Joe, Roberta, Paulina, and Travis act as if they’ve always known one another. The foursome could fool anyone into believing they are old friends or even relatives. Joe, the oldest, was born when Harry Truman was President. While the youngest, Travis, just began his senior year in high school. Roberta is a mother of two teens, a singer and an author. And Paulina is pursuing her master’s degree in social work. While not related by flesh and blood, the group shares a special kinship – they all lived at Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH). They all belong to North Carolina’s largest family. Although there are smiles on their faces today, they share another commonality that once defined their lives – hopelessness. “I didn’t know a lot about hope when I was 10 years old. I didn’t know what hope was,” 64-year-old Joe Knight reveals. As a boy, Joe’s life was filled with turmoil. His father abandoned Joe’s mother and his siblings. Things were desperate as they moved from one place to another in constant search of shelter. Creature comforts, such as a warm bed or regular meals, were foreign to Joe. In 1960, Joe’s mother brought her children to BCH’s Mills Home in Thomasville. Joe came to his new home with only one change of clothes. Being at Mills Home was the first time Joe recalls “sleeping between two sheets.”
“I remember my mother let go of my hand and someone else took my hand. That lady was an angel,” Joe remembers. “It took a lot of courage for my mom to let go of her five children to come here, but she knew it was the best thing for us.” While Joe’s mom kept her children’s best interests at heart, the same could not be said for Roberta’s mother. She and her siblings endured horrific abuse by her mother’s boyfriend. “We didn’t know if we would be able to eat. We had to sleep outside,” Roberta Brunck shares. “We were beaten for anything we did wrong or was perceived as wrong. “The hardest thing was watching my mother do absolutely nothing to protect my brother, sister and me.” Roberta and her siblings were removed from her mother’s care (she and her boyfriend were charged with 52 counts of abuse) and arrived at BCH’s Broyhill Home in Clyde in 1991. “Being able to have a family at Broyhill Home that displayed what a mom looks like and what a dad looks like and what brothers and sisters look like was life changing,” Roberta explains. In June 1993 while at Broyhill, Roberta asked Jesus to come into her heart. “My spiritual journey began by just being loved.” Travis Martin intimately understands what it’s like to feel unloved. As a child, he watched his mother and father succumb to alcohol and drug addictions. When his father asked Travis’ aunt and uncle to take care of his eight-year-old son, the boy felt abandoned.
“They didn’t do the things they needed to do to regain custody of me and that caused me to have a lot of anger – even anger towards God,” Travis reveals. “I didn’t feel worth anything since my parents didn’t care enough to do what they needed to do to keep me.” As time passed, the boy’s anger and depression became deeply rooted. Despite the loving care of his aunt and uncle, Travis arrived at a breaking point. “There was a day where it didn’t matter to me anymore whether I lived or died. I was done.”
In 2010, Travis came to Cameron Boys Camp in Moore County, one of BCH’s two residential wilderness ministries. “After about the first year, I realized my worth wasn’t in my parents. I had God,” Travis says. “I knew He was going to always love me no matter what happened.” Paulina Burch didn’t know about God as a child. She only knew about the heartache she felt because of the dysfunction that festered within her family. At age three, her father was imprisoned for abusing her mother. After her mother remarried, turmoil continued to plague Paulina’s family which culminated in another divorce. “I was angry and hurting,” Paulina remembers. “I needed someone to love me.” Paulina was introduced to God’s love when she came to Mills Home in 2006. One night, while sitting at the kitchen table in the cottage, her houseparents led her to Christ. “I didn’t know what unconditional love was before coming here,” Paulina says. “I love sharing how much of a difference it made for complete strangers to care for me as if I were their own child.” Paulina, Travis, Roberta, and Joe successfully vanquished the darkness that put their futures at risk. As Travis explains, each of them used the foundation they received at BCH to build better lives. “BCH gives a child the tools needed for their future,” Travis explains. “It helps bring that redemption story into their lives so they can build a better future for themselves and their families.” The 18-year-old has returned home with his aunt and uncle, Karen and Dan Wood, where he attends a local Christian academy. Travis serves with his aunt and uncle on his church’s praise and worship team. He has developed gifts for singing and speaking. Travis shares his testimony at churches throughout the state. “God put me through my situations so I could be where I am today,” Travis says. “I’m able to speak about BCH and what God has done in my life. I can be an advocate and a strength to my friends and other kids that are in need.” Like Travis, Roberta actively sings and speaks about her life and the redemption she has found. She has written her first book, I Choose Forgiveness, which chronicles both her childhood and the spiritual journey that led her to forgiving her mother. Roberta, a mother of two, has broken the cycle of abuse in her family. She has passed on the hope she has received to her children, Noah and Hannah. “I think kids coming to BCH today still need hope,” Roberta says. “They need to know that they’re not alone – that they never have to be alone – and that they’re loved.” Paulina graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She also received the Outstanding Senior Award from the Health and Human Services Department. Only two days after commencement, Paulina began graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Inspired by the BCH staff who undergirded her with love and support, the former Mills Home resident is studying to receive her master’s degree in social work. “My dream is to give back and impact the lives of others just as my life has been impacted by BCH,” Paulina shares. Joe is making his own unique impact today at the place where he ran and played as a 10-year-old-boy. He owns a landscaping business and maintains the grounds at Mills Home. Through his company, Joe cares for the campus that has cared for him and countless others. “There’s been thousands of children and families rescued by the Baptist Children’s Homes,” Joe says. “Every time I come through that arch, I get this feeling that God loved me then, He loves me now – God loves me. And he loves these children, and He loves this place. This is God’s place.”