Youth offer thoughts on Black Mountain Home for Children

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
A panel of students from the Black Mountain Home for Children discuss their experiences in the program with staff, volunteers and other members of the community on Feb. 7.

Over a dozen children from Black Mountain Home for Children faced an audience of dozens of staff, volunteers and other members of the community on Feb. 7, to speak about their experience with the ministry.

Joined by BMH president Tom Campbell and board chair Dr. Bruce Henderson, each of the youth shared what they liked about the program and offered suggestions about potential improvements.

The Youth Perspectives Open Forum is a longstanding tradition at the home, which has operated in Black Mountain since 1922. The ministry itself began as an orphanage in Haywood County in 1904. 

Today, the home operates as an independent nonprofit organization and accepts children placed by the N.C. Department of Social Services. Its programs include the residential facility, a foster care component, transitional and independent living offerings, recreation and a burgeoning apprenticeship program. 

The forum provides residents of the home with an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the home. Residents from each house on the over 100-acre property are selected by their peers, Campbell said. 

Black Mountain Home president Tom Campbell and board of directors chair Dr. Bruce Henderson participate in the Youth Perspectives Open Forum on Feb. 7.

"It's very unusual in group homes for children to have an opportunity to share their experiences in this way," he said. "These kids were selected to speak by other kids in the homes they live in and they all brainstorm together and figure out what they'd like to talk about."

BMH uses only the children's first names to help protect their identities. 

Many of the residents, like 14-year-old Donia, touted the trips taken with the home as some of the most positive experiences. 

"During my time at Black Mountain Home, I've enjoyed the retreats," she told the audience. "For example, I was able to go to Carowinds for the first time when we took our 3.0 trip."

Donia also pointed out that the first time she visited a beach was on a trip with BMH. 

Children at the home who maintain a 3.0 grade point average or better are eligible to take trips with BMH staff. For the past three years, according to Campbell, all of the 100-plus children on the campus have hit that mark. 

"We have incredible teachers and faculty at our public schools here in the Swannanoa Valley," Campbell said following the forum. "We have a strong relationship with the schools here and the work they do with our kids is tremendous."

Many of the children come to BMH not knowing what a grade point average is, he continued. 

Jordan, one of the youth in Black Mountain Home for Children's independent living program, talks about his experiences at the home during an open forum on Feb. 7.

"These kids are smart but every time they move they lose a semester in school," he said. "We have kids here with 10, 15, 20 different placements and they come to us behind, academically. We challenge them to improve when they get here and we meet them where they are."

Several of the children cited the National Youth Project Using Mini-bikes (NYPUM) program, which teaches them how to ride and maintain dirt bikes on-campus, as a highlight of their experiences at the home. 

The home's annual trip to the Shepherd of the Ozarks in Arkansas, where the children chopped wood and performed other tasks around the conference center, was also a popular experience among the youth. 

Several alumni of the home were in attendance and they heard 21-year-old Chris talk about his time in the BMH independent living village.

"I like being able to come back to my own home at the end of the day," said the student at A-B Tech. "People see this place as a group home, but to me it's a place where I can come home at the end of the day and put my feet up. It really feels like home."

Jordan, another resident of the independent living village who has lived at BMH for over two years, touted the home's family atmosphere.

"It's really nice having that kind of support system to come home to," said the 20-year-old, who plans to seek a career in recreation. 

Grace, who advocated for a garden in the home's independent living village, said the forum was a great way for youth to learn how to express themselves appropriately in a public setting. 

"We live in this community and part of being a responsible member of the community is an important part of growing up," she said after the forum. "This is a way for the kids here to learn how the real world works, how to give feedback and how things get done."

The forum is a tradition that the home is proud to maintain, according to its president. 

"It's not easy to get up in front of a large group of people and speak openly about your opinions and feelings," he said. "I'm really proud to see these kids get up there and do such a great job."