By Alexander Germanis
Over 2000 years ago, a very special baby was born into this world—a child whose life would influence and change the course of history. Every December 25th, this birth—the birth of Jesus Christ—is celebrated the world over.
Although young Jesus was protected, raised, and taught by loving parents, not all children experience this care. On behalf of those innocent children, The Baby Fold was founded over a hundred years ago to care for the little ones who need safety, love, and a family.
Deeper Meaning, Deeper Purpose
In the early 1900s, Normal was one of the last stops for trains carrying orphaned children from the eastern cities. As the trains made their stops along the route west, many orphans were adopted by families often looking for older, healthy children who could work on farms. By the time the train reached the prairies, however, infants, toddlers, minorities, and children with health conditions were often left without homes.
Methodist Deaconesses who operated Deaconess Hospital—currently Carle BroMenn Medical Center—saw the need to find loving homes for those little ones left behind. With very few resources, the Deaconesses turned their retirement home into a nursery, and soon sought to find homes for the orphaned children. The Baby Fold was born in 1902 from the actions of these tireless women.
One such tireless woman, continuing the mission over a century later, is Director of Development, Sam Guillory. She is one of many who felt a call to a career with “deeper meaning and purpose,” as she says. “Once I learned about the life-changing work of The Baby Fold, I knew I wanted to be a small part of such a momentous cause. The more I learn about the agency, the people, and our clients I can’t help but fall more and more in love with my career every day. I am truly blessed to work for an organization that cares about and makes positive changes in our community.”
Adoption and Adaptation
Today, The Baby Fold continues to find caring homes for children. Additionally, their outreach has adapted and grown over the years to serve the needs of an ever-changing community, Sam explains.
“Students from grade school through high school, from 40 surrounding school districts, attend The Baby Fold’s Hammitt Schools when their needs exceed what public schools can provide,” Sam says. Students may have behavioral or emotional disabilities or autism spectrum disorders. Highly trained special education teacher therapists and staff assess and respond to each child’s academic, behavioral, emotional, and social needs through individualized growth plans in a safe and loving environment.
Junior and senior high school students also receive vocational training at Hammitt School, preparing them for higher levels of independence both in the workplace and the home.
The Baby Fold’s adaptation does not stop with special education. “Through 12 programs all designed to wrap services around families of children in need, over 1200 individuals are served annually across 28 counties in Central Illinois,” Sam adds. Through The Baby Fold’s Community School Collaboration, expertly trained social workers support trauma-impacted public school students so that they can remain in their local public school. “Improvements in academic scores and behavioral health are significant.” Classroom stress levels decrease, allowing teachers more time to educate, bringing out the best in students and teachers alike.
Of course, Sam continues, “The Baby Fold is still finding caring homes for children. The Baby Fold’s Foster Care program is a state leader in finding permanent families for foster children. Children are taught to recognize their strength and resiliency, and to trust and bond with their foster family and ultimately their adoptive family.”
Even after a child finds a home through adoption, The Baby Fold’s care continues. Naturally, some children do not instantly adapt to their new environments, “so The Baby Fold’s Adoption Support and Preservation program helps families process past trauma and build a bright future together,” Sam explains. “Master’s level therapists provide counseling, guidance, and care to the entire family in the comfort and security of the family’s home.”
Helping Solve the Puzzle
One of the special education services The Baby Fold provides is working with children with autism and their parents.
Parents and teachers of small children often have to become detectives of a sort to determine the needs of their little children during their nonverbal months. “They read body language, facial cues, and sounds to interpret what their little one is trying to say,” Sam says. “For certain children with autism, this nonverbal phase sometimes lasts a lifetime, causing great frustration.”
“Furthermore,” she continues, “it can be a challenge for parents and caregivers to meet the needs of their sweet ones when he or she cannot speak. That was the case for ‘Mark,’ a Hammitt Elementary School student with autism. Mark’s teacher therapist used technology to help give Mark the gift of speech. With the help of his teacher therapist, Mark used his Communication Board to say ‘I love you’ to his mom for the very first time. Mark’s teachers and family all broke down in tears of joy as this young boy could finally communicate his love for his mother with the help of The Baby Fold.”
There is poetic irony in being a part of such an experience, Sam admits. By bringing the gift of speech to a child suffering with autism, all those involved become speechless themselves.
A Time of Giving
Since the Wise Men first bestowed gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Christmas has traditionally been a time of giving. Every Christmas season for the last 27 years, The Baby Fold’s Festival of Trees has been a wonderful opportunity for people of the community to be like those great wise kings of old and give to local children in need.
Kicking off the holiday season, “Festival of Trees will look different this year in response to health and safety measures,” Sam says. “The Baby Fold’s 2020 hybrid Festival of Trees will be online and at Eastland Mall November 16-21. Go to www.FestOfTrees.org for all the details.”
Hundreds of beautifully decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, gingerbread creations, and more are all up for bid in a fun silent auction with 100 percent of proceeds going directly towards transforming the lives of children, Sam explains. “Every bid and purchase helps kids and families develop the hope, courage, and love they need to become whole and healthy.”
“Behind all the twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments is one worthy cause: serving children and families since 1902,” she continues. “So when someone buys a Christmas tree, they are helping a foster child find a forever home. Bidding high on a wreath can supply diapers to a baby in need, and the purchase of Christmas décor helps to give the gift of speech to a child with autism.”
In addition to The Festival of Trees, there are myriad other ways to help. “Individuals and groups can give their time, talents, or treasures to help further the life-changing ministry of The Baby Fold,” Sam shares. “Donations can be made through The Baby Fold’s secure online giving site, www.TheBabyFold.org.”
Acting on the Words of Christ
For 20 centuries we have recognized and celebrated the gift one particular child has been to the world—a child who grew and brought messages of peace, love, and hope to all.
One such message was: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
For more than a century, The Baby Fold has reached out to the community and its families, seeking help in carrying out Jesus’ words—in bringing hope and love to each and every child in need. There is no better time than now to join them in the work.
For more information about The Baby Fold’s vital work with children and families, visit www.TheBabyFold.org or contact Sam Guillory via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 309-451-7202.