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North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry has grown to meet a myriad of frail-aging and well-aging needs

Left, Baptist State Convention executive director-treasurer Milton A. Hollifield, Jr and BCH president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell cut the dedication ribbon in front of the NCBAM administration office in Thomasville on April 15, 2010.

It isn’t often that you’re asked to create something from nothing. But, that’s exactly how the North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) began in 2009.Milton Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, “laid it on the heart” of Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell, to create a non-residential ministry for aging adults. Hollifield called Blackwell “the trusted source” in North Carolina Baptist life and said if anyone could create such a new and creative ministry –– with broad-based support –– it would be BCH’s long-time president.

Blackwell accepted the challenge and assembled a blue-ribbon committee of experts in all matters relating to aging adults –– legal, medical, religious, psychological and social.

BCH is a leader in developing family-focused Christian ministries. In addition to residential care for children, the ministry has established a Christian-focused day care, wilderness programs for boy and girls, a ministry for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults, a family care ministry for single moms and their children, college campus ministry at Western Carolina University, Greater Vision Outreach, Family Foster Care, and a children’s home in Guatemala. In further fulfillment of BCH’s calling to serve all of God’s children, NCBAM was created.

Blackwell chose Sandy Gregory, who holds a Doctor of Ministry from Emory University, to serve as NCBAM’s director. At that time, Gregory was BCH’s south central director of development and had experience working in senior adult ministry. Blackwell added to NCBAM then BCH institutional director for communications Jim Edminson and state administration executive assistant Jennifer Shore to help launch the new ministry.

Blackwell connected Gregory with Bobby Boyd, then president of the BCH Board of Trustees and a retired director of Catawba County Social Services with 35 years’ experience. Gregory and Boyd spent the first year in research –– traveling the state speaking to social service directors, older adults and pastors –– asking “what can Baptists do to help older adults?” Gregory remembers two key lessons from Boyd that profoundly impacted the growth of the ministry: “Relationships are key.” and “Don’t promise more than you can deliver.”

With a mission statement in place –– “to help individuals 65+ maintain their independence” –– NCBAM began a three-month pilot program with Liberty Baptist Association. Working with Associational Missionary Mike Ester, NCBAM identified resources, established partnerships with existing services, and met individuals with needs. Gregory recalls, “The pilot program helped us determine the needs that were out there and ways that we could begin to address them.”

With the pilot program rolling, a building at BCH’s Mills Home in Thomasville was upfitted for NCBAM’s administration offices and a state-of-the-art Call Center. Older adults could call the Call Center at 877-506-2226 with needs such as transportation, home-delivered meals, or respite care. NCBAM Call Center specialists connected callers to existing community services. But it was soon determined to be inadequate. Gregory remembers,

“Giving out those numbers was easy. But God had another plan.

NCBAM would use the Call Center to call on Baptists and North Carolina Baptist churches to volunteer and do ministry.”

NCBAM partners with individuals, churches and Baptist organizations to meet the needs of the frail-aging while encouraging and empowering well-aging adults to continue God’s call on their lives.

Today, the Call Center is directed by Melanie Beason and staffed by Call Center specialists: Shirley Carlson, Sharon Chastain, Renee Adkins, and Trina Ivey. Gregory said the focus of senior adult ministries have changed. “Senior adult ministry used to be about a monthly luncheon and special trips. Now, seniors want more. They want to stay involved in ways that are meaningful to them and to continue to make a difference in the world.”

To better meet the needs of well-aging adults and to impact senior adult ministries, NCBAM placed area directors across the state to work more closely with individuals and churches. Regional Directors engage with local churches and senior centers to increase awareness of the needs of aging adults and ministry opportunities available to churches in meeting those needs. Regional Directors assess the needs of frail-aging individuals and recruit volunteers to help them. They are also available to speak to churches or community groups on a wide variety of issues facing aging adults.

Currently, NCBAM has three full-time regional directors: Robert Leonard, south central regional director (704-699-7519); Samantha Allred, north central regional director (336-307-1181); and Yvetta Smith, east regional director (919-452-6069). Three part-time directors cover the western region: Debra Kuykendall, central west regional director (828-496-6106); Anita Davie, west regional director (828-450-1834); and Angie Gregg, far west regional director (828-467-1371).

Carol Layton, director of communications and administration, and Amy Burns, administrative assistant, round out NCBAM’s team.

Known affectionately throughout the state as “BAM!,” the ministry has stayed true to its name to dream big and to act boldly with explosive energy. The ministry is defined through its innovative partnerships with public and private sector entities. Those partnerships include North Carolina’s Office of State Fire Marshal which has led to more than $100,000 in smoke alarms being installed in seniors’ homes, and the National Fire Protection Association that has brought fall-prevention education to thousands. Other vital partnerships are those with North Carolina’s Area Agencies on Aging and North Carolina’s Department of Insurance SHIIP program.

Numbers tell only part of NCBAM’s story; but each number represents a life impacted. Since 2009, NCBAM’s Call Center has received more than 25,000 calls, served 4,000 individuals, met needs in all 100 counties, and facilitated 33,000 volunteer hours. The ministry has developed 11 Priority #1 Prevention programs, through NCBAM’s Rampin’ Up! event set the world’s record for the most wheelchair ramps built in one day (321), distributed 20,000 Red Bags for medication management, trained 27,000 individuals, and received 17 state and national awards (2010 & 2017 Outstanding Community Service Award –The Southeastern Association of Area Agencies on Aging; 2016 Innovative Program Award – North Carolina Association on Aging). More than 40 educational workshops have been developed and presented, free of charge, to aging adult groups. Topics include caregiving, healthy aging, and disaster preparedness.

NCBAM provides programming for senior adult retreats such as Fort Caswell’s “Summerfest” and Camp Caraway’s, “Fall Festival of Fellowship.” The NCBAM team develops tailored breakout sessions and plans fun activities supporting the retreats’ themes. NCBAM is currently partnering with Camp Truett in Hayesville to develop their first senior adult retreat in 2020.

Through its AAIM outreach (Aging Adults Innovating Ministry), NCBAM provides leadership conferences for those involved in ministry to aging adults. Since 2014, a statewide event has been held each May followed by regional events in the fall.

As gratifying as it is to look back on the first ten years, Gregory says NCBAM is focused on the future. “Each day brings opportunities to explore new partnerships, build new programs, and impact more lives. As a ministry working with churches, government groups and the private sector, we explore uncharted territory every day.”

The ministry’s latest venture is also beginning as a pilot program –– once again in partnership with Liberty Baptist Association. Volunteers from the association’s churches are being trained to receive calls from older adults experiencing loneliness. This NCBAM “Hope Line” is part of a broader “One Hope” outreach which offers a spiritual response to the epidemic of social isolation and loneliness.

Blackwell sees the growth of NCBAM as a divine blessing. “The Lord has provided excellent staff members and has consistently opened doors for new programs and partnerships at just the right moment. In the next ten years, as Baby Boomers continue to retire and need help maintaining their independence, BCH, NCBAM and North Carolina Baptists will be ready! You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Article written by Carol Layton, NCBAM Director of Communications & Administration and Jim Edminson, Editor

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