Newl Dotson, MA
It is hard to believe that 20 years has passed since Harvest Child Care Ministries first opened its doors to abused, abandoned, or neglected young people. Harvest began as a dream in the hearts of its founders, Newl and Christopher Dotson and Teresa Tilson. The undertaking took enormous faith and dedication to see it to fruition. Free Will Baptists all over southwest Virginia embraced the vision and began to give financially long before the home was a reality…while it was in the dream stage. On August 3, 1993, Harvest opened its doors to receive their first child. The home was located at that time in the iconic brick building, called the Jasper Cottage, located on US 23 in Lee County Virginia. Harvest grew by leaps and bounds. Soon children were being turned away due to lack of space at the Jasper Cottage. Plans were made to find land and build more homes for hurting children.
In 1996, Harvest’s Board of Directors authorized the purchase of 36 acres of property in the Stickleyville Community. On the property was a beautiful brick house that became home to 8 young ladies. Even with the addition of the girls’ cottage, Harvest was still denying assistance to many young people due to lack of space.
Plans were soon drawn to develop a campus setting on the property. It was no easy task getting the property zoned from agricultural to residential. After several years of attending Board of Supervisor meetings and working with the surrounding property owners, the zoning was complete.
In 2001, the Emergency and Assessment Shelter was built for the purpose of providing emergency care to children who were being immediately removed from their homes. Also, placing agencies had the option of receiving a profile for each child, designed to identify their specific needs. The Assessment Profile was used to assist social workers and parents in providing good services and care for their child.
With the growth of the Emergency Shelter program, more beds were needed in the long-term program for children who needed out- of- home care for a year or more. The Ruby Dobson Cottage was built in 2004. Many faithful donors and volunteers from all over the United States worked diligently to make this beautiful log home a reality. Today, the Ruby Dobson Cottage is licensed to care for 10 young men ranging in age from 5 to 18.
Through its assessment component, the Emergency Shelter program identified a new need among the children being placed there. Many were of lower intelligence levels and placement options were limited. In 2005, the Intensive Services Building was completed. This program served children who would normally have to be placed out of the state for care. This brought Harvest’s licensed capacity to 74 children.
Caring and operating a ministry for this many young people was a continual challenge. Assuring that every child had clothes, shoes, and something special to call their own was easy compared to what the next few years would hold. In 2008, the Legislative Body of Virginia became involved in making decisions concerning foster care children. It determined, in its opinion, that the best place for a child was in a foster home, not a group home. Children were ripped from Harvest and placed in homes that were unable to meet the challenges of abused boys and girls. The result being that children who had been at Harvest and in a stable loving environment for several years, found themselves in new homes, adjusting to new parents. Often these people did not understand and were not trained to help these children with their unique circumstances and needs. Many ended up in numerous foster homes and some were even incarcerated.
The administration of Harvest still firmly believed that God had called them to this ministry and that He would preserve this work to bring honor and glory to Him. In 2010 consolidation of the homes became a necessity. The lease on the Jasper Cottage was surrendered and the boys were moved to the Ruby Dobson Cottage. Due to its under-utilization the Intensive Services Program was closed and the current Emergency and Assessment Shelter was moved to that building. The Administrative Offices were moved to the old Emergency and Assessment Shelter. While we were sad to lose the place where it all started, having the whole ministry on one campus was a welcomed blessing.
At that time, the ministry of Harvest took a new direction. We began to open the homes to children who were not involved in the social services system. These children had parents, grandparents or other guardians were unable to care for them. Some parents were very limited in their abilities, others were selfish and unwilling to learn to be a parent, while others loved their children but could not seem to control them. Of course, most of these parents were unable to pay for care. But Harvest saw this need and felt the Lord directing us into this new ministry. Today, about 54% of the children who reside at Harvest come from private families and require complete support from our faithful donors.
What challenges Harvest will face during the next 20 years is anybody’s guess. We know that whatever they are, God is in control and will preserve and protect what He has established. II Timothy 1:12 reads, “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Thank you for being our partner during these first 20 wonderful years. Because of your support 1,490 kids have been able to call Harvest their home. We could not have done this without you. I pray you see the importance of this work and will continue to help us for years to come as together we serve Christ through kids.