News Articles

N.C. Baptist Children’s Home leader takes leave amid financial review

Michael Blackwell

THOMASVILLE, N.C. – One week after the longtime leader of the Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) of North Carolina announced he was taking a voluntary leave of absence, BCH officials said they have launched an independent review of the organization’s finances in response to questions raised over accounting practices.

In a statement released Friday morning, June 2, the BCH announced that its executive committee had “recently commissioned an independent financial review” and that President and CEO Michael C. Blackwell “chose to take leave from his position to support the integrity of the review process.”

According to an earlier statement released by the Baptist Children’s Homes on Friday, May 26, Blackwell informed the BCH’s executive committee that day that he would be taking “a voluntary leave of absence for an indefinite period of time.” That statement, however, made no mention of an independent financial review or questions related to accounting practices.

The BCH’s most recent statement also said Blackwell’s leave of absence is a “separate matter” from James David “Jim” Goldston III’s recent resignation from his role as chairman and member of the BCH’s board of trustees. Goldston resigned from the BCH board on May 21, more than a week after he and his wife, Agnes, were arrested and charged with three felony counts of animal cruelty and one misdemeanor count of communicating threats. Goldston has denied the allegations, and the case is still pending in Wake County.

A spokesperson for the children’s homes said the executive committee’s actions are not related to any allegations or suspicions of abuse, mistreatment or neglect of children in BCH’s care.

“We can confirm that recent actions by the BCH executive committee are only related to questions that have been raised about accounting issues and the independent financial review the committee has commissioned,” the official said in an email to the Biblical Recorder.

Blackwell, 81, is the longest-tenured president in BCH history, having led the organization for nearly 40 years. A native of Gastonia, Blackwell became the eighth president of the children’s homes on July 1, 1983.

Multiple efforts to reach Blackwell for comment have been unsuccessful.

In Blackwell’s absence, BCH Chief Operating Officer Keith Henry and Executive Vice President for Development and Communications Brenda Gray are sharing executive leadership responsibilities of the organization.

After reaching out to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) for comment, N.C. Baptist officials provided the Recorder with a copy of an email that was sent to members of the state convention’s board of directors by its executive committee following the most recent announcement by the Baptist Children’s Homes.

The email indicates that members of the BCH executive committee reached out to N.C. Baptist Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Unzicker the week of May 15 to inform him of allegations of “financial misconduct” against BCH leadership, including Blackwell.

Unzicker notified the state convention’s executive committee of the allegations during a regularly scheduled meeting on May 23 that went into closed session. Unzicker also informed N.C. Baptist executive committee members that the BCH executive committee was working to schedule a special-called meeting to address the allegations against Blackwell.

In response to the information Unzicker shared, the N.C. Baptist executive committee unanimously passed a motion in closed session requesting that the BCH’s executive committee “fully investigate the various allegations of misuse of funds and credit cards and engage an independent forensic accountant to assist the Committee in that investigation,” according to the email.

The motion went on to say that, “The Executive Committee of the BSCNC believes that it is essential for a third party to be involved to restore trust in the process and outcome of such complete investigation which will be in the best interests of both the Convention and the Baptist Children’s Homes.”

According to the email, state convention officials sent a copy of the motion’s request to Gayla Freeman of Conover, who became chair of the BCH board of trustees following Goldston’s resignation.

The motion passed by the N.C. Baptist executive committee is not binding upon the children’s homes. The Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina is a separate but related entity of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A portion of BCH’s funding is provided by financial gifts from N.C. Baptist churches that are given through the Cooperative Program of the state convention.

In their email to the full board of directors, N.C. Baptist executive committee members called for the “highest standards” of accountability and stewardship of money contributed to missions and ministry endeavors.

“As your fellow BSCNC board members, we believe it is important that our full board is aware of these important matters and your executive committee’s actions prior to the May 26 BCH announcement,” the email said. “BSCNC executive leaders are fully committed to ensuring the missions dollars so generously provided by N.C. Baptists are employed to serve and share the gospel with precious souls, according to the highest standards of Christian character and professional excellence.”

In a statement to the Recorder, Unzicker said: “Please join us in praying for the Baptist Children’s Homes and its leadership. I am pleased that the BCH executive committee is taking the necessary steps to address the allegations. The trust N.C. Baptist churches place in the ministries they support is vital. We are committed to ensuring missions dollars are employed to advance the gospel with the highest standards. As always, our utmost concern is for the children and other vulnerable individuals BCH is called to serve. N.C. Baptists are a movement of churches on mission together with our beloved partners at BCH. We prayerfully await the results of the independent financial review.”

A BCH spokesperson gave no timetable for the financial review.

“They hope the review can happen expediently but also want to ensure that the process is thorough,” the official told the Recorder by email.

The official added that the BCH executive committee “believes the questions raised are an isolated issue. We are prayerfully awaiting the results of the full review.”

According to publicly available financial records, the BCH had more than $45.2 million in total support and revenue for its fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2021. More than half of that total amount – 54% or approximately $24.5 million – came from contributions from churches, individuals, estates and other sources. More than $11.8 million came from service fees, rent income, disposal of equipment and other sources. Investment income accounted for more than $6.3 million of revenues. An additional $2.6 million came through gifts to the Cooperative Program.  

Since its founding in 1885, the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina has grown from a single location in Thomasville to 23 locations in North Carolina. In addition to providing residential care to children, the nonprofit organization has also expanded its services over the years. BCH now serves families, expectant mothers, single mothers, aging adults, intellectually and developmentally disabled adults, and others, while also providing assistance with foster care and adoption.

The BCH’s full statement is available below:

“Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) greatly appreciates the prayers and messages of encouragement following the announced voluntary indefinite leave of absence of President/CEO Dr. Michael C. Blackwell. In light of misinformation circulating in public conversation, we believe it is important to provide clarity.

“First, the May 21 resignation of former BCH board chair James Goldston, who stepped down so that his personal matters would not be a “distraction or hindrance” to BCH’s mission is a separate matter from Dr. Blackwell’s subsequent leave of absence. (See Mr. Goldston’s statement reported at brnow.org.)

“Second, in order to provide additional context and avoid further confusion, consistent with BCH’s policies, and in response to questions raised about accounting issues, BCH’s Executive Committee recently commissioned an independent financial review. We are grateful that Dr. Blackwell chose to take leave from his position to support the integrity of the review process. 

“Throughout these circumstances, BCH’s Executive Committee has emphasized the importance of respecting the privacy of all of its personnel, addressing serious questions with appropriate due process and careful consideration, and the need for transparency as soon as circumstances so allow.

“We ask for your continued prayers during this time.”