Masonic Home for Children celebrating 140 years

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 04:55 PM

For 140 years, the Masonic Home for Children in Oxford has provided a safe harbor for children.

Some are orphans. Others have experienced disruptions to family life.

Some stay a short time. Others spend most of their childhood and adolescence.

Their circumstances differ, but they find a family atmosphere during the time they are here.

 

Giving back

Tina Gilreath and Jessica Sutton are just two of the many individuals who became part of the Masonic Home and who are carrying a part of the home with them as they continue their life’s journeys.

Gilreath came when she was 4 years old. She stayed through high school, graduating from J.F. Webb in 1989. Now she’s back as a staff member.

“This place made me what I am,” she said.

She came back first in 1999 as a house parent, a duty she shared with her husband, also an alumnus. She currently works as the financial development assistant.

Sutton, a 20-year-old student at Vance-Granville Community College, came last September. She described needing to get her life together.

“I’ve stumbled,” she said. “Here I’ve learned so much about myself. I study better, manage my time better.”

She hopes to transfer to a four-year college and major in communication. A long-range goal is to enlist in the Peace Corps.

“A lot of kids don’t know how to read or write,” she said. “I want to help somebody with the skills I have.”

 

Power of home

Their stories of many represent the power of the Masonic Home to enrich the lives of the young people it serves and have served for more than a century.

For some it is a haven.

As Sutton said, “At home I never had time to focus on school.”

For others it is simply a station on the route to another phase of life.

But for many it is a stabilizing force in their lives.

“This place changed my life,” Gilreath said. “I was given more support than I could have gotten anywhere else.”

 

Since 1873

Before it opened its doors as the Oxford Orphan Asylum in 1873, a search for the use of the property had gone on for a number of years.

The Grand Lodge of the Masonic Fraternity first attempted to establish a college, which it named St. John’s College. A building was constructed and the college opened in 1858. But is also soon closed.

The lodge decided that the college should be turned into a place for protection, training and educating “indigent” orphan children.

The Oxford Orphan Asylum admitted its first three residents in February 1873.

It has operated continuously since, although the name has been changed twice. In 1923 it became Oxford Orphanage. That name gave way to the Masonic Home for Children in 1994.

 

Tremendous support

Although the name has changed, service to young people has remained its steadfast purpose. And the Masons have continued their support as a fraternity and as individuals.

Chris Richardson, director of financial development starting his 15th year, said, “People need to know what the Masons have done for kids in this state. They are taking care of kids who will never see their faces.”

Much of the home’s financial support comes from Masons, Richardson said. “There are Masons who have never set foot on this campus who left us something in their wills,” Richardson said.

Richardson and the staff have worked to make giving easier, with innovations like matching gifts, online giving and in-kind donations. And they are searching for other avenues of support.

Mary Helen Parrott has worked in finance and development at the Masonic Home for 27 years. She echoes Richardson’s gratitude to the Masons.

“I wish there was some way I could tell them what their support does for the children here,” she said.

The emphasis at the Masonic Home, from administrator Kevin Otis throughout the entire staff, is making the Masonic Home a home in the real sense of the word.

Parrott said the staff and children are “one big family.”

“We make sure what they take away is stability,” Richardson added.

 

Fall homecoming

The Masonic Home for Children at Oxford is more than a haven for young people. In many ways it is part of the community. The residents attend Granville County Schools. The Culinary Arts Program at Vance-Granville Community College is taught in the home’s modern kitchen. The home’s School of Graphic Arts does contract printing for many organizations and business establishments in addition to training students in the printing trades.

The home will celebrate both its history and its connection to the community when it holds its third annual Masonic Homecoming Festival on Oct. 11-13. The event will include a Shriners parade through downtown Oxford, the Chip Shots Golf Tourney at Kerr Lake Country Club, a barbecue contest, a brunswick stew sale, music and concessions.

Masons will gather for the occasion along with many alumni of the home.

They will all be there to affirm the Masonic Home for Children as a place and as an idea that has stood the test of time.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.