Festival helps Nazareth Home survive

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 3, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
ROCKWELL — For decades, Nazareth Children’s Home has celebrated its anniversary.
These days, that celebration takes the form of a car show, food and live entertainment in early June.
David Patterson, a past member of Nazareth’s board of trustees and one of the members of the Fun Fest committee, said this year’s event — the 106th — was one of the best yet.
“Last year was real hot, and I think it affected the crowd,” Patterson said, taking a break from selling raffle tickets to stand by a tent on the children’s home lawn.
This year, he said, the car show was bigger, there were more vendors and the weather was perfect.
The Fun Fest is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the children’s home, which currently averages about 50 residents and 16 children who life in foster homes off-campus.
“All the funds raised here today will go directly to the kids, for programs and whatever’s needed,” Patterson said. “Everything is for the kids.”
And these kids, Nazareth Home officials say, need everything.
Although local churches and organizations provide regular donations, state of North Carolina funding accounts for about 50 percent of the budget.
Today, instead of just caring for children without families to take them in, Nazareth Home cares for young people with mental health needs, and others who’ve been victims of abuse.
In addition to the group home, Nazareth provides short-term and long-term therapeutic care and foster care services.
They serve children and teens who need to learn appropriate behavior in order to move on to an adoptive family or reunion with their birth parents.
And Nazareth’s transitional services help young people ages 15 to 21 prepare for independent living, especially those who have grown up in foster care or the children’s home.
Patterson said the children they serve are innocent victims.
“You see drug abuse, you see sexual abuse,” he said. “These kids need a place to go to have a decent chance at life.”
Nazareth Home provides that, but it’s not easy, President and CEO Vernon Walters said.
Budget cuts take their toll
Budget cuts and the sagging economy have taken their toll, but haven’t stopped Nazareth Home from providing top-quality services.
“We’ve been very fortunate the last few years,” Walters said.
But there have also been setbacks. A year and a half ago, Walters said, cuts in Raleigh meant ending one non-residential mental health program.
Even so, Walters said, Nazareth Home has maintained a high level of quality.
“We’re doing a lot more with less,” he said.
And the Fun Fest, he emphasized, “is not about the money.”
“It’s about opening up our facilities to the community,” he said. “Making the money is just a little extra.”
Among his goals are building the organization’s endowment, so that it can help provide support when times are bad.
But the car show and other entertainment, Walters said, will provide the community with a glimpse of the good work being done at Nazareth Home.
Some 60 volunteers from the community, including some alumni, join residents and staff to put on the event.
Cheryl Peterson, development and community relations assistant and one of the organizers of the Fun Fest, said staff members donate extra time to help out.
Peterson said she expected the fundraiser to exceed expectations.
“The raffle for the car alone — when we started today, we were at $47,000,” she said.
And that’s much-needed support at this time of year, Peterson added.
Every year, there’s “a major outpouring” at Christmas, but the first months of the new year are always difficult.
When state funding runs out, Peterson said, the home must buy everything from clothing to shampoo, soap to sneakers.
She said the residents and staff are thankful for school supplies donated at back-to-school time, but they have to keep some in storage for new students who arrive mid-year.
“We always need everyday necessities,” Peterson said.
For the Fun Fest, she said, “the community really jumps in.”
She, too, said it was important for the community to see what’s going on at Nazareth.
“Having the community come out helps to educate them as to what we’re all about,” Peterson said.
Around the campus, residents were working, helping out with activities.
At a gazebo toward the edge of the lawn, away from the refreshment tents, was a gathering of alumni.
One of them was Arlene Collins, who lives in Salisbury.
She grew up in Gastonia. At age 13, both of her parents died in a car accident.
Collins was placed at Nazareth. Her 12-year-old brother went to a home in Lexington, since there were no slots open for him here.
Although it was difficult, Collins said that Nazareth became her home, and the children and staff became her family.
“There was hard work and discipline,” Collins said.
She recalled cooking breakfast, doing chores — including cleaning chickens that would be cooked for dinner.
And, on Sundays, riding the “Blue Goose,” the big blue-painted bus, to church.
Although the routine could be difficult, she said that when she left, she was homesick.
“It really became a sanctuary,” Collins said. “This place saved me. It really did. I had no place to live. I don’t know where I would have been.”
This was only her second time back to visit for Fun Fest.
Now that she’s an adult, she’s trying to make connections with a former roommate and some of the other children, now grown-ups, who were part of that family.
As the funds from the food sales and donations are counted, Collins said she was glad to see so many people reaching out to Nazareth Home.
“I think it’s one of the most important endeavors here in North Carolina,” Collins said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.