Historic church to be home for teens

Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Ed Apida stands in front of Olive Branch Baptist Church east of Milo, where he plans to start a home for troubled teenagers. The church membership recently deeded the church and the one acre of land it stands on to Apida's non-profit New Horizons Christian School.

Dating to its organization in 1871 and construction in 1884, Olive Branch Baptist Church in southeast central Vernon County is reminiscent of old-time "dinner on the ground" church picnics and the early 20th century song "The Church in the Wildwood."

The trees are tall and the scene bucolic on Road 2525 south of E Highway between Milo and Montevallo, where 10 members voted Dec. 30 to deed the church and the one acre surrounding it to a Christian children's home.

"At our peak in the mid-1980s, our membership was in the mid-30s," said the Rev. Jim Wilson of Nevada, pastor for 30 years. "We don't have anyone who can come every Sunday, so the members thought it was a good idea to leave the building to someone who had a use for it and would take care of it.

"We have gone the way that all the out in the middle of nowhere churches go. People would rather go to one in town where they can go out to eat or whatever. It wasn't feasible to keep it open."

Wilson said Thursday night that the vote was unanimous, with one abstention, to deed the property to Ed Apida of the non-profit, non-denominational independent New Horizons Christian School, who bought and moved onto 23 acres of adjacent land a few months ago after working as assistant director of Peniel Christian School at Spring Valley, Wis.

Apida, 52, a northern Illinois native who has been a public school teacher, foster parent and youth pastor, said Friday that he hopes to get the residential boarding school open in six to nine months and eventually enroll 20 youngsters ranging in age from 11 to 17.

Planning to hire three to five staff members, Apida said he will house the girls on the hill west of the church, where he has a house and two barns, and the boys in the church building, which has four classrooms. "It's a good place for kids, out in nature and away from distractions," he said.

Apida said he will deal mostly with parents and will not take psychiatric cases. "This is going to be a home for kids in need," he said.

"We'll have Bible studies and meetings, but the main goal is not to be a traditional church but rather a program to reach people for Christ and meet practical needs. It will provide structure, teach personal responsibility, help the teens build good character traits and show that as you follow Jesus, things go much better."

Apida said the church needs plumbing, foundation repair, ceiling work, a kitchen and bunk beds. He may be reached at (815) 252-5182.

"Many teens just need a change in environment, friends or school," he said. "They may have gotten in a little trouble or are going that way. With a change in environment, they start to succeed.

"Adoptive children sometimes need to spend time away from their families to allow them and their parents to work things out. Then they can return home and have successful relationships."

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