Black Mountain Home thrift store and cafe pay homage to the past with an eye to the future

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain Home for Children President Tom Campbell talks to N'Dia Lee, a resident at the home's independent living program and employee at the Mountain Home Thrifts store. The home will unveil the store, and its Thirteen Pennies Cafe, on Oct. 12.

Hazel Johnson didn’t have much to give Rev. Robert Perry Smith for his fledgling four-room Haywood County orphanage in April of 1904, but her contribution of 13 pennies continues to hold a special significance. The gift was the first individual donation to Mountain Home, which would move to 135 acres in the Swannanoa Valley in 1923, and it continues to pay dividends today. 

The Black Mountain Home for Children will honor that history, with an eye toward the future, when it cuts the ribbon in front of Thirteen Pennies Cafe and Mountain Home Thrift Store at noon on Saturday, Oct. 12.

The nonprofit organization, with a mission “to glorify God by caring for children and families,” will unveil a new 15,000-square-foot building at 10 Lake Eden Road during its annual Fall Festival. 

“I’ve been here 15 years, this January, the following May the board set two goals,” said Black Mountain Home President Tom Campbell. “One was to develop a true continuum of care that would serve kids from birth to college graduation, and we’ll tuck in 77 kids tonight. We’re well on the way with that goal. The second goal at that time was to decrease our dependence on government funding, knowing it will decrease over time and more strings would be attached.”

The strategy to accomplish the second goal involved being “good stewards” of the resources donated to the home, he said. 

“How can we turn those around and generate income? But the biggest thing is to give young people who are going to college, or in our apprenticeship program, real-world work opportunities,” Campbell said. “This will allow our youth the opportunity to develop a skill-set, so when they leave our home they can earn a living wage.”

Black Mountain Home serves abused, abandoned and neglected children from all over Western North Carolina through a variety of programs. Four cottages, staffed by married house parents who provide care on alternating weeks, house 33 children, ranging from kindergarteners through high school seniors. 

Store and Cafe Director Ben Lillard, of Black Mountain Home for Children, checks in with Mountain Home Thrift Store manager Jessie Ogle, as they prepare or the Oct. 12 ribbon cutting.

The home launched its Second Century of Caring campaign in 2006 to raise money for capital improvements, which included the Ray Campbell Independent Living Village. The program provides youth who have earned a high school diploma or GED a place to live while they pursue secondary education. 

In 2016, Black Mountain Home signed a 60-year lease agreement with N.C. State University to establish its West Campus on the grounds of the former Swannanoa 4-H Youth Camp. The facility, which was closed in 2013, was retrofitted to support an apprenticeship program and serve as a donation-based venue for groups seeking to support the home’s mission. 

The apprenticeship program features training tracks in culinary arts, hospitality/housekeeping, maintenance/automotive and outdoor leadership/recreation. The first two youths from the home entered the maintenance and outdoor leadership programs this fall. 

Young people in the independent living program can participate in the program or attend college. N’Dia Lee, who moved into the village over the summer, is currently taking classes at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. The 18-year-old is grateful for the opportunity to work at the thrift store. 

“I needed a job to be in the independent living program,” she said while working to get the store ready for its opening. “I managed a thrift store in the past, so this was a really good opportunity for me.”

The support from the home helps Lee, who typically works three days a week in the store, manage during a hectic time in her life. 

Thirteen Pennies manager Daniel Lancaster, left, and store and cafe director Ben Lillard stand outside of the 15,000-square-foot building that will house the Black Mountain Home for Children's thrift store and cafe.

“Being a college student, and looking for an off-campus job, can be stressful,” she said. “They work with you here and they really care about you as a person, and that is so important when you’re dealing with the stress of going to college and working.”

The home wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of young people like Lee without the support of the volunteers, according to Campbell. 

“We’ve had as many as 100 volunteers here at time, devoting thousands of hours of work, to make this a reality,” he said. “We were able to build this without incurring any debt, which will allow us to continue to grow the ministry.”

Funding for the project was raised through a combination of contributions from individuals, businesses, churches and philanthropic foundations. Campbell cited Makson, Inc., Grove Stone & Sand, Tennoca Construction and Civil Design Concepts as “key partnerships” in the effort.

“The time, resources and expertise they’ve contributed have been instrumental in this process,” Campbell said. “The response from the community has been incredible.”

David Eller, the owner of Salisbury-based Makson, Inc., made a personal commitment to support an automotive shop near the thrift store and cafe. 

“Makson knew that our master plans for this site included an auto shop for our apprenticeship program down the road,” Campbell said. “David Eller has a son who races at a national level and he asked me about the shop. He offered to not only build it for 1 percent over cost, but to fund it himself.” 

Unlike the cafe and thrift store, the auto shop will not be open the public initially, but it will allow the home to fix donated vehicles. Participants in the automotive track of the apprenticeship program will learn valuable mechanic skills in the facility. 

Ben Lillard is the director of the store and cafe, which will include six full-time employees provided by the home. Jessie Ogle will oversee Mountain Home and Daniel Lancaster will manage Thirteen Pennies.  

“For me, the big thing about this space is that it gives us an opportunity to share with our local community what we do here,” he said. 

The thrift store will feature items, ranging from clothing to furniture and appliances, donated to the home. Goods can be dropped off in the receiving area, where they are sorted by volunteers before being moved to the retail space. 

A gallery featuring high-end crafts from area artists who donate pieces to be sold at full price to benefit Black Mountain Home will be among the features. 

The cafe, which includes a drive-through window, will offer a wide variety of breakfast and lunch options, including baked goods from Four Sisters Bakery in Black Mountain. A Black Mountain Home medium roast coffee, grown at La Joya Farm in Guinope, Honduras, will be available to customers as well. 

“Eventually we will have youth in our culinary arts program at West Campus making the food we sell,” Campbell said. “We’re excited for the opening, because this is a place where people can come and shop, step next door and grab something to eat, all while supporting the home.”

The revenue generated by the store and cafe will further decrease the home’s reliance on government funding, which is critical, with the passing of the Families First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) in 2018, according to Campbell. The extensive foster care system reform law features incentives for states that help safely prevent the need for foster care. 

“Anything that we can do for prevention services we support 100%,” Campbell said. “But when this bill was passed it was cost-neutral, which means to implement it they had to get the money from somewhere. Where they chose to take money from, at the federal level, was from the dollars that support residential care.”

Black Mountain Home began preparing for the impact of the FFPSA in 2016. 

“We wanted to figure out how to use our resources and donations more effectively,” Campbell said. “We were blessed when the West Campus became a reality in June of 2016, and the cafe will help support our culinary arts program. Our goal is to help provide these young people with the skills necessary for them to be able to support themselves when they go out on their own. This will help us generate the funding we need to reach that goal.”

The annual Black Mountain Home Fall Festival provides the perfect opportunity to introduce the Thirteen Pennies and Mountain Home to the community, according to director of development Sarah Thomas.   

“I started here 13 years ago, and we would get a couple hundred people here for the festival,” she said. “Today we get over 1,000 people coming to our campus for that event, and this gives us the opportunity to celebrate the people we plan to recognize and lift them up in front of a lot of people. We want everyone to see that this isn’t just us doing this, but that we were able to do it with the help of a lot of key partners.”

As the home honors its humble roots by paying homage to its history, this new endeavor will help it continue to serve children and youth for years to come, according to Campbell. 

“This is new for all of us,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for our ministry and we’re proud to introduce this to the community.”