Record keeper: Dr. Michael Blackwell continues making, recording history at Baptist Children's Homes
Everyday writes another page
THOMASVILLE | Dr. Michael Blackwell says his latest book, "Founded on faith... Built on love" is his last, but don't read too much into that.
The president and CEO of BCH has said those words before when he wrote "A Place for Miracles," and this is his second book since he spoke those words the first time. In total, he has now published six books.
While he truly believes it when he is saying it, those who know him best know he's a voracious communicator, writer and huge history buff that always finds more words that need to be said about the charity he has led for 38 years — Baptist Children's Homes of North Carolina. Blackwell is not only recording history, but making it as well as one of the longest serving charity leaders in the state, with no thought of setting a retirement date.
"I don't think about it, because then I would have to think about it," said Blackwell about retiring. His staff doesn't want him to think about it either. He is not sure who, but someone placed a sign at the CEO's parking space one day that reads Chief Encouragement Officer.
In his latest book, Blackwell tackles the past 20 years of history and change at BCH. His book "A Place for Miracles," addressed BCH's history from November 1885 to 2000. His latest book, published in April, picks up in 2000 and records BCH's history through 2020. Now a network of children's homes in 25 ministry points in North Carolina, South Carolina and Guatemala, BCH had its humble beginning with the Mills Home campus in Thomasville.
"No written history ever can be complete because every day writes another page," Blackwell wrote in the introduction of his book. "... I quickly realized the past two decades have changed things so dramatically that we needed an update so our present would know and our future would appreciate from whence this ship sailed."
Blackwell has an easy conversationalist tone to his writing, sharing stories of how a person's life was transformed into something positive on a BCH campus or program after arriving mired in trauma. He then hits readers with a story about a new program, campus or purpose BCH staff has undertaken in the past 20 years to continue the mission of the charity.
Diversification is the most important change in the past 20 years, Blackwell said, and change keeps rolling across the BCH campuses.
One of those diversifications in the past few years has been planning to work within the Family First Prevention Services Act that became law in 2018, and BCH fought to receive a waiver to delay implementation until Oct. 2021. Residential care for children in family crisis has been the cornerstone service provided by BCH since it began in 1885. Under the FFPSA, a child spends a few weeks in residential care at BCH before having to be placed with either another family member or in foster care.
The state's foster care system does not have enough families to accomplish this, Blackwell notes in the book, so BCH set out to cultivate its own foster care families through supporting churches. they ask that not only will the foster families embrace the child, but the entire church wrap their arms around the foster family and child.
"The Family First Act moves financial resources away from residential care to family options and foster care support," he said, noting 90 percent of charity funding to BCH goes to programs, not administrative costs. "... We squeeze the eagle until it screams."
Another change in the past 20 years discussed in his book, is the addition of services for the elderly, called The N.C. Baptist Aging Ministry housed on the Thomasville Mills Home campus. The ministry builds wheelchair ramps for those in need, but the most important thing NCBAM does is build relationships with the elderly, he said.
"There is an epidemic now among older people of loneliness," he said. "The pandemic magnified that. Right out there in our building we make and receive thousands of calls a month to older people to just talk. 'Hey, how are you doing? Tell me about your day," our people ask on these calls.' We set up to call them back the next day or next week if they want."
Blackwell explained that the Baptist State Convention came to him and asked that BCH take on this role to decrease loneliness among the elderly and provide other resources.
"There was no blueprint for this program," he said. "We created something from nothing."
Having the word children in the BCH of North Carolina name is a strength and a weakness, he continued. While it clearly points out the main focus of BCH programs, it doesn't tell the way the ministry is changing to include the elderly and young adults in a program called Homebase on the campus of Western Carolina University, another new program added in the past 20 years.
When BCH staff learned that 92 percent of the children who grew up in the foster care system dropped out of WCU without earning a degree, Blackwell said he had to do something. Homebase opened in 2017. It is a building on campus where students are welcome to stop in to use laundry facilities, the computer lab or lounge areas. It provides resources and mentors or advisors to students who often do not have support from parents.
"(Our name) does not encompass all that we do with new ministries," Blackwell said. "We are a comprehensive family ministry from birth to death. Baptist Children's Homes also has ministries for the mentally challenged."
At age 79. most of Blackwell's friends are more than a decade into their retirement. He said he never thinks about retiring because he still feels needed at BCH.
"This is what keeps me going," he said. "When I see kids who come from traumatic situations and I see them come around and their lives changed at BCH ... when I see them accept the Lord in their life and how he is working in their life, I hear angels sing."
"Founded on faith... Built on love" can be purchased for $20 at the MacFarland Building on the Thomasville campus, or you can mail a check for $20 written to BCH of North Carolina and mail it to Baptist Children's Homes of N.C., P.O. Box 338, Thomasville, NC 27361. The books will be available soon on Amazon.com and other online retailers.
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