John Koppelmeyer works in the oldest building at Barium Springs Home for Children. Built at the turn of the century, the boxy structure provides a grounding in history as the organization reshapes for the future.
As president and chief executive officer, Koppelmeyer is leading the 120-year-old agency through an expansion effort that will provide more help to vulnerable children and their families. Through four mergers, Barium Springs has doubled its budget and increased its service area. As a full-service child welfare agency, it now serves 3,000 families in North Carolina.
Officials say the agency’s stability lies in a deeply-rooted mission – and a willingness to respond to new needs.
The Early Years
Barium Springs began as an orphanage in Barium Springs, North Carolina, in 1891. Many of the early residents arrived as infants and stayed until they graduated from high school or college.
In the 1950s, with advances in medical care and with the end of World War II, the need for orphanages dropped. Instead of needing refuge because they were parentless, children needed residential treatment because they suffered from abuse and neglect.
Barium Springs expanded its services to meet new demand. In the late 1960s, the agency added high quality, full-day child care for working parents. Later, it launched an alternative school for students who struggled in traditional classrooms.
After Koppelmeyer arrived in 2001, Barium Springs began laying the groundwork for weaving groups of services together to create a continuum of care. Instead of navigating a segmented system, families could find effective help from one strong provider.
“We called it our Strategic Thinking Documents,” Koppelmeyer says. “Instead of saying ‘In Year Three, we are going to do X and in Year Five, we are going to do Y,’ we focused on who we were, what we believed, and how we wanted to develop.”
An Opportunity for Change
A few years later, in 2010, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services implemented a new system to make sure that mental health and substance abuse services were delivered effectively. Agencies like Barium Springs would need to apply to become a Critical Access Behavioral Health Agency, or CABHA.
To be certified as a CABHA, agencies had to be nationally accredited for three years; staffing requirements include a full-time medical director, clinical director and quality management/staff training director.
“Basically, the state was saying it only wanted to do business with providers that could offer an array of services, and we had a framework in place to do that,” Koppelmeyer says. “We decided to use the opportunity to see where it would take us.”
Barium Springs merged with four agencies in western North Carolina – Rainbow Center, Our Father’s Place, Appalachian Family Innovations and Mountain Youth Resources – and won the CABHA designation.
The Duke Endowment supported the mergers with a grant in 2011 to offset a portion of the costs. As an orphanage, Barium Springs was one of the Endowment’s original grantees. Over the decades, the Endowment has funded campus renovations and new programs. And, like the State of North Carolina, the Endowment wants to work with providers that have a broad service array.
“Support from the Endowment has allowed us to test new approaches,” Koppelmeyer says. “Even from its early existence, Barium Springs has been on the forefront of change when change needed to happen. It has always been willing to be a trailblazer.”
Under a bigger umbrella, the four smaller agencies are now able to continue their missions. And with Barium Springs operating as a regional organization, more families will receive important services.
In Wilkesboro, for example, a new school has opened to help students with mental health issues. Called Freedom Academy, it allows them to interact with a teacher, a therapist and a behavior technician. Children who would have been left behind academically are now receiving second chances through therapeutic education.
Koppelmeyer says the school was a direct result of the merger. Barium Springs already has had success with therapeutic education at Springs Academy in Statesville – by partnering with a strong organization like Rainbow Center, officials could share that experience in a new community with faster results.
The goal is to help more vulnerable children become successful.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to be safe and nurtured in a family,” Koppelmeyer says. “That’s what we want for our own children, and that’s what we want for the children of North Carolina.”
Phillip H. Redmond Jr.
Director of Child Care