 5: BCH provides programs for single mothers, at-risk youth

May. 18, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

This week, we Take 5 with Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell. Blackwell discusses the childcare organization's new program for single mothers and their children at Oak Ranch near Broadway, as well as BCH’s unique residential wilderness camps for at-risk boys and girls in neighboring Moore County. A native of Gastonia and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Blackwell will recognize his 30th anniversary as the nonprofit organization's executive leader on July 1, 2013. Blackwell is in demand as a writer and motivational speaker, fulfilling some 50 engagements annually. He is the author of four books. He has greatly expanded the scope and influence of Baptist Children's Homes and has led it to become one of the most respected organizations of its kind in the United States.

1. Baptist Children's Homes is very active in Central North Carolina, including operation of Oak Ranch near Broadway. Can you talk about the shift in the services offered by Oak Ranch as part of BCH’s “Family Care” program?

Bringing BCH’s Family Care program for single mothers and their children to Oak Ranch has been an exciting and rewarding shift. Like any change BCH makes in its continuum of services, change is always sparked by need. It had become more and more apparent across the state that an increasing number of single mothers, and therefore their children, were facing uncertainty within their small families. The underdeveloped skill sets of the mothers, lack of family support and a depressed economy placed the families at risk. Therefore, we began our first Family Care home in July 2011 at BCH's Mills Home campus in Thomasville. In addition to our traditional residential homes, BCH now operates eight Family Care homes across North Carolina — including our two cottages at Oak Ranch.

Throughout BCH’s 128-year history, BCH has always been guided by a vision to provide the best possible care for hurting children while ensuring that we are always ministering to current needs. It is this sensitivity that led BCH a few years ago to broaden the outreach at Oak Ranch to include girls as well as boys. And now, Family Care has allowed us to offer hope and healing to more children at Oak Ranch than ever before. We previously had the capacity to serve a total of 14 residents between the two cottages. We now have 27 residents at Oak Ranch.

As always, Oak Ranch's horses remain a vital part of the ministry. We have a barn manager at the property who works with the horses and leads equine sessions with the families. They learn how to care for and ride the animals. We recently had two mothers and one of the children compete in a local horse show. All three of them won awards. The horses are a positive focus for the families and are an important part of their healing process.

2. How does the environment at Oak Ranch help these single mothers rebuild their lives?

Oak Ranch is goal-focused. It’s specifically geared for mothers who are dedicated to becoming the best possible providers for their children so they can transition back into a successful, independent living situation.

Family Care connects a mother with the necessary resources and other community services needed to regain control of her life. The mothers learn the skills needed to obtain and maintain a stable home, job and income. We have residential managers at Oak Ranch who assist the mothers in setting and achieving family goals, developing parenting and job skills, budgeting, resolving transportation needs and realizing spiritual growth. Mothers commit to working and/or attending school at least 30 hours per week, saving a percentage of their income and providing appropriate care for their children.

Family Care's ultimate goal is to keep mothers and their children together. We help mothers rebuild their lives and see that their hope is restored while they are able to care for their children.

3. BCH operates Cameron Boys Camp and Camp Duncan for Girls in Moore County. In what ways do those camps help at-risk children?

These two neighboring camps are very unique. One of the things I am quick to point out when sharing about BCH’s wilderness program is that they are not summer camps. Cameron Boys Camp and Camp Duncan are year-round, residential programs where at-risk boys and girls live outdoors with their counselors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The camps’ social work staff and counselors provide a structured environment in forest campsites to promote the emotional healing of children, help them overcome personal challenges and restore their family relationships.

Each moment of the day is planned by the campers, agreed to, acted upon and evaluated before the group moves on to the next step. Every night around a “pow wow” camp fire, something positive is said about each boy by his peers. Both camps are licensed alternative schools. Many campers come to camp a year or more behind in school. They are never in a classroom while at camp, yet when they finish their program and return home, they are usually at their grade level and sometimes higher.

Every activity has an educational component, and much of the campers' time is spent planning, conducting and evaluating adventures. They hike the Appalachian Trail, canoe the Suwannee River and take Civil War battleground tours. When campers finish an adventure, they write about it in their camp newsletter. So, each adventure involves planning, math, science, geography, English and evaluation.

Part of the education program is having campers build their own shelters. This involves using basic math, geometry, principles of design and engineering, knowledge of natural materials, and writing and drawing skills. In this way, learning is closely tied to daily needs, its value is immediate and its impact is long lasting.

4. Tell us about “HopeFest,” the free community event planned for May 25 in Pinehurst, which will benefit those camps.

HopeFest is a first-year, volunteer-driven event that takes place from noon to 8 p.m. at Pinehurst’s Village Arboretum. Its goal is to provide a family-friendly experience that will bring great support and awareness to Cameron Boys Camp and Camp Duncan. The day features live music from artists 33 Miles, Gold City, The Anchormen, Rapture Road, Jason Bullock and Larry Chason. A silent auction, children's play area and a BBQ cook-off, in which church groups cook and compete against each other, round out the event. Proceeds will help the two wilderness camps provide for the needs of the children and families the programs serve.

There are still people in central North Carolina who aren't aware that these amazing camps are located in their backyards. We need community involvement for a couple of reasons. First, as a nonprofit, we depend on the generosity of others in order to fund the camps. Lives are being changed through these programs, but it requires supportive partnerships with individuals, churches, businesses and organizations within the community. Two, there's nothing more meaningful to the children we serve than for them to see that there are people in the community who care about them and have their best interests at heart.

5. BCH operates facilities in 19 communities across North Carolina. What else do people need to know about BCH?

People need to know that Baptist Children's Homes is here if they need a place to turn to for help, or if they are looking for a place to help. We have care locations from the mountains to the coast and stand prepared to help children and families throughout the state. If you have a need within your family or know of a need in your community, you can call 1-800-476-3669. You can also dial this number if you would like support the BCH vision of sharing hope … changing lives. There are opportunities to volunteer and to give, and there's no more worthy cause than investing in a child's life and future.