By Andre Jennings | Photos By Tori Steyne
“What is your family like?” At some point in time, you have probably been asked some version of that question, because every family is a little different than ours. Even though families can look and act very differently from our own, at the end of the day, we have to accept and enjoy the family that God has placed us in. We may not get to choose our family, but it is our choice how we enjoy and benefit from this family because they will leave an immeasurable impact on our lives.
I have been blessed to be part of a very large family, whose size ranges anywhere between 35 to 50 during the year (we are very unusual in that way). We are a unique family, in that we are very blended; as you can well imagine, we have our struggles, moments of joy, and times of sorrow, but in the end, we stick together because we care deeply for our family. We want all of our members to have a bright and better future.
What strange family might this be? If you haven’t guessed, the Boys Farm Family! Our family started in 1960, when a wonderful couple from Charleston moved to Newberry to begin building the foundation of a family that has lasted several generations and has changed the lives of countless members. The name of that couple is W.D. & Celia Shealy, but of course we call them Mama & Pop. I’m a relatively new member of this family; I’ve only been part of it for 13 years, but in this short time, I have benefited greatly from this family that Mama and Pop started.
When Mama and Pop moved to Newberry, they wanted to start a home for boys whose families were going through hard times and create a safe harbor where these children could grow, enjoy their childhood, and learn life lessons and skills that would one day help them become men who could care for their own family. The Shealy’s chose to start by moving into a small farmhouse on the side of SC Highway 34 and 121. Mama and Pop’s house soon became a home that took in destitute children, providing them with the support, love, and guidance every child needs. As the years passed, the need for this type of home only grew and so, as conditions permitted, they built additional houses, allowing more people to join this family and helped raise the children who needed this love and support.
Today, our Boys Farm Family continues to grow as every year we take on new children that become a part of this gift that Mama and Pop left. As I think about the work that they started and the legacy of these 63 years, I am reminded of Psalm 128, a song of Ascent, verse 3, “…your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus, shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” One of the features of these Psalms of Ascent is their focus on the hopes, joys, courage, and optimism of family. Although I know Mama and Pop had very strong faith, courage, and optimism, I often wonder if they ever imagined their family spreading out like olive shoots around this table that is Boys Farm today!
What I do know is that their faithfulness has certainly brought blessings to countless children and staff as well. Their dedication and example have propelled Boys Farm to what it is today. We continue to seek to honor their example, and as with any large family, we certainly can’t do it alone. To this day, our model of helping needy children remains the same, with 4 homes on our campus where married couples, along with their own children, live with up to 8 other children!
It is in this new environment that these children, who come to us from difficult and heart-breaking situations around the state and the southeast, find the security and structure they need to begin rebuilding their lives. This long, slow labor of love and sacrifice would not be humanly impossible were it not for the sustaining grace and faithfulness of God who has blessed this ministry in amazing ways since it first began.
The day-to-day of our family begins with a devotional and prayer before school. After school, we work on chores around the house, but if it’s Monday, we may have a lively game of kickball, dodgeball or even sharks and minnows! On Tuesdays after school, we work together by cleaning up around our houses and making sure things don’t pile up. In the late afternoons and evenings, we sit down and work on our homework and school assignments. On Wednesday nights, some of our family members go to Bible studies and youth programs. Of course, every evening we gather for mealtime, sometimes we eat together in our dining hall and sometimes we eat as smaller family units in the homes. If all our chores are done, we might spend some time in the gym shooting hoops or playing pickleball. Weekends are a time when we rest and attend church service, and if the weather is nice, we might go on a walk on our 5K trail or swim in the pond.
My favorite part of the year is Summer, and since we have so many friends in the community and around the state that support us and stand in the gap with us, they make it possible for us to do special things like go to summer camps, Carowinds, and even the beach! It’s always fun to see the excitement of the younger members of our family who have never been to the beach, stare out across the ocean for the first time or taste the saltwater in their mouths.
Fall can be a bittersweet time for us as some of our members who graduate from high school go on to college or join the army, moving on to the next phase of their life, but we are happy for them since we know they will still visit us, and they are still part of our large and unique family unit. As our emerging adult members leave, God sends new members to our family that need the love and attention and structure so they too can succeed in life, and in this way, our family ebbs and flows throughout the year.
Of course, even though it’s been 63 years since Mama and Pop started this unique family of ours, we don’t forget them. In fact, this April 16th, 2023, at 12:30, we will be gathering as a family and inviting our friends to join us as we celebrate our 63rd Founders’ Day to honor Mama and Pop and celebrate our Boys Farm Family. Although our family may not look like yours, I want to invite you to join us in celebrating what God has done in the life of our family and maybe you would like to be a part of our story as well.