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Baptist Children's Homes launches outreach to college students

Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) has begun a ministry to support former foster and residential care college students as they tackle their higher education goals and everyday life.

HOMEBASE College Ministry operates on the campus of Western Carolina University (WCU) in Cullowhee utilizing the former Baptist Student Union building.

HOMEBASE specifically focuses on aiding students who have aged out of the foster care system or residential homes like BCH. With little or no support available to them, the students often struggle.

“Many of these children drop out of school. They do not have families they can turn to for even basic necessities,” BCH’s Chief Operating Officer Keith Henry says. Henry is a WCU alum and was involved at the Baptist Student Union while attending college.

“HOMEBASE will fill the void,” he continues. “It will be an opportunity for ministry and provide a compassionate place where these students can receive help and build community.”

The nonprofit operates in 21 statewide communities providing safe homes for boys and girls, many who have experienced family dysfunction, abuse, neglect or abandonment.

“The timing is right for BCH,” BCH president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell says. “These students will have the support they need to not only reach their academic goals but achieve success in life.”

The building being occupied by HOMEBASE was constructed by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina on property belonging to Cullowhee Baptist Church. The Convention owns the building and leased the property from the church. After restructuring its statewide campus ministry in 2013, the Convention looked for other ministries to use the building.

“I believe God opened up a new avenue for collegiate ministry that hadn’t crossed our minds,” says John Butler, executive leader for the Business Services Group of the Baptist State Convention. “With the building located on their property, we are very appreciative to Cullowhee Baptist for graciously embracing this ministry.”

HOMEBASE supervisor Jim Dean lived in the building’s downstairs apartment while serving

as a US-2 Missionary with the Home Mission Board (now the International Mission Board). He resigned his position as pastor of The Summit in Cullowhee to oversee HOMEBASE.

“The Summit Church is a great ministry that I gave up sadly” Dean explains. During his 11 years as pastor, The Summit developed an active collegiate ministry. Dean also served as a youth minister years earlier. He is also a therapeutic foster parent.

“What really turned me on to this ministry was talking to a couple of the students at Western who have been in Baptist Children’s Homes’ care,” he says. “The number one thing they want is a home. That’s why the building is so important. Some of these students don’t even have a place to go for holidays and college breaks.”

The building is in the process of being renovated, but is already functional. There is a community space with couches and a television. A computer area provides a place where students can do homework and online school projects. There’s also a washer and dryer.

“I also have an opportunity to touch base with the students and counsel with them while they’re here,” Dean says.

Dean visited with one student who was on the verge of dropping a chemistry course because he did not have the $20 to pay for the lab notebook.

“If paying that fee is a way we can help a young person stay in class and on the road to graduation then we do it,” Dean says.

Dean hosts a weekly lunch for students in cooperation with the university. Because of privacy laws, the school cannot identify students who fit the criteria for HOMEBASE. However, the school is able to promote the lunch giving those students the choice to attend.

“We officially have 102 students enrolled at Western Carolina who are a part of this population,” says Lowell Davis, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Success at Western Carolina University. “However, I know there are students not on the university’s list who would qualify.”

Davis shared that only 2-9% of students who age out of foster care graduate from college.

Before joining Western Carolina in 2013, Davis worked at the University of Alabama where he first learned of the challenges faced by students who have aged out of the foster and residential care systems. He brought that awareness with him in his role at Western Carolina.

“I’m very passionate about engaging with these students and helping support and connect them to meaningful activities,” he shares. “There’s no doubt this program is going help them in unimaginable ways.”

HOMEBASE is in the infancy stages. The program had a soft launch at the beginning of the current semester and is targeting the beginning of next year as the official opening of the center. Dean envisions a variety of outreaches and partnerships with churches and others in the community that will aid the students.

“We need everything from volunteers to help with repair projects at the building to supplies for the students such as school supplies, paper goods, toiletries and copy paper,” Dean explains. “There are plenty of opportunities for people who would like to partner with us, and I know seeing people come together to help these young people will mean a lot to them.”

For more information, contact Jim Dean at 828-293-4660.

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