Nov 14, 2012
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.
GAINSEVILLE (FBW)—A foster home for at-risk children in North Central Florida more than 10 years in the making is seven shovels of dirt closer to reality after a Nov. 2 groundbreaking ceremony at the Gainesville site of a new facility of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes.
“This project has truly been one accomplished by the hands of God’s people,” said Denny George, president of Friends of Children of North Central Florida (FOCNCF), the non-profit organization formed to raise funds for the foster home. George is a member of Pine Grove Baptist Church in Trenton.
“Our hope and prayer is that these facilities will be a light shining in the darkness for children in need,” George said, adding that as children served by the home depart he prays they will “look towards heaven and say to themselves, ‘God’s grace chose me.’”
With the first unit expected to be ready for occupancy by the end of next summer, the entire complex will eventually serve 20 foster children in four foster families with the goal of keeping siblings together. Annually, about 1,000 children in the eight counties to be served by the foster home are placed in foster care.
More than $3 million has been raised for construction, maintenance and a full-time social worker for what will be known as the “Cellon-Thomas Campus,” honoring the mothers of Bill and Gaye Cellon, who donated the 8-acre property for the home near La Crosse in Alachua County. The Thomases are members of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville.
Jerry Haag, FBCH president, presented Bill Cellon with a plaque of recognition for his “Christian leadership, for your dedication in furthering the development of a new campus for orphaned and disadvantaged children in North Central Florida.”
Haag said the beautiful property is an “idyllic setting” in which it’s “easy to imagine children running and playing on this campus and calling it their home.”
Children for “generations to come will be grateful” for the home, he added.
“While there have been some larger gifts than others, many have been involved to get us to this point today,” said George, citing as one example “Grace Girls,” a group of High Springs young girls who sold brownies, cookies and hair bows to raise support.
Wayne Harvey, director of missions of the Sante Fe River Baptist Association, provided a history of the effort, which began with an impromptu conversation he had with a few others 10 years ago. Soon, the idea gained traction with others in the association and was presented to Florida Baptist Children’s Homes.
“We knew two things: we wanted to create a place where at-risk children would be cared for by followers of Christ and we wanted that program to be operated by the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes,” Harvey said.
Along the way, four other Baptist associations joined in the effort and the non-profit FOCNCF was formed administer the project and to help raise support for the home through banquets, auctions, an annual 5K run/walk and other fundraisers, he said.
“Today, we celebrate all that work, all those hours, all those dollars, and we look forward to all those children and their families whose lives will be changed for good because of that work and your contributions,” Harvey told about 250 gathered for the groundbreaking.
“We stand here today because an idea that became a plan that grew to become a project that resulted in a passion on the parts of so many people who donated hundreds of hours of work and millions of dollars,” he said.