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Twelve Decades of Devotion to Kids and Community

Celebrating 120 Years

120The Baby Fold celebrated 120 years of love, hope, and healing in 2022! From our quaint beginnings in 1902 to the thriving, multi-faceted agency of today, our founders could not have imagined the countless lives they would touch with their timeless mission to care for children in need. We invite you to keep celebrating with us! We continue to share stories and highlights from our 12 decades of devotion to kids and community on our social media and newsletters. We would not be where we are today without YOU. Thank you for being a part of our 120-year legacy and for helping to build a brighter future for our kids and community!

Twelve Decades of Devotion

tbf group tompierightThe Baby Fold was born out of one woman’s desire to care for others. Through the generous donation of her home in 1902, Nancy Mason could not have imagined all the lives she would eventually touch. The home provided shelter for her fellow Deaconesses. Identifying a community need, the women organized the home to care for an increasing number of local orphaned children. With little resources, their spirit and community support helped build The Baby Fold mission to serve vulnerable children.



Nancy Mason Opens Her Home

Nancy and Allen Mason were pioneers in Normal– moving here just after the Civil War. Nancy Mason – a faithful and generous woman – gave her home to further the work of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She opened her home to be used by the active and retired Methodist Deaconesses that operated Deaconess Hospital – now Carle BroMenn Medical Center.

A Growing Need

The local Deaconess women saw a growing need in our community – care for orphaned and abandoned children. Orphan trains dispatched from the east coast brought children to towns all across the US. At each stop the children would get off and stand on the platform while families – typically farm families – selected the children they wanted to take home. This provided homes for many older children who could help on the farm, but not for infants and toddlers. In 1905, the Deaconess Society sent a new graduate of their Training School, Nellie Randle, to Normal to get the Mason home organized as a home for young children.

Tompie Asher Takes the Helm

When Nellie Randle was hospitalized with pneumonia, the Deaconess Society sent another Deaconess, Tompie Asher, as a temporary replacement. She came to Normal in 1908 and her assignment lasted 27 years. She brought the agency through WWI and into the midst of the Great Depression. “Mother” Asher cared for orphans and toddlers with very few resources except for a spirit that would never give up and support of the community and churches. In 1910, the Board of Trustees met and decided to move to 4 lots on East Willow Street. The home was considered to be virtually in the country and had no running water, no electricity, and no access to paved roads.

The Baby Fold Develops Reputation for Adoptions

Around the turn of the century, The Baby Fold aggressively sought adoptive homes for children, particularly those who were especially vulnerable– children with special needs, minorities, and sibling groups. Adoption laws were almost nonexistent. People would simply come to The Baby Fold nursery, select a child, and take the child home.

The Hammitts Bring Change

In 1939, Reverend William and Gwendolyn Hammitt were named as Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent and they got busy making significant improvements to the agency. The first order of business was to improve the physical living areas. As soon as the building improvements were underway, they focused on hiring trained professionals to staff specific functions such as nursing and social work. Then they began working with the Illinois Governor and State Legislature to improve adoption laws.

Over the next several decades, The Baby Fold would undergo significant changes in both services and facilities. In 1966 The Baby Fold began a residential program for children with emotional and behavioral challenges. Providing special education was a natural outgrowth for children living at The Baby Fold. In 1971, Special education services were first offered through the Child Development Center, which later became Hammitt School.

The Baby Fold Enters the 21st Century

Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School (ISSCS), a well-known Normal, IL landmark, was founded in 1865 as a home and school for civil war orphans. The Baby Fold purchased and completely renovated the historical building in 1999, renaming it ‘The Family Center’ to house foster care and adoption services, family support services, clinical services and to provide a training center for staff and gymnasium and chapel for the children. In 2002, Hammitt School was expanded to the high school and junior high school levels.

Adapting to Meet Emerging Needs

In order to meet the growing community need for special education, The Baby Fold repurposed the former Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School, transforming the space back into a school once again. In the fall of 2018, Hammitt Junior/Senior High School students moved into the new space from their rented location on Towanda Avenue.

The Baby Fold serves school children outside of Hammitt Schools through the Community Schools Program. Community Schools grew from Fairview Elementary to include Cedar Ridge in 2017.

Today, The Baby Fold is a multi-faceted agency specializing in the care of children and youth with emotional and behavioral disabilities, or at risk for a variety of reasons. We focus on improving the lives of children and families by building safe, loving, healthy environments through foster care, adoption services, special education, and family and community services. We are in the ministry of transforming lives, and we never give up on a child.

April 27, 1899
Nancy A. Mason deeds her home at 309 North Street, Normal to the Methodist Episcopal Deaconess Society.

May 1, 1902
Illinois grants a charter to Mason Deaconess Home for Aged.

May, 1905
Deaconess Nellie Randle becomes The Baby Fold’s first full-time superintendent. “Harry” becomes the first child to be placed at The Baby Fold. Eleven children received care during the first year of operation as a “Baby Fold.”

March 14, 1908
Tompie Witten Asher, deaconess, is elected superintendent.

May 10, 1910
The Mason house on North Street was sold and The Baby Fold purchased a larger house at 108 E. Willow Street, allowing more children to be served.

World War I peak population finds 88 children in residence at one time.

A hospital section is added to the Willow Street facility to meet the medical needs of the children and to treat contagious diseases.

November 15, 1939
The Rev. William A. and Gwendolyn M. Hammitt begin employment as Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, bringing the staff and programs into the 20th century.

November 14, 1941 
Agency’s name officially changed to “The Baby Fold” and a new statement of purpose was formulated: “To provide Christian care and training to dependent and homeless children from birth to six years of age”.

October 17, 1952
A new nursery opens.

May 10, 1957
Services to unmarried mothers approved.

May 15, 1961
Board approves care of infants with intellectual disabilities and cottage program for emotionally disturbed preschoolers.

October 18, 1964
New residential cottage and office building are dedicated.

January 4, 1972
The Child Development Center opens in the former nursery.

July, 1979
The first Baby Fold Summer Camp is held for five days at East Bay Camp, Lake Bloomington.

February 12, 1983
The new Child Development Center is dedicated and the name is changed to Hammitt School in honor of William A. and Gwendolyn Hammitt.

August 1993
Hammitt School opens its first Challenges classroom for children with autism.

November 30 – December 4, 1994
The first Festival of Trees fundraiser is held.

January 15, 2000
Child Welfare and Family Support staff move into remodeled office space at 612 Oglesby.

May 4, 2000
Children move into the new Residential Treatment Center at 614 Oglesby.

May 5, 2002
The Baby Fold celebrated its 100th anniversary.

August 26, 2002
Hammitt High School opened successfully with 16 students.

June 1, 2002
Dale S. Strassheim was selected as the new CEO.

Healthy Start adds two components to their program to help with literacy - "Reading is Fundamental" and "First Book".

Hammitt Junior-Senior High expansion.

Started a new Community Outreach program.

The Baby Fold joins together with four other United Methodist affiliated agencies to create the Illinois Great Rivers Alliance.

A cross-department Clinical SWAT team was formed to assist with highly complex cases.

New monthly tours and new agency brochure.

Director Emeritus Group was created to provide opportunities for former Baby Fold board members to continue service as advocates.

The Baby Fold is awarded the first-ever Non-Profit Agency Excellence Award from the McLean County Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Lusk provides professional training on Trauma-Informed Treatment in Illinois and throughout the United States.

Trained and Implemented the Attachment, Regulation, and Competency (ARC) model.

August 2011
A federal grant application for installing fiber-optic broadband services was approved, The Baby Fold along with other local agencies, hospitals and schools are co-recipients of the Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network.

July 1, 2014
Dale Strassheim retires and Dianne Schultz named as new CEO.

August 2015
The Baby Fold begins its new Community School initiative with Unit 5 at Fairview Elementary School in Normal.

August 2017
A second Unit 5 Community School location at Cedar Ridge Elementary School is added to meet the needs of more students.

October 2017
The Healthy Start early intervention program expands into Champaign County.

August 2018
The Baby Fold opens a newly located and renovated Hammitt-Junior Senior High School, adding additional classrooms to serve an increasing number of special education students. 

The Baby Fold launches their Caregiver Connections Program, part of a free, statewide initiative helping children and providers in family child care, preschools, and home care settings where more attention needs to be given towards a child’s behavior or social-emotional wellbeing. 

October 2021
The Baby Fold is inducted as an Angels in Adoption Honoree, receiving a nationally recognized award celebrating the extraordinary efforts of individuals, couples, families, and organizations who work tirelessly to advocate for children in need of a family. 

June 7, 2023
Dianne Schultz retires and Clete Winkelmann is named as new CEO. 

A dozen programs in operation across Central Illinois all designed to build positive futures for children. 

Twelve Transformative Programs

tbf group tompierightA lot has changed since 1902, but one thing remains the same - The Baby Fold builds better futures for children by creating a healthy family foundation from the ground up. Our work continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of our beloved community. Our 12 programs wrap life-critical services around kids and families. Today, The Baby Fold is Central Illinois' largest child welfare agency and one of McLean County's top 25 employers, with over 250 specially-trained staff members helping families heal and grow. Every year, we put over 500,000 miles on our fleet of agency vehicles, to deliver high-quality comprehensive care directly into client homes. 



Hammitt Elementary School

hammitt Before Hammitt Elementary School was Hammitt School, it was the Child Development Center! The Child Development Center opened in The Baby Fold’s former nursery on January 4, 1972, to provide early diagnosis and an enriching curriculum for children with emotional and behavioral disorders. The Center expanded twice within seven years and in February of 1983, it was renamed as Hammitt School in honor of retired Baby Fold directors William A. and Gwendolyn Hammitt. The Baby Fold’s first classroom for children with autism opened in 1993. Today, our accredited elementary school continues to provide special education services for children from kindergarten through 5/6th grade, whose intensive needs can’t be met in special education programs in public school.

Hammitt Junior-Senior High School


As the need for intensive special education services increased in our community, The Baby Fold leased additional space in 2002 to expand Hammitt School to the high school and junior high school levels. By 2017, we had outgrown the space and began to renovate our historic building at 612 Oglesby Avenue for the new Hammitt Junior-Senior High School to increase our number of classrooms. Today, Hammitt Junior-Senior High School serves 190 students, age 12-21 from 40 surrounding school districts, providing autism services, individualized special education, crisis and therapeutic interventions, and vocational education to help children find academic and social success.

Autism Services

hammitt The Baby Fold’s autism program, serving ages 3-21, is designed to meet the needs of students with autism and/or severe communication disorders who cannot be served successfully in a less restrictive classroom setting. The program began at Hammitt School in 1993 with just one classroom. Presently the program consists of several classrooms at both the elementary and junior-senior high school levels where we deliver instruction and interventions based on each child’s developmental and sensory profile, need for specialized language and communication supports, as well as their unique emotional and social needs. Our goal is to help students gain the skills that enhance positive behaviors and independent functioning.

Community Schools 

hammitt The Baby Fold’s Community Schools Program, beginning in 2015, brings together all of the stakeholders in a child or young person’s life – school, families, and community – and provides a structure for them to create and achieve a shared vision for each child.  Oftentimes, schools are isolated and disconnected from their communities, and similarly, community-based resources have been disconnected from the students and families they are designed to serve. Social workers from The Baby Fold are embedded in Cedar Ridge and Fairview Elementary Schools to identify and support trauma-impacted children and their families, so the student can remain in their local public school.  These social workers help families and schools connect and understand each other so the child is safe and well at home and school.  As an added benefit, when students have their needs met class stress levels decrease and teachers can spend more time educating all students in the classroom.  Improvements in behavioral health and academic scores are significant.  By bringing together all the stakeholders in student success, marshaling and coordinating access to resources and supports, and expanding learning time so students can master core concepts and skills, Community Schools ensures that barriers to learning are removed and resources are maximized.

Healthy Start 

hammitt The Baby Fold’s Healthy Start Program has a proven track record for breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect. While many mothers in the program had involvement with DCFS in their childhood, 95% of those who complete Healthy Start have no further contact with DCFS. In this voluntary program, a Family Support Worker makes bi-weekly home visits during the pregnancy and weekly visits during the first nine months of the baby’s life.  A feature of the program is “mom is the child’s first teacher,” and the Support Worker brings many interactive ideas to help mom and baby relate and bond. The Support Worker becomes a trusted friend, a tie to other community resources, and a resource on so many “what do I do” concerns. Not only does the Support Worker help the mother relate to her child, but she also helps the mother build a safe and economically viable environment for her family. No other program offers weekly home visits to parents with a range of supportive, educational, and resource links as Healthy Start.

Foster Care and Adoption Through Foster Care

hammitt Children who've been removed from their homes by DCFS are referred to The Baby Fold's Foster Care programs where they are provided safe, nurturing home environments. To lessen the trauma of home removal, our relative foster care program trains, licenses, and supports a family member to provide care. If relative licensing isn’t an option, our traditional foster care program offers placement with a loving, licensed family. Our Specialized Foster Care program started in 1993, trains and develops caregivers to meet the unique needs of foster children with significant behavioral, mental, or health needs. If a child in foster care cannot return to the parents, the child’s foster family may consider adopting the child. Today, The Baby Fold continues to be a state leader in finding permanent homes for children and was honored with a U.S. Congressional “Angels in Adoption” honoree award for outstanding adoption services to children and families.

Adoption Support and Preservation

hammitt Many adopted children experience unique struggles. The Baby Fold’s Adoption Support and Preservation Program started in 1994, supports families who have adopted children under. When family challenges arise, we offer support, consultation, resources, and professional therapy at no cost to families. Families can also take advantage of services like The Baby Fold’s Camp Take-a-Break which provides respite weekends that allow parents and children time for recovery and renewal. The Adoption Support and Preservation program currently serves 290 clients from 22 counties in Illinois. The Baby Fold is committed to supporting adopted families so parents can remain committed to their children.

Intact Family Services


Our Intact Family Services program provides comprehensive case management services, advocacy, support, referrals, and education to families that are at risk of losing their children. With intensive in-home support from highly-trained specialists, the goal is to keep families intact and avoid placing children in foster homes, whenever possible. The program helps families assess their strengths and needs, set goals, identify resources, learn new skills, and change behaviors. In 2020, we collaborated with Chestnut Health Systems and added Recovery Coordinators to aid clients with substance abuse-related issues. The number of families in the program continues to grow and over 90% of families served stay together and remain intact. Intact Family Services has a 95% success rate of ending abuse and neglect. 

Camp Programs

Rob LuskThe first Baby Fold Summer Camp was held for 5 days in July of 1979 at East Bay Camp, Lake Bloomington. Now in its 44th year, Camp remains a cherished tradition for our special needs children. Students practice social skills learned during the school year, make new friends and create lasting positive memories. It’s a time of growth and renewal in the great outdoors, under the supervision of Baby Fold teacher therapists. To support families beyond the summer months, The Baby Fold also hosts camp “Take-a-Break” for children throughout the year. Started in 1994,  Camp Take-a-Break provides respite weekends for children and families receiving adoption preservation services, allowing parents and children some recovery and renewal time from the many challenges they face in life.

Caregiver Connections

Rob LuskIn the Caregiver Connections Program, early childhood development specialists from The Baby Fold staff travel to daycare centers and preschools, observe classrooms, and help the childcare providers identify and respond to children’s needs, especially emotional and behavioral struggles. One of the most effective ways to help a room full of small children is to teach the teacher how to handle their needs. Providing this support early prevents potential problems down the road. The Baby Fold’s Caregiver Connection program has doubled in size, now serving 19 counties across Illinois. With this expansion, we're able to work with a greater number of daycare providers and families to create individual plans that address the specific needs of each child. The Baby Fold helps daycare staff and families build a stable foundation early in the child’s life. By sharing our expertise with childcare providers, more children are receiving the trauma-informed care they need to heal and grow. 

Training, Consultation, and Certification

Rob Lusk

As early as 1995, The Baby Fold began offering training and consultation services to local public school districts. Today, The Baby Fold is called upon at the local, state, and national levels to bring expert instruction to those in the field of child welfare. We consult with school districts, provide in-service training, and offer specialty workshops. The Baby Fold has a long history of excellence and is a well-respected leader in the area of attachment and trauma training. With the goal of helping individuals and providers offer the highest possible level of care to children and families, The Baby Fold created a 3-year Attachment and Trauma Fellowship and Certification Program to allow therapists to achieve a prestigious credential through a structured educational experience. Additionally, Hammitt School’s ‘Grown Your Own” initiative aids Baby Fold staff in achieving special education credentials through graduate school support. 

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