Western Carolina University (WCU) senior Sophie Calhoun values home. She lost her mother to cancer when she was nine years old and her father passed away five years later. A loving grandfather and aunt filled the gap for Sophie and her younger sister when they were left with no parents.
“They were great, but it’s impossible to say that the love of my grandfather and aunt totally filled the void,” Calhoun says. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss my mom and dad. I wish my mom could have been there, be here now, for all the big stuff.”
Calhoun remembers a happy, simple life before her parents’ passing. She remembers a home that was all about family.
The 21-year-old environmental health major is a student leader at HOMEBASE – the new Baptist Children’s Homes’ (BCH) ministry to college students who are former residential care and foster youth, former orphans, emancipated youth, or homeless youth. HOMEBASE operates on the WCU campus in Cullowhee.
Calhoun, president of the student-led organization RISA (Resilient Independent Student Association), drafted a paper that the University referenced when partnering with BCH. She states in the document that the target group of students all have one thing in common: “. . .they were most likely expected to become almost entirely financially independent when they became of age.” She continues writing, “That is a very difficult thing to do at the young age of 18, but it’s even more daunting when you make the decision to go to college.”
Calhoun writes that target students need to be with other students who tackle similar things while becoming a part of the larger university community; they need help addressing their unique challenges and connecting with resources; and each student needs a safe place where they can come and feel at home.
HOMEBASE is a compassionate place where students can find help.
“Seeing the passion of students like Sophie, sparks my desire,” BCH’s Jim Dean says. Dean supervises HOMEBASE. “All college students are on a course thrusting them forward. I see myself helping them to increase their trajectory.
I want to help them thrive.”
Dean says he looks for ways he can help students succeed. An email came across his desk that originated from a professor who was concerned about a student who might drop his class. The student, identified as part of HOMEBASE’S target population, needed a $21 lab notebook. Being alone with no home support, the student
reasoned that his only option was to drop the course.
“When a student feels he has no one to turn to, he comes up with solutions that make sense to him,” Dean says. “This student felt dropping the course was his only way.”
Dean says the lab notebook was bought and the student stayed in the class. He says the student was independent enough to have a solution, drop the course, but with a little help, the student had a better option.
Dean learned that one student had missed a number of classes. He called her and found out she had been ill and needed medicine but had not been able to go to the pharmacy. A short time later, Dean had taken her to pick up the needed medication and bought her lunch.
“She had ordered a foot-long sub sandwich and ate half of it,” Dean recalls. “Then I noticed she quickly wrapped up the rest and tucked it into her bag – for later. These students are doing the best they can, they just need a little help.” Twenty-two-year-old sociology major Westley Broom was in and out of guardianship with his mom. Her lifestyle and drug use prohibited her in caring for him. His father passed away when he was 11 due to the effects of alcohol. He remembers telling a judge that he needed stability. “I saw the need for something better in my life and I asked for help.”
Broom was in six foster homes before moving to live with and aunt and uncle his senior year of high school.
“The foster families that I lived with were good experiences,” he says. “There were different reasons for why I moved to the next family.”
Other students like me need help, but often will not ask for it.”
Like Calhoun, Broom is a student leader at HOMEBASE.
Broom says some of the things HOMEBASE will offer is great – computer lab, food pantry, simple educational opportunities like “how to balance a checkbook,” and social activities. But he believes just having a place to hang out will be most important.
“For some students, HOMEBASE will be a place where they can come and feel like they can relax,” Broom says. “They may not take advantage of anything else, but they will come because they feel safe. It can feel like home for them.”
Dean says the ministry continues to morph. It will be a resource center, a place that allows students to connect with each other, and a place of spiritual enrichment, too. “We are focusing on meeting needs and building relationships. Helping to meet physical needs opens doors to talk about personal faith journeys.”
Dean credits God for leading him to where he is today. He says his experiences has uniquely prepared him for this ministry. “It’s amazing how the Lord has put all the pieces together.”
You can help make a difference in the lives of former foster youth by making an online gift today at www.bchfamily.org/givenow.