The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes an anniversary as “the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.” This year, Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) celebrates its 20th anniversary, commemorating a most notable event that occurred on April 4, 1998, in the piney woods of East Texas, when BVT’s doors opened and the future brightened for a special group of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
The story, though, did not begin that sunny, spring day two decades ago. It began years earlier in the hearts of Jean and Robert Breckenridge. The Breckenridges had two sons – Robert Jr. and Jimmy – each as precious to them as the other. When they first envisioned what BVT might become, they thought of Jimmy, who was nine years old at the time, living with Down syndrome. Not only did they want to provide a safe and loving home for their son, they envisioned creating a community for other adults like him with special needs.
In 1972, Robert and Jean purchased 78 acres near their Tyler, Texas, home, raw land that would become the distinctively safe, loving, faith-based community for individuals who could never fully provide for themselves. This home would be the answer for parents, like themselves, who confront the question, “Who will care for my child when I am gone?”
What about Jimmy – who will care for him when I am no longer here?
Then, without warning, within six months, Jean lost both Robert Sr. and her son, Robert Jr. Alone, overwhelmed, and grieving, Jean wondered how she would make the family’s dream a reality without the help of her husband and her eldest son, Jimmy’s only other sibling. With no other living relatives, urgency accompanied the gut-wrenching question that haunted her day and night: “What about Jimmy – who will care for him when I am no longer here?”
A courageous heart and deep-seated commitment drove Jean to approach Dr. David Dykes, her pastor at her home church, Green Acres Baptist Church, about the feasibility of building a home for those with IDD. At an East Texas meeting of pastors, Dr. Dykes met BCFS System President and CEO Kevin C. Dinnin, who happened to be travelling through the region. Kevin was returning to Texas after undertaking the task of assessing sites around the country to research and create a facility that met the needs of individuals living with IDD. It seemed a moment of divine irony that the two men might meet and that seemingly different goals could be achieved in a single endeavor.
Pastor Dykes took Kevin to Mrs. Breckenridge’s house, where she shared with him her vision, and conveyed her sense of urgency to Kevin.
Kevin describes meeting Jean as fate.
“I would love to say I was just in the right place at the right time, but it was more than that,” Kevin says. “At that time, the BCFS System had no experience with building or managing a facility like Jean described, but her story truly moved me. I believe it was a miracle that Pastor Dykes led me to her.”
With a willingness to give all she had to make her dream come true, Jean donated the 78-acre lush parcel of East Texas real estate as the site for Breckenridge Village. With Kevin’s leadership and the partnership of the Texas Baptist Men (TBM) Retiree Builders, construction of the Village began in the fall of 1997. The TBM and their supportive wives, with RVs and construction machinery in tow, converged on the property with the mission of “Building for the Glory of God.”
I believe it was a miracle that Pastor Dykes led me to her
“It was truly a sight to see,” Kevin recalls. “It was a big deal, like when you were kids and the fair would come to town. The TBM volunteers arrived by the dozens and set up an enormous tent as their headquarters. There were RVs surrounding the site, along with picnic tables and impressive cooking facilities where meals were prepared. It was monumental; inspirational.”
Sounds of hammers, saws, and drills interrupted by shouts of conversation and laughter filled the air as dirt moved and concrete slabs became the solid foundation for buildings and homes. In less than seven months, the construction of six beautiful homes, a vocational building, and an administrative building transformed the East Texas landscape from a grassy field to a beautiful community.
On April 4, 1998 which also happened to be Jimmy’s 35th birthday, the official Grand Opening of Breckenridge Village of Tyler celebrated the day Jean Breckenridge had dreamed of, prayed for, and helped make a reality. When 24 individuals with IDD moved into the newly constructed homes just days later, BVT officially began its enterprise of service.
Since its opening, the BVT campus has expanded to include more buildings and property improvements. In April 2000, the beautiful 7,684 square ft. Robert M. Rogers Memorial Chapel was built. This chapel, featuring a stunning 25 ft. cathedral ceiling with a cupola of natural light windows, includes an attractive boardroom, two classrooms, a kitchen as well as a state of the art exercise room. However, the focal point of this picturesque building is the 20 ft. cross donated by Ms. Jean Breckenridge for the chapel’s dedication. Since that time, over 300 unique and exquisite crosses, given over the years in memory or honor of friends and loved ones, have been added and now fill the walls of this amazing worship center. These crosses provide inspiration to all who enter and to the residents as they gather to begin their day in praise and worship.
Today, the Village features a medical clinic which allows nursing staff to provide quality medical support and supervision to those who reside at BVT or attend its programs; a handicapped-accessible swimming pool, donated by the late Dr. Ernest & Nita James; the Steve & Cheryl Plybon Pavilion, the center of campus recreational activities; and a beautifully stocked fishing pond.
But this breathtaking, state-of-the-art campus is more than just brick and mortar. It is about a dream. It is about the people who live there, the staff who care so lovingly, and the individuals from the community who visit the campus on a daily basis. BVT is about Jimmy, Julie and Linda H., whose parents are no longer living, but who now have a family and a home at BVT with friends and staff who love, support, and encourage them to be all that God intends them to be.
It’s about Alex, Clay, and Deborah, who have the opportunity to live self-sufficiently away from their families and grow into their own independence. It is about Tanner, Michele, and Alison, who come from all over the East Texas area each day to participate in the host of daily programs offered at the Village, and who hope to one day call BVT their home. BVT is about Jill and Dayne, whose parents, after prayerfully searching all across the nation, uprooted their families from New Jersey and Tennessee to move to East Texas, so their child could participate in BVT’s day programs while waiting for permanent placement at the Village.
Over the past twenty years, BVT has taught us that one truly is, “more blessed to give than to receive.” As such, the Village has become a source of a formidable volunteer effort for those in need in the Tyler community.
Five days a week, vans and buses are filled with BVT residents and other volunteers passionate about helping their community. Whether delivering meals to the homebound with Meals on Wheels, packaging food for the needy at the East Texas Food Bank, sorting donated clothing at Cornerstone Assistance Network, or assembling the bulletins for their local church, BVT residents enthusiastically serve those around them.
Their volunteer efforts also reach an international scale of service when, each year, BVT residents hand knit more than 300 brightly-hued, toasty winter caps to send to orphaned children in Moldova, one of Eastern Europe’s poorest countries. Their service is given every year in partnership with Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), an international interest of the BCFS System.
Under the care of dedicated and committed staff, BVT residents are encouraged and challenged daily in their personal growth through elective opportunities, life skills training, active treatment, exercise, and field trips. Each semester and summer presents new chances to choose and participate in classes such as art, hand bells, sports, culinary arts, choir, candle-making, and horticulture, just to name a few.
Life skills and active treatment are ongoing training opportunities that encourage personal growth and independence of BVT residents. Staff lovingly guide and gently direct the development of social and coping skills, household responsibilities, community safety, health and hygiene skills, and much more.
Health and exercise are vital components to daily living at BVT. Whether exercising on equipment especially designed for their needs, working out in “sittercise,” or walking with others in the popular BVT Walking Club, residents are encouraged toward a healthy lifestyle. The hard work of physical fitness and the choices for healthy meals and snack planning to promote fit, strong bodies pays off during the teamwork and comradery of Special Olympic activities that take place throughout the year.
BVT residents participate in a host of wonderful, memory-making opportunities as they attend local community engagements as well as fun-filled field trips beyond the Village. Outings to the theater, symphony, and various museums enrich their lives through the arts. Attending the magical “A Night to Shine” (prom for adults with special needs), traveling to Arlington to cheer for their Texas Rangers, enjoying the sights and sounds at the East Texas State Fair, and reveling in beautiful, seasonal music at various Christmas programs are just a few of the exciting occasions in which BVT participates annually.
For its residents, BVT provides the security of a loving home with caregivers who respect their individuality and encourage their independence. Each resident has their own bedroom to personalize and customize to their liking. A large kitchen, open dining room, and spacious living room creates a warm, welcoming family atmosphere. Here, residents can interact with their housemates and share their day while playing games, putting puzzles together, or enjoying television. Housemates Brien, Jonathan, and Bubba are often seen taking an afternoon ride on their bikes around the campus. Residents enjoy a meaningful life at the Village, filled with enriching and fulfilling activities.
The need for service is constantly growing, and BVT continues to grow with that need in the hopes that the many individuals with IDD who desire the quality of life that BVT can provide receive all that they need and more. Each new or potential member of the Breckenridge community deserves the same opportunities of home, love, security, and friendship that BVT offers.
With three new homes currently under construction, BVT is expanding its care to other individuals and families in search of BVT’s mission. We are excited to see the BVT family grow! And back to join the celebration are the TBM, who so generously have, again, donated the materials and man hours to realize BVT’s expansion project.
It is notable and worthy of celebration that for twenty years Breckenridge Village of Tyler has offered what many places cannot: a Christ-centered community providing “hope, love, and home” for adults with IDD. It is a special place where residents are making true, lifelong friends, often for the very first time in their lives. BVT continues to offer parents and guardians of those with special needs peace of mind and the answer to the same question that the Breckenridges asked themselves more than twenty years ago: “Who will care for my child when I am gone?”
Thank you, Jean and Robert, for sharing your dream and allowing us to carry it on. May you rest peacefully knowing that your vision for a loving, safe, and nurturing place for Jimmy and his many friends is manifest daily at BVT. Happy 20th Anniversary Breckenridge Village of Tyler! It truly is an anniversary worth celebrating.