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President leads for three decades, maintains desire to make a difference as long as the Lord allows

July 6, 2013

By J. Blake Ragsdale

The careers of some professionals wind down well before age 70. Michael C. Blackwell, President of Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH), celebrated his 71st birthday on May 3. It came and went as if it were any other day.

Blackwell does not place emphasis on his age or the fact that he reached a milestone 30th year as BCH’s executive leader on July 1. He doesn’t mark the passage of time as a countdown toward retirement or anything else. Instead, he embraces his 31st year as another opportunity to carry out a calling he first answered three decades earlier.

“‘God has called me to ministry. I cannot think of any finer way to discover the eternal truths of Mark 10:14-16 than by serving as president of Baptist Children’s Homes.’ – I wrote those very words in a letter to our trustees only a few days after the board elected me as the eighth president in 1983,” Blackwell recounts. “That calling is as real to me today as it was 30 years ago.”

His pace has not slackened over the years. He maintains a schedule that is as demanding as ever. In addition to the myriad of responsibilities he maintains from his office at Mills Home in Thomasville, Blackwell travels regularly is the organization’s chief advocate to churches, lawmakers, social services agencies, and donors.

“Traveling is taxing, but the relational rewards more than make up for the long hours on the road,” Blackwell explains. “BCH is blessed with phenomenal friends. People are passionate about those we serve. These relationships propel the ministry forward and they fuel my own energy.”

Blackwell is more than proud when it comes to the ministry’s strong network of relationships. He has successfully navigated relational waters in State government and Baptist life that have, at times, proven choppy.

“It’s my responsibility to unite all sides in finding the best possible means for providing safety, comfort and healing to a child,” Blackwell says. “The physical and spiritual well being of ‘the least of these’ trumps divisiveness and bridges even the widest expanse.”

Blackwell’s unwavering dedication for putting the needs of children first has grown to also include families. In 1994, he led BCH to become child-centered but with an intentional family focus. This meant BCH would no longer serve with the child separate from his or her family.

“The shift to include families was vital. The challenges children were navigating became more complex and intertwined with issues involving their entire families,” Blackwell says. “Becoming family focused played a huge role in BCH’s future. It has allowed us to expand the scope of our outreach and impact a greater variety of needs.”

The decision paved the way for the creation of BCH’s Developmental Disabilities Ministry (DDM) in 2000 providing group homes for special needs adults. In 2009, BCH established a new ministry to the well- and frail-aging 65 and older and their caregivers – North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM). The two initiatives were possible not only because of BCH’s broader focus, but as a direct result of the confidence and trust Blackwell has garnered through relationships; Blackwell was asked to undertake DDM and NCBAM at the request of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

“It’s humbling when others place that level of confidence in your leadership,” Blackwell says. “I value all of our relationships deeply because of the greater good we can only accomplish when we choose to stand together.”

A long-held dream of Blackwell’s was also realized when North Carolina Baptist Men partnered with BCH to establish a residential wilderness camp for girls. Almost every aspect of Camp Duncan was constructed through the efforts of more than 2,000 church volunteers who helped transform 700 acres of forest property in Aberdeen. In 2011, Camp Duncan welcomed its first group of girls.

Under Blackwell’s direction, two new group homes became bookends for BCH’s services from the mountains to the coast – Truett Baptist Association Children’s Home established in 2008 in the western community of Hayesville and Britton Ministries established in the eastern town of Ahoskie in 2010.

Most recently, Blackwell led efforts to establish a new type of residential services known as Family Care. The program offers children and their single mothers a safe, goal-focused home. It’s specifically geared for mothers who are dedicated to becoming the best possible providers for their children.

“A growing 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,” Blackwell explains. “What’s been exciting is seeing the number of boys and girls we are able to serve in these cottages. Family Care has increased our ability to serve children.”

Blackwell’s calling shows no signs of diminishing. As the 128-year-old child care organization’s longest-tenured leader, his passion for sharing hope. . .changing lives burns as brightly as ever.

“I still have that fire in the belly, the desire to make a difference for as long as the Lord allows,” Blackwell says. “When I reflect on the number of lives that have been transformed these past 30 years, I realize how blessed I am that God has called me to serve at Baptist Children’s Homes – a place where miracles aren’t an aberration, but are the norm.”