Beth VanDerbeck, CEO of Morningstar, left, and Lisa Johnson, director of development for Morningstar, stand outside the chapel on the campus. The nonprofit children’s services center is hosting a farm-to-table dinner fundraiser Sept. 22.

Lisa Johnson walked under the archway and opened the door to the Spanish-style chapel.

“When they built this it was the welcome center for Santo Domingo State Park back in the 1930s. It was patterned after Sea Island architecture ... it was later repurposed as the chapel for Boys Estate. So the roots of this campus go back to the 1940s and 50s when Ardell Nation established Boys Estate here which was modeled after Boys Town in Indiana,” Johnson, director of development of Morningstar, said. “That’s our history.”

The roots of the Morningstar property extend back much farther, however, all the way to the early 1800s when it served as a sugar and rice plantation. While the history of the picturesque location, draped with live oaks and Spanish moss, has a rich history, it’s the future that the staff of the children’s home says is coming into focus these days.

Johnson says the location, which serves as a residential and educational center for more than 50 children, is looking for new ways to connect with the community it serves. One of the ways is by sharing more information about the programs and services it provides.

“I think there are a lot of people who ride by the gates and really don’t know who we are or what we do. But we want to open up the gates and share. Morningstar Children and Family Services provides healing and transformative teaching through residential, foster care and mental health programs,” Johnson said.

“Many people don’t realize that through our residential program, we provide a therapeutic living environment for up to 55 children with developmental disabilities, and who have mental health service needs.”

We also have representatives in the schools who help children there with mental health needs.”

Providing those services, of course, takes proper funding. While the organization receives state money as well as grants, more is always needed.

“The State of Georgia provides a little less than 80 percent of the cost of caring for our children. The gap must be raised through grants, donations, and proceeds from events such as this one,” Johnson said. “Funding is used to meet the same kinds of needs that all children have. Clothing, school supplies and recreational activities are a few examples of how funding is utilized. We also must meet the expenses of providing services. Across our three programs, we serve over 350 children and youth.”

In order to keep those services running smoothly, Johnson, along with Beth VanDerbeck, CEO of Morningstar, started looking at creative ways to generate support. The result is a new event titled Dinner Under the Stars. The inaugural farm-to-table fundraiser will be held from 6-8 p.m., Sept. 22, on the Morningstar campus, 1 Youth Estate Drive, Brunswick.

The evening will include a silent auction, a cocktail reception, live music by Suzy and the Bird Dogs as well as a dinner provided by Halyard’s Catering. It is a reservation only event, and tickets are available until Sept. 15, or until the event sells out, which is highly likely, Johnson added, considering what is being planned.

“We have a great evening planned for our guests. Pre-dinner entertainment and cocktails begin at 6 p.m. Suzy and the Bird Dogs will kick it off for us. They are a great local band with a heart for our mission. The menu for the event is spectacular. Working with many local and regional farms, the Halyards team is bringing the best that our area has to offer,” Johnson said. “Our friends at Beachview Event Rentals will be placing a beautifully lit tent on the property for dining. Tickets are $100 each. There is something about an outdoor event with great farm-to-table fare that strengthens friendships and builds camaraderie. Whether you come with friends or sit with people you’ve never met, you will leave with new friends and a renewed heart for supporting our work.”

Creating those connections and building bridges is an additional aim of the fundraiser. Johnson and VanDerbeck hope that by inviting the community on to the campus, more people will become supporters of the cause.

“It is a beautiful property, and once our guests visit, they will see how special this setting is. We can hardly contain our excitement at the prospect of opening our front gates and welcoming guests on Sept. 22,” Johnson said.

VanDerbeck agrees and hopes the evening will help lift the veil to share the light of the mission.

“Many people have said, ‘I always wondered what was behind the gates.’ What lies behind the gates of Morningstar is a sanctuary where our children find healing and hope,” she said.

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