Children’s Home faces financial challenge; looks ahead
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
After some rough years, the Blount County Children’s Home faces one more hurdle as it tries to move ahead.
The latest challenge for the Children’s Home is trying to find a way to pay the $10,697 in property taxes it owes to the county and city of Maryville due to administrative errors.
“We shouldn’t have been charged to begin with,” Executive Director Brenda Blain said. “We’re a nonprofit. It was a mistake. I would call it a miscommunication between the city, county and Blount County Children’s Home. Our nonprofit status never lapsed. It was not communicated that was our status. We ended up being charged taxes for three years.”
Although Maryville City Manager Greg McClain indicated the city was willing to clear the BCCH of its share of the property taxes, the Blount County Budget Committee proved reluctant. Some committee members felt the request ran counter to a previous decision by the County Commission to no longer fund nonprofit agencies.
It’s been a tough decade for the Children’s Home, which is plotting a new course after its original mission ended back in 2003. That’s when it stopped hosting children long-term after children in group homes across the state were moved into foster homes as a result of the Brian A. vs. Sundquist lawsuit.
“It’s fair to say the agency has struggled to find its footing after Brian’s Law passed,” Blain said. “That’s a normal, natural thing. We’ve laid a lot of groundwork in coming in and really doing intensive strategic planning to find out what the gaps are in our community in Blount County and what we can do as an agency to partner with other nonprofits and fill in gaps in the services that either the county or other agencies aren’t fulfilling.”Members of the Women’s Temperance League founded the home in 1893 as place for “destitute women and their children.” Originally called the Blount County Industrial Home, it became the Blount County Children’s Home in 1955.
Still for children
The Children’s Home is currently home to Gardner Place, a supervised visitation and peaceful exchange program. It also offers Kick Nic, which provides smoking cessation classes for minors, the Healers of Conflict mediation program and parenting classes.
“Our mission is still to help children,” Blain said. “We are still children-focused and wanting to make a difference in their lives. We have to find a way to make that happen effectively and be able to sustain it.”
In early 2008, the home’s Board of Directors became involved in a months-long dispute with then-County Mayor Jerry Cunningham. The disagreement stemmed from the idea of creating an adult and children’s services campus, including the Helen Ross McNabb Center and Children’s Advocacy organization, on a portion of the Children’s Home property.
During the dispute, Cunningham brought several legal issues to light, including an invalid charter change, made without permission from the Blount County Commission, that expanded the number of directors for the Children’s Home.
Later that year, the County Commission approved a settlement with the Children’s Home that included the authorization of an amended charter for the organization.
Under the terms of the agreement, Blount County ratified a 2005 warranty deed that formally granted the McCammon Avenue property to the Blount County Children’s Home Inc. In 2004, the County Commission had voted to have documents prepared — not executed — but the deed ended up being signed by former County Mayor Beverley Woodruff anyway.
Ultimately, as part of the settlement, the Children’s Home deeded a portion of the property back to the county as a site for the new campus. Perhaps ironically, though, the project never moved beyond the planning stages after engineering studies discovered problems with the soil on the 2.7-acre tract.
According to the terms of the warranty deed, if the property ever ceases to be used for a children’s welfare agency, it will revert to county ownership.
The Children’s Home is currently receiving about $4,900 in interest income per year from the Ellis Trust, which is administered by the Blount County Trustee’s Office. The $485,403 endowment is invested in certificates of deposit and is currently drawing about 1 percent interest per year.
According to a 1982 County Commission resolution, the last will and testament of Dr. Edwin Link Ellis, who died in 1939, established the trust as a permanent endowment for operating an orphan’s or children’s home. The county determines how the income from the trust is used.
According to the last order in Blount County Probate Court, which allows the Children’s Home to continue receiving the income as long as it provides services to the youth of blount county, the organization does not have access to the principal.
If the Children’s Home stopped providing the services, the county would continue to administer the trust. In general, if the purpose of a trust fails, the remaining money can be distributed to any living heirs of the estate.
Board Member Lynn Waters said recent years have been a challenge. “It’s been rough. Thank goodness we have some strong volunteers.”
The rough spots are to be expected, Blain said. “Every agency goes through challenges, especially when your scope of service changes with the times. You had new laws coming out. You had the state government wanting to service children in a different capacity, such as really promoting foster care and that type of environment.”
The Children’s Home will overcome these challenges and continue to prosper, Blain said. “This agency has been around since 1894. It is part of Blount County history. We will be here for another 100 years.”