“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
Bethesda Children’s Home was officially incorporated in 1919 as the Orphans’ Home of the Pittsburgh Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Its stated purpose was “to provide a home for orphaned, destitute, friendless, defective or delinquent children without distinction as to race, creed or condition; in which home under Christian direction and influence these children may be reared and prepared for the stern duties of life and citizenship”. Land was first given for the orphanage in 1920, on the condition that buildings for the care of these children be erected within five years. Over the years, additional property was acquired, bringing the current holdings to 360 acres.When the first superintendent was installed in 1920, there were 20 children in care; when he retired 24 years later, Bethesda was housing 125 children. Numbers steadied at about 80 during the 1940’s.
The early program at Bethesda was primarily one of custodial care, giving children food and shelter, without a great deal of attention to individual needs. A big part of the program was of a practical nature. The girls were taught housework, sewing, and domestic science, while the boys worked on the farm, in the fields, gardens, and barn. There was also an on-grounds school, which was attended by local children as well.After some management / financial problems, Bethesda closed in 1977. It was reopened in 1979, with a diagnostic and residential treatment program provided by Northern Tier Youth Services of Blossburg, PA. Northern Tier provided programs on the Bethesda campus in Meadville for six years until the Bethesda Board of Directors chose to take control of the programming once again. Since 1985, Bethesda Children’s Home has expanded into shelter care and specialized foster care. A day treatment program was started in February, 1991. This program is geared toward local at-risk youth who continue residence at home while attending school at Bethesda. In February of 1992, Bethesda added the Partial Hospitalization program which provides youth of Crawford County both psychiatric and psychological testing and counseling at our campus in Meadville. Students in the Partial Hospitalization also remain at home while in treatment.Bethesda also serves children, youth, and families in the city of Erie through the Bethesda Community Center Ð Trinity Center. The center is located on 462 West 18th Street and is considered one of the oldest neighborhood centers in Erie. It was established by Reverend Fortunato Scarpitti in 1922 and merged with Bethesda in 1996. The center’s mission is to build a drug free community by providing youth with healthy opportunities such as drug and alcohol prevention programs, after school programs, tutoring, community service, basketball, boxing, and a computer lab.
Bethesda Children’s Home/Lutheran Social Services (LSS) is an outreach of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Since our inception in 1919, we have been leading the way in providing care for children in need, and today, are recognized as one of the most prominent agencies in instituting innovative programming for emotionally and psychologically disturbed children and their families. Bethesda currently serves almost 300 Pennsylvania youth and families per day through its facilities in Crawford and Erie Counties.