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It’s an exciting time at the Black Mountain Home for Children as it pushes Phase I into place to offer a new apprenticeship program to residents in Rae Campbell Independent Living Village, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in December.

Students will receive hands-on training in the two-year program through four different employment tracks: culinary arts, maintenance/automotive, hospitality/housekeeping and outdoor leadership/recreation.

“These are paid apprenticeships. The first year is on campus and the second year they will work for one of our community partners," said Sarah Thomas, director of donor and employee relations.

"Ridgecrest Conference Center has already signed on to be our first official partner. They have jobs in all of our training tracks. Hopefully at the end of the program, the businesses will hire the apprentices. Our goal is to work toward a living wage.”

The BMHC serves kids from birth to college graduation, including residential care and family foster care in the community. The apprenticeship program is offered to individuals who have graduated from high school or earned a GED.

“There are also some young people who will need lifelong support,” said Thomas. “They’ll never be able to go out and do this on their own. The way we look at it, parents don’t say to their kids when they are 18 ‘good luck, you’re on your own.’ These are our kids. We they turn 18, we want to continue to support them, just like parents.”

Culinary arts kicks off the program

The first track — culinary arts — will be up and running by this fall in time for the Oct. 12 grand opening of the BMHC’s new Mountain Home Thrift Store, 13 Pennies Café (aptly named as a nod to the very first donation a child gave to the Home when it began in 1904) and an automotive center. Construction on these new buildings is proceeding at the corner of Old U.S. 70 and Lake Eden Road. The thrift store and café will be housed in the same building, with a separate facility nearby for the auto shop.

“Kids in culinary arts will help provide baked goods for the café. In the mornings there will be muffins, scones, breakfast sandwiches and then we’ll do a lunch counter with simple style sandwiches,” said Thomas. “The café and thrift shop will also provide retail jobs for those kids so they can get job experience.”

“The auto shop will be for the auto/maintenance track,” she continued. “Initially they will not be open to the public. Eventually we have this vision that you will come down here, pull off Lake Eden Road, leave your car to get an oil change and get it detailed while you go shopping at the thrift store and have a sandwich at the café. It will be an experience.”

Program set up on West Campus

The apprenticeship program will train students on the West Campus, which is located just stone’s throw from the main campus at 80 Lake Eden Road. Many will remember the West Campus as the site of the Swannanoa 4-H Camp. In 2016, the BMHC signed a 60-year lease to use the property.

The site includes the Mountain View Lodge, which sleeps 22 people; two winterized cabins each housing 24; six rustic cabins that sleep 18 each, along with more than 100 acres for walking, hiking, biking, and exploring. There are plans to build a swimming pool, and students in the program will eventually train as certified lifeguards.

The dining hall contains a new professional kitchen for the culinary arts program.

“The training kitchen is ready to go, and we’re currently advertising for a culinary arts instructor,” said Thomas. “Once we hire that person, we’ll get our ducks in a row to launch that program as soon as this fall. That will be the first training program will we launch and then we will launch the others step by step.”

While the West Campus will primarily serve as the site of the apprenticeship training, it’s also available for rental for community groups, corporate team-building events, spiritual retreats, private events, mission trips and even weddings.

As the apprenticeship program evolves, it will eventually offer catering and other services for those events.

Program has a two-fold purpose

While the BMHC is invested in supporting the career goals of its residents, it also sees the addition of the thrift shop, café and auto shop as a vital income stream, especially as the threat of government funding cuts comes into view.

The Family First Prevention Services Act could potentially have a big impact on the services that BMHC can provide.

“It won’t affect the independent living so much,” said Thomas, “but our care for school-age children. It says if kids go into congregate care, which is primarily what we’re providing on our campus, that the funding will end at two weeks. We’ve got kids who’ve been here two years. The purpose is to shift funding to prevention services and we are so much in favor of prevention services, but we’re concerned that it’s coming at the cost of the care we provide.”

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” she explained, “But it probably will affect our funding. We need to think about what we are going to do if the money goes away. ... People are amazing to give us a lot of donations. Even if we use it here on our campus — if we get a great sofa and replace one of the sofas in one of the cottages — we’ll still have an old sofa to move along. It’s a way for us to capitalize on our donations.”

They’ve already invested in a truck for larger donated items once the thrift shop is up and running.

For more information about the apprenticeship program, visit blackmountainhome.org.

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