Home is where the heart is

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By LeAnna Stephenson

For most, the word orphanage brings up thoughts of sadness and heartache, but for Nikki Crouch of DeKalb, Texas her years in the Texarkana Baptist Children’s Home (Orphanage) were happy. It was there at the age of 14 that she finally found out what it meant to have a family.
Early childhood for Nikki and her two older sisters was what she describes as normal, at least the part she can remember. Her parents had been high school sweethearts, dating for years before deciding to marry and have their three girls. At the age of seven, though, everything changed. Nikki’s thirty-something year-old father suffered a massive heart attack and died, leaving her mother with the task of raising them on her own. It was a job she soon proved unable to handle. The emotional pain of her husband’s death sent Nikki’s mom on a downward spiral and she became dependent on drugs and alcohol. Within two years, she was unable to raise her daughters and gave them to their grandparents.
For the next 5 years Nikki and her sisters would live with her father’s family. During that time, Nikki admits that they may have been a bit of a handful to care for, but nothing that can explain why one day they were told “We don’t want you guys anymore.” Her oldest sister had already left the house, but the remaining two girls were taken and left at the Texarkana Baptist Children’s Home. Nikki was only 14 years-old, but since her grandparents didn’t relinquish custody, but gave power of attorney to the Home, adoption was never an option for her or her sister. They would spend the remainder of their teen years in the orphanage.
Fortunately, the Texarkana Baptist Children’s Home was a positive change for the girls.
“I thought it was going to be awful, but I was really happy there. They are definitely more my family than my biological family,” Nikki says.
With all the horror stories about foster and residential care centers so frequently in the news, it is refreshing to learn there are safe places for children in this world. To have one of those safe places so close is even more heartwarming.
The Texarkana Baptist Children’s Home was formally organized in 1907 by the Arkansas Missionary Baptist Association of Churches and has been in continuous operation since its founding. It started as a three-story building in downtown Texarkana. After a fire destroyed it, the home moved to another location further east, but as the city grew in that direction the Home was relocated to its current property at 5401 East 9th Street Texarkana, Arkansas in 1954. It is still operated by church funding and donations from the community, with a general fund for bills and wages, a birthday fund that provides $75 to each child living at the Home on their special day, a scholarship fund to help with higher education for children who qualify, a children’s activity fund, and a special project fund for anything from a new roof to a trip to Disney World. Monthly gift options of as little as $10 per month are available through PayPal or credit/debit card on the Children’s Home’s website www.baptistkids.org.
According to the website, the Arkansas churches started the orphanage to care for orphan, dependent and neglected children; to provide for them a suitable refuge, to see after their needs for food, shelter, clothes; to educate them and to provide training that will lead to Christ and everlasting life. It is a mission that Nikki says they still fulfill today.
Nikki believes that the strict rules set by the Home and frequent exposure to Christian teaching there and at the Christian school she attended was what she needed.
She credits the Home with teaching her many important life lessons, such as, working for what you want.
While they are provided what they need, the children are taught how to work and earn what they want.
Things like cell phones, which most teenagers take for granted, are extravagances for the teens at the Texarkana Baptist Children’s Home. Should they want one, they must get a job and pay for it.
Today, Nikki is 19 years old and married to John Crouch, whom she first met when his church made one of their frequent visits to the Children’s Home. While dating might have been a little more strict than normal (John had to submit to a background check), it was worth it. The couple stays in close contact with Nikki’s orphanage family, visiting there often and even having them as guests at their wedding.
Perhaps the most important thing she learned during her time at the orphanage is that “God has a purpose and a calling for your life,” Nikki says. “I very much believe that. It doesn’t really matter where you come from, you’re going to end up where you are supposed to be.”
That place for Nikki is DeKalb, alongside her husband John, a welder. And hopefully down the line, some kids of their own. For now, though, Nikki showers the children of Little Rascals Daycare in Malta, Texas with all the love she missed out on at points in her life. Nikki is still in contact with her sisters and reconnected with her mother at 18.
“I mean it isn’t a mother-daughter relationship. We’re more like acquaintances,” Nikki says. “I definitely want to be a better mom than my mom was. I get that stuff happens, unexpected stuff. Her husband died, obviously, she was gonna be distraught, but she kind of went off the deep end. I would like to say that I would never do that, especially having been there before myself,” Nikki said.

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