MARIA NAGLE | MNAGLE@pantagraph.com
In Bloomington-Normal, The Baby Fold is recognized as helping, for more than a century, many of the community’s most vulnerable children.
Children orphaned, in need of foster care, with mental illness, in need of special education, with behavioral and emotional disabilities — The Baby Fold helps them all.
It has grown from a faith-based orphanage started around the turn of the 20th century to serving more than 1,000 children and families with adoption, foster care, pregnancy counseling and special education needs.
Its residential treatment center was closed in June because it wasn’t getting state support that it was due.
It started when Nancy Mason donated her residence in Normal in 1899 to the Methodist Episcopal Deaconess Society as a home for both active and retired deaconesses.
Deaconesses were trained nurses, educators, evangelists, social workers and administrators who performed mission work. They operated Bloomington Deaconess Hospital from 1897 to 1901.
By 1904, the agency changed its name to N.A. Mason Deaconess Home and School. But people were calling it the “baby fold,” a biblical reference to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Four years later, the name changed to Mason Deaconess Home and Baby Fold. It officially became The Baby Fold in 1941.
Today, the agency has Hammitt Elementary School and Hammitt Junior-Senior High School, which offer specialized education for children with behavioral, emotional, learning and pervasive developmental disabilities.
The junior-senior high school, now at 1500 Fort Jesse Road, Normal, is being moved to 612 Oglesby Ave., Normal, where office space is being remodeled into classrooms.
In 2001, the agency began offering international adoptions.