About 60 years ago, the pastor at a church in tiny Rittman, near Wooster, heard about a young person who needed a safe place to stay. At the time, the pastor and his family weren’t in a place to be able to take the boy in, so he described the situation to members of his congregation — some of whom were members of a larger group that encompassed parishioners from multiple churches in the area.
That event set in motion an idea that soon became the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio, perfectly nestled on 163 acres of former farmland just north of Wooster, served by Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative. Originally conceived as a foster/group home for three to five young people, CCHO has grown into a residential center that provides a safe, structured environment to meet the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of children from across Ohio, many of whom have been abused, neglected, and traumatized by people they trusted most.
When the property was first acquired, there was a barn, a couple of outbuildings, and a farmhouse that was converted to the first foster home. Since then, five more cottages have been added to the property — each set up similarly to the original farmhouse. Cottages are separated by gender and age and can house as many as 36 residents at a time.
“Our kids have experienced severe trauma, so one of the things that we really want them to know is it’s okay to just be a kid,” says Kevin Hewitt, CCHO’s president and CEO.
The property has evolved to include a baseball field, a basketball court, playground equipment, a swimming pool, and green space, and toward the back of the property is a 42-foot climbing tower with a 300-foot zipline, and Canopy Hills, a nine-hole disc golf course.
“The founders wanted to create a place where kids and God could meet,” says Hewitt. “Thanks to the vision of one men’s group, we have now helped thousands of children and their families through the 50-year history of CCHO.”
Last month marked CCHO’s 54th anniversary, and it’s still living up to its original purpose: to help people realize their worth. That mission is supported by dozens of churches, community organizations, and individuals, along with the hard work of more than 190 employees and oversight from a board of trustees.
It’s common that kids at CCHO have either thought they were worthless or were told they were worthless and that no one cared about them. Hewitt’s goal is to have all children at CCHO understand who they are and know that they are so much more than what has happened to them.
“Many of our kids have had to tell their deepest, darkest secrets to police officers, child advocates, and prosecutors, and so many times the kids have never had the opportunity to just be kids,” says Hewitt. “Some of my favorite days are when I can have my window open and I can hear our kids laughing and playing ball or laughing and doing field events.”
CCHO currently has 1,500 active clients across all its service programs, which include residential treatment, Encompass Counseling, and Encourage Foster Care. CCHO is accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Children and Families, licensed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, and certified by the Ohio Department of Mental Health, and is a member of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies. It’s also a licensed child care agency by the Ohio Department of Human Services.
Most of the children, aged 6 to 18, are placed at CCHO through local or county children’s services boards or departments of job and family services.
“I got into this field more than 30 years ago and I learned very quickly not to say, ‘I’ve heard everything’ because then another referral would come in,” says Hewitt. It is shocking, he said, what some adults do to children. “All of our kids come from some type of traumatic history, so we do our best to build resilience in them.”
Each child has his or her own therapist and case manager to provide clinical treatment. They also have the opportunity to participate in music and equine therapy on the property. “I have been blessed in my life to have so many people who have believed in me and wanted what’s best for me, and I’ve seen kids take one word they heard from someone and allow that to be the trigger to make tremendous life changes,” says Hewitt. “It springboards them to an unbelievable life. I love to see that. I love the concept of the overcomer.”
To learn more about CCHO or to make a donation, visit www.ccho.org.