Atwater to the rescue

RenaissanceAcademyFormer BCC staffer calls on peers in time of need

Following an act of violence inside a classroom that closed Renaissance Academy High School in West Baltimore the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a former Board of Child Care social worker quarterbacked a heartwarming and significant act of social action.

Hallie Atwater (LCSW-C), who worked at BCC from 2011-13, had planned to open the Renaissance Academy High School food pantry to community members in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhoods of west Baltimore.

Atwater had planned for families in the neighborhood to visit on Wednesday to enjoy a full and healthy Thanksgiving Day meal. Those plans changed when officials closed the school for the rest of the week, which meant scheduled donations for the pantry were undeliverable.

Deciding it was vitally important to provide access to the pantry as planned, Atwater set to work on a plan B.  She connected with two BCC social workers, Kelly Berger and Maria Shrum, and asked for help.

With the need for food now circulating quickly through the BCC community via text messages Tuesday night, the response plan came together.

Rev. Stacey Nickerson, Director of Church and Community Engagement at BCC, worked with Shawn Elbert, Baltimore Campus Spiritual Life Coordinator, to distribute the leftover Thanksgiving baskets assembled by the BCC Auxiliary as well as the results of a canned food drive held over Thanksgiving by BCC residents.

BCC also helped Atwater collect donations from staff members, family, and friends, which all told contributed over $500 in grocery store gift cards and additional food and turkeys for Renaissance Academy families. The Maryland Food Bank also played a significant role in this effort.

In less than 24 hours, Atwater was ultimately able to secure replacement donations of food and allowed 155 families in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood and several students to receive a Thanksgiving basket for their family to enjoy.

“Today’s media culture makes it easy to generalize an entire school or neighborhood based on one bad incident,” Atwater said. “One of my primary duties as a social worker is to provide an alternate narrative when an incident paints an entire neighborhood or school community.”

Atwater points to what she learned at BCC for some of her response to the situation.

“BCC laid down an excellent clinical foundation for me,” Atwater said. “This was an unusual circumstance, but I was able to manage and access the environment because of what I learned through the clinical supervision at BCC. A huge thank you once again to everyone who responded in my schools time of need!”

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2015 Children’s Sabbath Workshop Recap

childrens-sabbath-2015-headerHow long must a child cry for help?

That was the question and theme of the Board of Child Care’s second annual Children’s Sabbath workshop, hosted at BCC’s Baltimore campus on Saturday, October 17, 2015.

Rev. Stacey Nickerson, BCC’s Director of Church and Community Engagement, said the program reached attendees on a deeper level.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t understand what children and young adults at BCC have been through, what they’re afflicted by, and what BCC’s programs actually do for them,” said Nickerson,. “The Children’s Sabbath represents so much of who and what we are at Board of Child Care. We are advocates for children who need a voice.”

“It can be transformative when people see firsthand what we do,” said Nickerson, who served as emcee for the workshop. “For most people it’s the first time they’ve been on one of our campuses.”

BCC President & CEO, Laurie Anne Spagnola, attended the program and spoke to the group.

“To have her out there with us was great because she’s one of our biggest assets in a context like that – she’s so engaging,” Nickerson said. “She sits with people, has real conversations, shows genuine interest and makes such a difference for us.”

The celebration moved Eboni Roach, one of the attendees, to offer her thanks in a letter to Spagnola.

“I was just inspired and richly blessed during 2015 Children’s Sabbath,” Roach said. “I am still taking in the impact the meeting has made and what impact it will make for my future.”

During the program, children from Ames Memorial UMC in Baltimore sang in a music ensemble (pictured above) – directed by Rev. Randy Hudson – the same children who attended Camp Life, a camp funded by both a monetary grant and also the use of some BCC social workers and staff from BCC.

A sermon was offered by Rev. Michael A. Parker, II from Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air, MD (pictured above). Parker‘s perspective was unique because his cousin was a former resident at BCC. Following a served lunch, a panel convened to engage discussion about ending child poverty issues.

Nickerson offered special thanks to Darlynn McCrae, a staffer from the Baltimore Region of the United Methodist Church, Parker and Spagnola.

“One of the things we’re focused on is measuring outcomes … I think events like this help us learn how spirituality fits towards achieving better outcomes,” Nickerson said.

A very special thank you to all the participants who came out for the 2015 Children’s Sabbath Workshop. We hope to see you all again next year!

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Thank you cards evoke an emotional return

Soldier cardStrawbridge participates in Operation Welcome Home

Few reunions are more emotional than a service member’s return from a tour of duty.

Students at the Board of Child Care’s Strawbridge School have made these returns a little richer by participating with Maryland’s Operation Welcome Home (OWH) to create hand-made greeting cards for service members to receive at Baltimore-Washington International airport.

Operation Welcome Home boasts having greeted over 600,000 military personnel in Baltimore since 2007. BWI receives the highest number of returning veterans in the nation annually, according to Kathy Thorpe, founder of Operation Welcome Home – Maryland.

“A lot of these troops have no idea we’re going to be there, and they’re so touched to see any effort to welcome them home,” said Thorp. “It’s too difficult to describe if you haven’t seen it. When the veterans see these cards, and the posters and people welcoming them home, they’re often overcome with emotion.”

For many veterans, BWI represents the first leg of many before they return to family and friends. BCC’s involvement started in August, 2015, with over 50 handmade Operation Welcome Home cards.

“We read about OWH and thought it was an awesome idea to provide our troops with “Welcome Home” banners and cards,” said Shawn Elbert, BCC’s Spiritual Life Coordinator for the Baltimore campus. “Usually, when you talk to young people and students about doing a community service project it is met with some hesitancy, however, this time was different. Our residents made heartfelt cards and you could sense they were truly appreciative and thankful for all that the service men and women of this country do to protect our freedom.”

The cards from Strawbridge students were collected by Elbert and dispersed to veterans in late October. None of the veterans who received them knew who they were receiving a card from, a dynamic Thorpe described as thrilling.

“You watch them stand there and read the cards and realize it’s a real flesh and blood reminder of what they protected and who they protected while they served,” Thorpe said. “It’s the innocence, the sweetness, and the honesty that stands out to the soldiers.”

Elbert said the cards represent the first step in building a bridge with this segment of the community.

“We’ve really made a connection with our kids and hopefully, between the community and troops who live and work in and around us.”

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Holiday meal is the real deal

thanskgiving-dinner

 Participants and staff share cheer across all campuses

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas almost here, we wanted to take a moment and recap what Thanksgiving was like at BCC this year (we’ll do a full recap of Christmas at BCC in our January Keywords edition).

Many of BCC’s residents head home to their families or extended family for the actual Thanksgiving holiday, so BCC celebrates Thanksgiving in the two weeks leading up to the last Thursday of November.

First up was Falling Waters – BCC’s second largest residential campus – on Nov. 17. The program began with a lighting of the alter candles by one of the residents and continued with song and prayer, officiated by Rev. Randy Reid, BCC’s WV Spiritual Life Coordinator. A video of thanks produced by residents was a program highlight, generating roaring laughter from everyone assembled.

A feast was served in the Falling Waters dining hall, prepared by campus cook Ann Bennett, and served by staff. Residents ate multiple servings each (typical teenagers!) and voted the Pennsylvania Dutch cream corn and unique combination of pumpkin and apple pie dessert as meal highlights.

The next day, Nov. 18, Baltimore hosted approximately 120 staff and residents for their Thanksgiving celebration.  Spiritual Life Coordinator, Shawn Elbert, designed and oversaw a program of reflection, prayer and song, which included several residents reading missives of thanks.

Following a blessing by Rev. Dr. Stacey Nickerson, staff served a spectacular spread on tie-dye placemats (thank you to our invaluable volunteers!). The meal this year was fruit, cheese, Caesar salad, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and of course, sliced turkey.

On Thursday, Nov. 19, the Denton campus on the Eastern Shore hosted their Turkey Day celebration.  Several of the community-based group homes also hosted separate dinners throughout the week.

Special thanks to Marc LaRose, Ann Bennet, Debbie Kinna, and all of BCC’s kitchen staff who make the holiday meals so special for our residents and staff!

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Texas Family traces roots back to Board of Child Care

A mother reflects on her years at the “Methodist Home”

The Board of Child Care traces its roots to three orphanages operated by the United Methodist Church back in the 1890’s and early 1900’s (see our history here). We are fortunate to have some of the original admission cards. Former BCC Board member and archivist, Sally Ransom Knecht, manages our archive. Judy Johnson, whose mother had mentioned living at the Swartzell Home from age four to six, contacted her, and fortunately, Sally was able to find her original admission record. Judy was kind enough to send us a copy of her mother’s hand-written autobiography, which covered her life up until the age of 12. An excerpt of which is below.

The Board of Child Care is mentioned after Ruth describes how her father died very young from a stroke, and her mother, Lelah Mae, was unable to stay in their house:

ruth-virginia-cissel-autobiography-excerpt
Ruth Virginia Cissel Autobiography Excerpt – Click here to read the full autobiography

“My mind next goes to the children’s Methodist home where I stayed from age 4 to 6. As Mother lost the home, and she had no trade, she sent my sister to live with my mother’s mother, and send my brother to my cousin’s farm. My sister was age 12 and my brother 14. Mother found a job as a seamstress in a department store. She was only allowed to see me at the children’s home every other week. It was a very structured environment, but kind. I think I was really molded during this time. I remember about 10-20 kids in a dorm, but don’t remember much of any special children. I remember the dorm lady as when mother was not able to come, she took me with her on a weekend and since it was so hot, I got heatstroke and they had to call a doctor. Another time people from the church would come and take me home for dinner and they had pansies on their walkway.”
~ Excerpt from the autobiography of Ruth Virginia Cissell Johnson Holcomb

Ruth Virginia Cissell Johnson Holcomb passed away on June 16, 2014 in Bryan, TX at the age of 90. Prior to retirement, she spent 32 years as the personnel manager for Sears. Ruth had four children, eight grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and one great great grandchild.

To read her full handwritten autobiography, her original admission record to Swartzell Home, and her obituary, click here – Life of Ruth Virginia Cissell Johnson Holcomb (PDF 2 mb)

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Friendship Formed at Kelso Withstands Test of Time

maybelle-and-june
June Mulligan Hoshall and Maybelle Burns Boone

The Board of Child Care lost a physical piece of its history with the demolition of the former Kelso Home for Girls in Towson, MD. The YMCA of Central Maryland, which owns the property, constructed a new Towson Y and ball fields on the site.

While the BCC family is sad to see the loss of a building that had sheltered and cared for hundred of girls over more than three decades, contact from alumna over the years indicates that many of the relationships formed by the girls who once lived there continue to endure.

Eighty-year-olds June Mulligan Hoshall and Maybelle Burns Boone are one example. They both entered the Kelso Home on July 5, 1938, a day that cemented their friendship. For the next decade, they grew-up in the home together.

Both June and Maybelle came from large families where one of the parents died prematurely and the other parent could not care for all of the children. So the girls at Kelso home became June’s and Maybelle’s family. And June and Maybelle themselves became like sisters.

Just a month apart in age – June was born on June 8, 1931, and Maybelle was born on May 5, 1931 – they walked together to and from Towson Elementary, Towson High School and Towson United Methodist Church, did their chores side-by-side, and spent afternoons roller skating around the Kelso Home driveway and picking fruit from the trees that grew on the home’s 15 acres. Together, they also endured the strict rules of the home and the homesickness that came with being apart from their families.

maybelle-burns-boone
Maybelle’s high school graduation photo.

Kelso Home was one of three orphanages that eventually merged into the Board of Child Care. Founded in Baltimore City in 1874 by Thomas Kelso, the orphanage was later moved to a new building in Towson – the one being taken down ­– where it operated from 1925 to the 1950s. Before the home was taken down this winter, the YMCA donated some artifacts from the home to BCC, including a roof tile, brick and keystone.

After they graduated from high school and left Kelso in the late 1940s, they both married and started families. Maybelle had three children and June had four. But every spring, when their birthdays rolled around, neither would forget to exchange birthday salutations. Even when Maybelle moved to Florida and they temporarily lost contact, June got on the phone with the operators that controlled the phone lines and tracked Maybelle down.

Today, they talk by phone several times a month and occasionally get together at Maybelle’s apartment. “We are the best of friends,” June says. “We love each other like sisters.”

“We can talk about things that nobody else has experienced,” says Maybelle, who today lives in Parkville, Md. June now lives in Essex, Md.

Although life growing up at Kelso Home had its ups and downs for the women, both are thankful for the care they received.

“When I look back, I thank God I was put in Kelso. I graduated from high school and had religion, which helped me later in life,” says Maybelle.

June as a teenager at Kelso Home.
June as a teenager at Kelso Home.

June recalls that if it weren’t for Kelso, she and her eight siblings “probably would have had a horrible life running the streets of Baltimore while my mother worked. So I was grateful for what I had.”

The girls were still able to visit with their families while living at Kelso. Every Friday was visitation night and June says her mother never missed one, including traveling on three different street cars during a blizzard to make it to a visitation.

June says her grandson often asks to hear stories about the “orphanage,” so she shares with him the many memories she has. Both women describe life at Kelso Home as very regimented. Many of the housemothers were strict and whenever they’d enter the room the girls had to stand and address them as “Ma’me,” and everywhere the girls walked they had to walk in lines.

The Home was kept “immaculately clean.” Each girl had a chore assigned to them for the month – from scrubbing the floors to dusting the wheels on the beds – and they would awaken to a bell at dawn and complete the chores before school. All of their clothes were hand-me-downs and if they tore the girls had to mend them.

A few years ago June took her grandson to a swimming class at the Towson YMCA and saw the old Kelso Home building. She said it wasn’t as beautiful as she recalled, but she recognized the porch steps she used to enjoy jumping down.

“It’s going to be so sad to see the building taken down,” she said in an interview last fall. “There are so many memories. I loved it there.”

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Donald’s story: foster care is only part of who I am

Donald B CropIt should come as no surprise to those who know him that Donald B., who is a genuinely friendly and welcoming person, is finding success as a personal banker.

Advocating for other people and helping them make improvements in their lives — whether by opening their first checking or savings account or getting a mortgage to buy a home — just comes naturally to him. He’s so good at it, in fact, that he rose from an entry-level customer service associate to his current role as a branch consultant in less than a year.

What may be less apparent is that Donald also serves as an advocate on behalf of youth in foster care, helping them to improve their lives.

Compelled to give back

Donald entered foster care at age 12 and says that he learned early on that success is something you have to seek out.

“I met someone who was a former foster youth, and one thing she said that stuck with me is that we are not victims of our situation, we are survivors,” Donald says. “That taught me not to use my situation as a reason why I cannot succeed.”

He says that experience inspired him to want to give back and it’s what he calls on when mentoring others.

“I feel compelled to be an advocate for foster youth because I know a lot of other kids have opportunities that we don’t have,” he says. “I feel like there is lots of potential for us [foster youth] that we may not know about. If nobody taps into that, we’re not going to be able to reach it.”

Donald says he had “a unique experience” in foster care, compared to others he has met. After stays at several facilities in DC, including a foster home, Donald came to live at BCC’s Baltimore campus at age 14.

Able to leave BCC when he turned 18, Donald found a place of his own, a townhouse that he rents in the Druid Hill area of Baltimore, and has been living independently for several years. Currently, Donald is working at the bank and going back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree.

‘Welcome and nurtured’

Donald credits BCC, and the staff in particular, for helping to shape the person he has become.

“BCC made me feel welcome and nurtured,” he says, adding that the staff were especially helpful when he was transitioning out of BCC and getting set up for life on his own. “They were supportive and acted like role models, showing me what success looked like. “BCC was a good environment for me and I liked it there.”

The biggest lesson he says he learned is that having a foster care background should be liberating, not limiting.

“Foster care is only a part of who I am, part of the journey,” Donald says. “It was only eight years of my life. It certainly helped shaped who I am, because it was my teenage years, but it is just a piece of who I am, just a part of the story.”

This story originally appeared in BCC’s 2014 Annual Report.  Click here to see all annual reports.

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Latasha’s story: BCC is a ‘lifesaver’ for college graduate

Latasha - CropLatasha M., though only in her 20s, is already a success story, in so many ways.

Tasha, as she’s called by her friends, graduated with a BS in exercise science from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2014. While there she was a member of the Division I indoor and outdoor track teams. She’s currently applying to schools to pursue a masters in athletic training.

“As a kid, I never thought I would finish high school, let alone go to college or grad school,” Tasha says. “Now look at me.”

Without hesitation, Tasha says her dream job would be to combine her passion for athletics and a desire to care for others, working either as an athletic trainer for a professional sports team, like her beloved Baltimore Ravens, or as a personal trainer at a gym.

Achieving her goals

“I love being healthy and active and staying in shape,” she says. “I love getting people in shape. Pushing them a little bit at a time. I have always wanted to help people — I can’t help myself, I’ve been a problem solver all my life.”

In spite of her natural abilities and drive, Tasha credits her relationship with the Board of Child Care as the main reason she has been able to achieve her goals.

“If I could describe my experience with Board of Child Care in one word or phrase, I would say ‘lifesaver,’” she says with a smile. “BCC literally saved my life, in many ways.”

At age 13, Tasha, along with her sister, was moved into foster care, staying first at BCC’s Colesville sibling group home in Silver Spring and later at the Baltimore campus.

“Being in foster care was hard. I didn’t feel like a ‘regular kid’ at first,” she says. “But it helped me get closer to my sister. We quickly realized our family wasn’t the best support system for us. We learned we needed each other and had each other’s back.”

Learning valuable lessons

Tasha says the staff at BCC was especially helpful because they used their own experiences to teach her some valuable life lessons and skills.

“At BCC, I learned not to let my past affect my future,” she says. “The program helped me learn self-discipline, to be humble, to enjoy life, to set goals and learn how to achieve them, and to enjoy the moment.”

Tasha admits it took her awhile but she eventually listened to the staff’s advice, studied hard in school and used sports as a way to feel better about herself.

“BCC was the best environment for me when I needed it most,” says Tasha, who graduated from BCC in 2009 and now lives on her own in an apartment near BCC’s Baltimore campus. “They gave me the support I needed to be successful. If you work with them, BCC can change your life.”

This story originally appeared in BCC’s 2014 Annual Report.  Click here to see all annual reports.

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Treatment Foster Care Parent Profile — The Stockton’s

Stocktons - Crop - CopyAaron and Sandy Stockton say becoming Treatment Foster Care (TFC) parents was a natural fit for them. You might say it has become a “family affair” for the couple, who raised four children of their own and convinced a few of them to become foster parents, too, making it a multi-generational tradition for the Stockons.

‘Her nature’

“I’m one of seven kids, so I’m used to a big family and having a lot of people around my house — siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews,” Sandy says, explaining her interest in foster parenting.

What Sandy didn’t know until recently was that her own mother had been in foster care for a few years as a young child. Even though she never talked about it while raising Sandy and her siblings, Sandy says her mother’s experience and willingness to help others shaped her as a parent and a person.

“When I look back, there was always someone in the house, somebody else’s kids, and now I know why,” she says. “It was just in her nature to help people.”

It’s Sandy’s nature, as well. As a registered nurse, Sandy is trained to provide care and comfort to people in need. Doing so at home seemed like a natural extension of her career.

“Treatment Foster Care challenges me to use my nursing experience and I like that,” she says.

Being a mentor

Stocktons 01 - CopyLike Sandy, Aaron also provides more than just parenting to the kids under his roof. A handyman and a self-starter himself, Aaron teaches each of the TFC boys useful skills and a work ethic that they can use to build their self-esteem and support themselves in the future.

“Aaron and I decided that, when we had boys, we needed to teach them skills so they can go out and support themselves in life,” Sandy says. “The boys have learned so many things from Aaron. Even if we do not have work for them, Aaron will find something for them to do — cut the grass, paint a room, something so they know they earned the money we give them.”

The Stocktons, who began working with the Board of Child Care in 1994, have even passed on their legacy of caring for other to their own children. Two of their daughters, Kimmy and Karmen Trina, have become foster parents with BCC and live nearby. They all chip in together to support the TFC youth entrusted in their care — everything from ride-sharing to doctor’s appointments to helping with grocery shopping. It really is a family affair.

‘An awesome challenge’

In all, Sandy says their experience as foster parents is not much different from raising her own children. And that’s what Sandy and Aaron tell other parents considering foster care, especially TFC.

“If you have it in your hearts to help children, then TFC is a good way to go,” Sandy says. “It’s a challenge — an awesome challenge — but at the end of the day, it’s rewarding. It’s all worth it.”

This profile originally appeared in our 2014 Annual Report. Click here to view all Annual Reports

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Unlikely Duo Raises Money for Board of Child Care

11 year old and 16 year old host video game tournament

It is not often you see a middle school student and a high school student join forces for charity (especially when they did not know each other beforehand). That is exactly what happened, however, when Ethan (age 11) told his mom he wanted to do something for “the kids in the group home.”

Ethan’s mom heard there was a video game club run out of the library, which is how the idea of a video game tournament was born. Dustin, age 16, and a student at North Caroline High School, was an active member of the video game club, and was happy to help recruit players for the event held at the end of October. The game of choice? Super Smash Brothers™!

With some help from the parents, the boys charged admission and a low $3 entry per game played. In total they raised over $400 for Board of Child Care’s Eastern Shore program! The money purchased new board and video games for the residences. Plans are already underway for a repeat tournament in the spring.

Many thanks Ethan and Dustin!

Ethan and Justin
Ethan, age 11, who is in sixth grade at Lockerman Middle School, and Dustin, age 16, who is attending North Caroline High School.

 

If you would be interested in learning how to set up a fundraiser like Ethan and Dustin did, please contact our development department at (410) 922-2100. 

 

NOTE: Characters in header image are copyright their respective owners

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