By Mark Brown
Carson-Newman News Office
JEFFERSON CITY — A ministerial partnership between Carson-Newman University and Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes goes back for more than a quarter century. And yet, officials of both entities say, the relationship deepens and blossoms each spring.
“We couldn’t function without the volunteers, the group that comes from Carson-Newman (and others),” said TBCH vice-president Patrick Addison, who directs residential care for the Chattanooga and Oakdale campuses. “Whether they’re painting, weeding flower beds, cleaning for us, or doing whatever, it’s saving our staff from having to do something, or potentially paying someone to do something, and that allows us to invest into our children.”
Addison said his staff’s mission is to serve children who are voluntarily placed with them by a parent or legal custodian for a host of reasons, including medical crisis, parental death, or, in some cases, parental incarceration. “(It) looks different for each kid in our care. Some stay here for six months and some could be here longer. Our goal is to do whatever is best for that child long-term.”
While some children return to their families, others might remain at TBCH until they finish high school. In those cases, be they toward college or career, administrators and house parents support those first steps as former residents move into adulthood. “And, in some cases,” said Addison, “our children end up in our guardianship and we find them a forever family through adoption.”
Carson-Newman campus minister Nenette Measels said students who serve at TBCH talk about their experiences well beyond their college years. “It’s remarkable how much the students’ awareness increases in just a week of service at the children’s home. They move quickly from an idea of ‘orphanage’ to realizing that children come from all sorts of circumstances.”
Junior Caty Scarce, a political science major and member of Kingsport’s Indian Springs Baptist, was enthralled by the commitment of houseparents, some of whom are called to minister to kids who desperately need attention after they have raised their own children to adulthood.
“They so obviously love and care about all their children in their cottages,” she said. “And they relate with them, talk with them. They are still their care providers; they can still be rule enforcers but there is definitely a love bond between everybody. And they really appreciate every single little thing we do because it’s a ministry to them.”
While the connection between the university and TBCH could be measured by temporal means – hours served, fallen tree limbs collected, or walls painted, eternal accounting considers relationships formed, hurts soothed, and prayers prayed.
For Carson-Newman freshman Jensen Costley, of Woodstock, Ga., a recent encounter will always hold a corner of her heart. A conversation with a teenaged girl over pizza moved quickly from small talk to life questions. As they spoke, the C-N student could see her new friend’s pain and could hear it in her voice.
“She talked about how she wasn’t saved, but she really wanted to be. … So, I asked her questions … . And right then, at Cici’s, we prayed together, and she accepted Christ as her savior.”
Costley said the ministry opportunity with fellow students in a new setting is meaningful on several levels. “You get to work with people, and meet new people who love doing something that you love. And, you’re not in it alone because it could be scary just doing it yourself.”
TBCH houseparent Stephanie Sandridge says the students mean a great deal to her. She says she remains in contact with some who have since graduated. “I’ve enjoyed them tremendously. I still keep up with some of them through the past years. They are great with our children. It’s unbelievable how they can just come out in a day and make a difference in a house or in a job or activity that we need to have done. We look forward to them coming each year.”
Measels says the lessons transcend the present, and can resonate both for the future and in their own histories.
“Because of their service there, I have seen students solidify their callings, some of them in social work, and some in teaching because they see how important love is to a child,” noted the campus minister. “And some of our students come away with a deeper sense of appreciation for their own families and the love that was invested in them.”
That was certainly the case for 2009 Carson-Newman graduates Kevin and Mandy Cline, C-N sweethearts and parents of two sons. A week spent on the Chattanooga campus as students provided what the members of Morristown’s Manley Baptist Church remember as “a perfect picture of Jesus.”
“We have continued our relationship with TBCH and will continue to support them with our boys,” said Kevin. “The children’s home … shaped not only our careers (as public school educators), but also our hearts for children. …
“I do not think there is anything more important for Tennessee Baptists to be involved in than caring for the children at the TBCH,” he stated.