By LANDON WOODROOF
Finances were a worry from the very inception of what was known as the Tennessee Baptist Orphans’ Home back in 1891.
Long before the institution moved out of Nashville to Brentwood, there wasn’t much in terms of financial reserves, and some of the donations came in kind rather than in cash, like a cow, coal and vegetable seeds.
And though the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home isn’t at all in crisis, its finances and reserves certainly could be more robust. Its low-key presence may have something to do with it: some say the campus is hiding in plain sight. They are hoping that will change, in part through the Children’s Home’s first-ever open house on Sunday.
“We have thousands of people who drive by every day and don’t know what we do on campus,” Jeff McGinnis, Regional Development Officer of Middle Tennessee for the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, said. “Even myself, before I was an employee there, wondered what went on.”
What goes on is this: children who for various reasons, including abuse, addiction and neglect, are no longer able to stay with their parents or guardians live at the campus in eight-person capacity cottages overseen by a house mother and father. These kids all attend Williamson County schools, do homework, get involved in extracurricular activities, the same as any other child.
“They’re really good kids that just need a break and a safe place to call home for a temporary time in their life,” McGinnis said.
The Brentwood campus has a 33-bed capacity for kids, divided among six cottages, four primary ones and two auxiliary ones. Currently, 20 kids stay there. There are four other campuses throughout the state.
The average stay for a child at the campus is 30 months at the Brentwood campus, McGinnis said, although they currently have one child, Elijah, who has been there since he was three days old.
“He was supposed to live about a year or less,” McGinnis said. Elijah is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. He has his own dedicated house mother who, McGinnis said, doctors have credited for a recent and remarkable occurrence: yesterday, Elijah turned 17.
“He has a great personality and loves people,” McGinnis said.
The Children’s Homes accept no state or federal money, instead relying on donations from individuals, churches, corporations and funding from the Tennessee Baptist Convention Cooperative Program. This applies even to the group’s foster care program, operated in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
This disavowal of government funding reflects the faith-based roots of the organization. First and foremost, employees see the work that they do as not just a vocation, but a ministry.
“Our main mission is ministering the love of Christ to kids in crisis,” Campus Ministry Assistant Sara Goehring said.
She described house parenting as “definitely a calling, not a job.”
Treasurer/President Greg McCoy likewise uses the language of faith when discussing a subject familiar to anyone who’s ever had to figure out how to run a non-profit organization.
“In ministry you walk that tight road,” McCoy said.
He’s talking about economics, of course. The Children’s Homes’ 2014-15 Annual Report shows that the group brought in $7,147,672 in support and revenue that year, but had $8,364,416 in expenses. That’s about a $1.2 million shortfall. The previous year’s report shows an even greater deficit. McCoy said he does not remember a budget being met since 2000.
“That’s our biggest challenge really,” McCoy said.
Those continued deficits have required the Children’s Homes to repeatedly dip into its reserve fund, something that McCoy knows cannot go on forever.
“We used to have a little more cushion than we do now,” he said.
One part of the problem, as he sees it, has a lot to do with the people in those cars McGinnis referred to, driving by the Brentwood campus without really giving it much notice.
“If you’re not on their radar, if you’re not on their minds, you’re not gonna be in their pocket,” McCoy said.
Staff at the Brentwood campus are hoping that the open house event Sunday will get the Children’s Homes on more people’s radars — to let them know that every time they whisk down Franklin Road on their daily commute, through one of the wealthiest counties in the country, they are actually whisking right by an opportunity to make a difference in at-risk children’s lives.
“There are kids right here in Middle Tennessee, specifically Brentwood, that may not have everything everybody else does. Ways you can get involved and not spend thousands of dollars overseas to do mission work,” McGinnis said. “It can be right in your own backyard.”
Despite the challenging financial outlook, President/Treasurer McCoy expresses no fears about the Children’s Homes’ future. He is confident that his organization’s work is underwritten by a force that does not necessarily show up on balance sheets.
“It’s not something we lay awake at night and worry about,” McCoy said. “We’re gonna be here until the Lord comes in some form or fashion.”
WHAT: 1st Annual Christmas Open House
WHERE: Brentwood Campus, Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes
1310 Franklin Road, Brentwood, TN 37027
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 4 from 2 to 5 p.m.
Read about the origins of the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home, which was started in an old west Nashville hotel.