Shataria Wood and her two brothers were shuffled from one foster home to another before they found some semblance of stability at a local residential group home with the mission of providing hope and healing for children and families needing it most.
‘An awesome place’
“We went there together. That was our last stop after being in foster home after foster home after foster home. Initially, we didn’t like being there but actually it wasn’t a bad place to be,” Wood said.
“We did something like every weekend, whether it was a church group that came and played games, grilled out or went fishing or swimming with us. Or they’d just come feed us, or we went somewhere. We would always be going somewhere” including Myrtle Beach and Carowinds during the summer, she said.
Wood said she and her brothers always had something to look forward to during their time at Connie Maxwell Children’s Home’s Brookland Campus, located at 3105 Five Chop Road in Orangeburg. She stayed at the facility from 2001 to 2006.
“We didn’t want for anything because we had a little storage space stocked up with donations that were given to them. So we’d just go there with the house parent and get what we needed,” Wood said.
She recalled going to Disney World, but added that there was much more going on besides trips. Wood said she learned the value of work and the importance of giving back to others through community service. That work was performed with the same love and care that she and her siblings received, Wood noted.
“They taught us a lot. When we’d come home from school, we’d do work sets. That was an hour of cutting grass, weed eating or doing whatever there was to do around the campus," she said. "We went to a women’s shelter one year and fed them. We used to go to The Methodist Oaks and play bingo with the elderly residents. We did a lot."
“They taught us not just to be all about ourselves, that (there are) more people out there in the world. I learned a lot from them. That’s why if I can try to find stuff to help and give back some kind of way, I will,” Wood added.
The 28-year-old is now the mother of three: Gabrielle, 9, Madison, 6, and 1-year-old Caleb.
Wood's sixth-grade teacher took her into foster care at the age of 16, marking the end of her time at Connie Maxwell’s Brookland Campus. Her oldest brother was eventually adopted, and the younger one was later placed in a foster home.
“She’s who my children call Grandma,” Wood said of the teacher who took her in.
Coming from a broken home did not leave her with broken dreams. She said she is looking at creating her own children’s home “because I like helping, giving back and I love children.”
Wood said she carries the lessons she learned at Connie Maxwell’s Brookland Campus with her.
“Looking back on it now, it was an awesome place. I still keep in contact with the majority of the kids that were there when I was there and a couple of the house parents that were there. One of them is like my children’s aunt,” she said.
Loving children who are broken
It was the mission of the late Rev. Ralph Wentling and his wife, Helen, to create a refuge for boys who were facing problems. The couple purchased an old, abandoned plantation home in 1958 on Edisto Island that served as the first Brookland campus. It was called the Brookland Home for Boys.
The campus relocated to Orangeburg in 1967, settling in a historic home at 3089 Five Chop Road. The Brookland Home for Boys merged with the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in 1993. The Connie Maxwell home is currently across the street from that house.
“We took it over and made a lot of improvements and are still making improvements,” said Tony Atkinson, Connie Maxwell Children’s Home regional advancement officer. He had previously served as the home's longtime director of church relations.
Today the campus serves girls as well as boys.
“We have two cottages. We have a swimming pool, pond, gym and some campus house parents. The house parents work here seven days on and seven days off. They’re with the children 24/7, seven days a week. Our children go to a Christian school in Summerton,” Atkinson said.
The approximately 160-acre Orangeburg campus has the capacity to serve eight boys and eight girls.
“Right now we have 15 children here, and 12 of them are participating in sports. These house parents go to the games like parents. The children refer to this place as home … . This is home,” Atkinson said.
The Orangeburg campus is the second largest of five campuses operated by Connie Maxwell Children’s Home. The other campuses are located in Mauldin, Chesterfield, Florence and Greenwood, where its offices are headquartered.
William D. “Danny” Nicholson II is president of the ministry, which is supported by the South Carolina Baptist Convention and private donors.
“Overall, it’s an average of 200 kids annually that we take care of. Greenwood, of course, has the largest capacity,” Nicholson said, noting that Connie Maxwell’s Children’s Home began its work in 1892.
“During 126 years, over 17,000 children have come through Connie Maxwell lost, abandoned and broken. Children and families have been helped, loved, healed and restored, and we’re very thankful and proud for that,” he said.
He recalled how Dr. J.C. Maxwell and his wife, Sarah, donated more than 400 acres to the South Carolina Baptists for the start of the ministry in Greenwood. It was named Connie Maxwell in honor of the couple’s child, who died of scarlet fever at age 7.
“That 7-year-old girl’s name has been alive and remembered for 126 years for 17,000 children. So what came out of pain, suffering and loss raised up into a loving and nurturing place that has taken care of children for a long time,” Nicholson said.
The Connie Maxwell Children's Home provides residential care, crisis care, family care and foster care.
“We’re also strong advocates of adoption. We’re not currently licensing adoptions, but I speak everywhere about if you can go get a kid, go get a kid and take care of them and make them a part of your family,” said Nicholson, who was himself adopted as an infant.
“On Feb. 26, 1962, I was born alone. And I had spent all my life trying to repay a maintenance worker and a school teacher for picking me up, putting me in the back of the car and giving me a home,” he said.
As president of the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, Nicholson said it is his “mission to make sure that we’re trying to love children that are broken.”
“What I’ve learned in the year that I’ve been serving in this capacity is that every kid is different. Every family situation is different," he said. "So, what’s become important to me is to see how they can best be restored, strengthened and helped in their situation.”
‘The people out there care’
Matthew McDaniel, who was a resident of what at the time was the Brookland Home for Boys, recalled the safety and care he was provided there after experiencing a tough childhood.
He said the molestation he experienced as a very young child had left him angry and sometimes violent. He was eventually no longer able to stay at home with his mother and siblings, McDaniel said. He landed at the children’s home at age 12.
“It definitely had a big impact on me as a child. I developed a really bad temper. I was angry at everything. When we went to court, my molester ended up getting probation of some sort, never actually served any real jail time. It was just sort of downhill from there,” McDaniel said.
He said he always felt that the staff members of the home cared about the children they were serving.
“The upside to it was they provided a safe place where we were surrounded by people that cared about us. That meant a lot. As disheartening as it was at that moment in my life to feel like my family had kind of given up on me and I was sort of a lost cause, those people still cared," McDaniel said.
“Regardless of whether or not they succeeded in fixing me or whatever, they were trying and they did care about me and wanted me to be OK. And that was a big relief," he said. "The one thing I can say with certainty is that the people out there care."
The 33-year-old had his share of run-ins with the law following his stay at the boys’ home, but it was after the birth of his son, Aiden, that he decided to change his life for the better.
“My son was born right after I turned 21. That completely changed everything. I started working 10 times harder. I eventually got an opportunity with a good job, and I’ve been very fortunate since then,” McDaniel said.
He and his wife, Elle, are expecting their own child in the spring.
McDaniel said he would like to use his work in the banking industry as a way to give back to the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home’s Brookland Campus.
“One thing that’s been really neat for me recently is I work for a company that allows all of their branches to submit requests to do projects in the community each year … . I’d love to go out there sometimes and see how it’s all coming together out there. I’d be great to do that," he said.
“I had a pretty rough road after I got out of there … and got in my share of trouble. It’s a miracle that I’m not in a grave somewhere. Who knows? If I hadn’t gone there, it could have been even worse. So, I will definitely always be grateful for the effort that those people put in."
‘Many ways to help children’
“There are literally thousands of kids that have had a good life, a good family, a successful career and that contribute back,” Atkinson said.
“We have a book called ‘Someone Held My Hand.’ It’s got 51 stories, and we have 20,000 copies in print. We don’t sell a one, and it’s raised more than $20,000 in donations for the children. We’ve actually got people that said they read it all the first day they got it. I was co-editor of the book.”
Nicholson said his vision for Connie Maxwell Children’s Home involves prayer and conducting a “very methodical assessment overall of what we need to do” to have a successful future.
“Currently, we’ve got five committees that have five chairpersons for finance, personnel, advancement, the church and services and programs. So what we’re going to do is spend three months meeting. And then when we finish those meetings, we’ll have a draft of a strategic plan that will lay out priorities for the next 10 years of our ministry,” he said.
Nicholson added, “In the future, that will translate into what I pretty much did in my life, which was campaigns at universities and colleges. But we’re going to do one for Connie Maxwell that will highlight all the priorities and things that we want to focus on in the future."
“And then we’ll ask people who love us to come to the table and invest and financially support (the home) so we can step into that vision and that plan … . By sometime in springtime, we’ll begin to talk about what it looks like and try to get people’s opinions on what they think about it.”
Atkinson said as a regional advancement officer, his role will be to make the community more aware of what the Orangeburg children’s home does.
“Eventually, we hope to have an advancement officer for each area, but right now … I’m planting the groundwork. I did the same thing in church relations … ," he said.
‘I’m going to finish my story by hopefully planting seeds and using the relationships I’ve built in 55 years of working at a college, a school and as a high school coach. We’re going to make people in this area know what Brookland’s all about, and we hope to get businesses involved."
Nicholson noted, “We’re just doing the best we can in every way. There’s so many ways to help children.”