Saturday, July 10, 1999

Beech Acres: a priceless gem for families

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A treasure, by common agreement if not definition, is something one must seek after. It is hidden from the masses, reserved for the few. Its value lies in its very unavailability.

        A treasure glitters. It is showy and assuming.

        And it is something that, once found, is quickly hidden away.

        How ironic, then, that Beech Acres fits none of those definitions, yet is one of Cincinnati's truest treasures.

        The private agency, which sits unassumingly along Beechmont Avenue in Anderson Township, is open to the masses. Its goal, since before the Civil War, has been to embrace children and offer families support.

        Beech Acres has done its work with remarkable integrity, and remarkably little fanfare. One of the things we admirers especially appreciate is the quiet confidence with which the whole thing goes along.

        Still, when an institution turns 150 years old, it deserves a little celebration.

Original intent intact
        In 1849, fund raising began for the German General Protestant Orphan Asylum, a humanitarian response to the deadly cholera epidemic the year before. German Cincinnatians raised money by door-to-door solicitations, by band concerts and bake sales. In 1851, the orphanage opened its doors for 10 children, with the intent of giving them not only an upbringing, but a home.

        There were flower gardens and orchards, a dairy and a playroom. The children learned German in the evenings, held parties after their church confirmations and spent holidays in welcoming German homes. There were rules and spit and polish, but “from the beginning, this was people doing what their hearts told them to do for children,” says Beech Acres spokeswoman Martha Epling.

        That one thing has never changed.

        But the world has. So in 1975, the institution now called Beech Acres began foster care placement, recognizing that many children do better in private care than in an institution. Soon after, the agency opened its family center, a one-of-a-kind setting where parents receive nurturance and support, and in turn learn to take better care of their children. It continues to shine brightly today.

Growing greatly
        In 1977, Beech Acres added family therapy, and special programs for abused and neglected children. By the 1980s, there was intensive help for children with psychological or behavioral problems, and more programs for typical American families with typical needs — families facing divorce, transitions or modern stresses, and blended families.

        Everyone talks about the importance of family, and the need for nurturing children. Beech Acres is a pre-eminent site — regionally and locally — for showing how it's done.

        But what is especially endearing about the place is that it does it with joy and optimism. Call Beech Acres with a parenting question — how do I set limits for my 2-year-old; is there a solution for sibling rivalry? — and a kind voice will offer sensible advice with calm reassurance. For Beech Acres believes in children, and it believes in parents.

        By the late 1980s, the agency had abandoned its role as an orphanage, and by the 1990s taken a leadership role in managed care for children with severe needs. As 2000 beckons, Beech Acres is again redefining its role in a way that may prove the most beneficial.

        The center intends to be a national center for parenting support. It wants to make Cincinnati known as a city that specializes in good parenting and healthy children.

        The effort, well under way, hits full stride with a groundbreaking parenting conference in November, a “warmline” to take parenting questions, a speakers' bureau and clearinghouse for all parenting matters.

        It is the best development news Cincinnati has had in a long time.

        So happy birthday, Beech Acres. You get the party. We get the gift.

        • For information on For the Love of Kids, a Beech Acres parenting conference, call 231-7205, ext. 239.

        Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at 312 Elm St. Cincinnati OH 45202.

        Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at the Enquirer, 312 Elm St. Cincinnati 45202.