Outside the College of Charleston bookstore on Calhoun Street, a small historical marker informs passersby that a monumental structure once stood here: the Charleston Orphan House, founded by the city in 1790 as the first publicly funded orphanage in the country. The institution earned renown for its many groundbreaking programs—including one of the state’s first educational systems and one of the nation’s inaugural kindergartens—and its original building was remodeled in 1850 into the grand building shown in photos that survive today.
That landmark was razed to make way for a Sears Roebuck in 1952, but the organization’s legacy lives on in its direct descendant, Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC). A private nonprofit headquartered in North Charleston, CYDC assists more than 1,200 children each year with its residential and outreach programs, notes executive director Barbara Kelley-Duncan.
Two emergency shelters, the Callen-Lacey Center for Children in Berkeley County and the Charleston Emergency Center in North Charleston, offer safe haven to children who are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Ultimately, they will be placed with a relative or foster family or into a permanent group setting; teens might spend time at CYDC’s low-management group home, the Ledford House.
“It’s alarming to see the number of kids who don’t have the support systems of relatives, friends, coaches, and teachers.” —David Santos, CYDC board chair
During their hours, days, or years in CYDC’s care, children have access to outreach programs that “prepare them for the future, offering pathways to successful independence,” KelleyDuncan says.
These are essential, notes board chair and local attorney David Santos. “It is alarming to see the number of kids who don’t have the support systems of relatives, friends, coaches, and teachers,” he adds. “Many children coming to our organization not only lack safety and shelter, but also the skills that prepare them for the workforce and life in general.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of CYDC pairs youth with mentors, while the Linda and Tony Bakker Career Center aids in personal development and job training and connects kids with internships and employment. Young people can hone mechanical skills in the Cummins Automotive Shop, donated by Cummins Turbo Technologies; take part in Leadership for LIFE, which guides them in setting personal and professional goals; or join in the five-week Biz Camp. CYDC also offers the Children’s Defense Fund’s nationally recognized summer Freedom Schools program, which aims to inspire a love of reading and enhance feelings of self-worth.
Success stories abound. For example, Justin Williams lived in the Ledford House for four years, bonding with his counselors and becoming a mentor for other residents, all while starring on Wando High’s football team. He is now studying at South Carolina State. “It’s these personal stories of triumph that move me,” says Santos. “CYDC protects the children today and prepares them for tomorrow, and Charleston and Berkeley counties are better for it.”
Lend support: CYDC is hosting the A Night for the Children Gala ($175) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 17, at Memminger Auditorium, 56 Beaufain St. Visit www.cydc.org.