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


 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 – 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

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’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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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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