UMCOR: Sager Brown
● By Robert Frey
A Local Treasure Celebrates 150 Years Of Service
By Sherise Henry
What began as a piece of land and a hope in the hearts of Methodist Episcopal missionaries has become an international service organization, a start up for a private university and a place hundreds of former orphans remember as home. The place is UMCOR Sager Brown in Baldwin. Its roots are steeped in faith and service. To appreciate the story of what has now become an international depot for relief supplies around the globe requires a love of God, Louisiana history or just a need for a heart-warming smile.
In 1867 the Methodist Episcopal Church bought Byrne Sugar Plantation. Two years later, orphans from New Orleans began to live in what was then called Orphan’s Home in Baldwin. After operating as Orphan’s Home and La Teche Seminary Gilbert Academy emerged in 1890, which later became Dillard University in New Orleans. During the 1920s what remained on the Baldwin Campus was Sager Brown and Godman School, named after one of its most revered directors Dr. W.D. Godman. Rosie Ann Cobb, another notable administrator took the helm in 1953 and served as school superintendent. Her mantra remains a part of UMCOR history: “To love someone more deeply every day. To help a wandering child find his way; to ponder o’er a noble thought and pray. And smile when evening falls- This is my task”
Idella Stevenson was one of the children that called Sager Brown orphanage home. Life found her in the care of her paternal grandmother Piccola Stevenson who worked at the school in the laundry room. When Piccola Stevenson got promoted to housemother in the boy’s dorm, she and Idella moved to campus. It was a place Idella would live, work and serve throughout much of her adult life.
“We had students from all walks of life. Some were orphans, some were paying tuition and some were people that the Methodist church was paying for their education. We got a long like siblings,” Stevenson says.
The school taught kindergarten through 8th grade and even when she graduated to high school Idella continued to live on the Sager Brown campus. The Louisiana Conference of the Methodist church afforded Stevenson the opportunity to attend college in Georgia and study education. She returned to the campus to teach and later went on to attend seminary again through scholarships from the Methodist Church. ”My goal in life was to serve God, I owe all of my education (both secular and seminary) to the United Methodist Church and the Louisiana Conference,“ Stevenson says.
The 1970s bought troublesome times for UMCOR Sager Brown. The Sager Brown School closed its doors and put it up for sale for 11 years. There were no takers – until a devastating act of God brought the land and those called to serve there back to their ministering roles. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit and Sager Brown reopened as a temporary shelter and evolved into UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) Depot.
Amy Fuselier now serves as executive director and says the legacy of service has continued through the works of dozens of volunteers from around the country who give their time each week to provide service at the Depot and in the community.
“Right now we are ordering supplies to deal with the hurricanes,” says Fuselier. “We are trying to keep up with the demand. We have buckets coming in that we are checking for compliance from a list. We buy whatever is needed in the buckets that may be missing, and we are also making buckets from scratch. I just ordered $250,000 worth of cleaning supplies and hygiene items for buckets were delivering.”
Not only does the Depot respond to disasters in the U.S., but global needs are also met through the help of volunteers making relief kits of several kinds. And as the old adage says, “charity does begin at home” as many local St Mary Parish organizations are benefiting from the service of volunteers.
Outreach Director Minister Benny Druilhet Sr. explains “UMCOR Sager Brown partners with local humanitarian agencies by providing weekly volunteers to help wherever needed.” Those agencies include Chez Hope, a residential facility for survivors of domestic abuse, St. Jules Apartments, a complex for low income elderly, The Bridge, a residential facility for females dealing with substance abuse issues, and at least five other service projects that include additional disaster relief agencies, home repair, head start centers and commodity supplies.
Druilhet says there are many people who continue to reside in or near the community that passed through Sager Brown and many others have ancestors who were educated, housed and trained there. “It is important that people know how great an economic impact that UMCOR Sager Brown has in our parish and in the town of Baldwin as well as all over the world. People must know that UMCOR Sager Brown is probably the greatest humanitarian agency in our parish.”
UMCOR Sager Brown’s rich legacy will be celebrated on October 21 during the campus’ 150th year celebration. Events will include a town parade, a guest speaker Dr. Wanda Nelson, an alumnus, a history tour and wrapping of the maypole, a tradition that students of Sager Brown would participate every school year. UMCOR administrators also welcome volunteers from around the Teche area to take part in service opportunities on and near the campus. If you would like more information on how to get involved with the mission work of UMCOR you may call them at 337-923-6238 or visit them online at www.umcor.org