it began with a "boom"
Baker Victory Services traces its history back to the 1850s when mass immigration began in the Western New York area. As the Erie Canal turned Buffalo into a prosperous "boomtown," people from all over the world came to this vibrant city on Lake Erie. This rapid growth, though, resulted in increases in crime, disease, and poverty, leading many children to be abandoned or left parentless.
As the need to house these youth grew, a two-story orphanage was built by the Catholic Diocese in what was then known as Limestone Hill, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo. Shortly after, St. John's Protectory was built to address another social concern at the time — boys "inclined to truancy or disobedience." By 1864, the problem of abandoned children was so severe that the orphanage was expanded and a massive, four-story building replaced the old structure.
Although many individuals have contributed to the growth and success of the organization that would one day become Baker Victory Services, one name stands out. Father Nelson Baker took over as superintendent in 1882. He immediately placed his own fingerprint on the institutions, removing bars from the windows of the protectory and rebuilding rooms to reflect a more home-like atmosphere. "There are no 'bad boys,'" was his response to those that worried these children would cause havoc throughout the community.
Before his death at the age of 94 in 1936, Father Baker added OLV Hospital and the Working Boys' and Girls' Homes to his lengthy list of accomplishments.
new approaches to old problems
By the 1940s, various social welfare agencies had begun to offer the same types of services pioneered by the OLV Institutions. The work done at the protectory evolved into Baker Hall, which, in 1956, was established as a residential program for adolescents with emotional and/or behavioral issues. The Infant Home continued to offer hope to abandoned infants and troubled young mothers, but a new component was added in 1956 when its doors opened to individuals with developmental disabilities and intensive medical needs.
More change came with the movement away from large, institutional environments to more home-like settings. Baker Hall residents moved into cottages that not only offered a cozier setting but a more family-oriented feel. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, more of these cottages and community-based group homes were built and/or purchased and filled to capacity.
Educational services at the organization really evolved in the 1980s. In 1981, Baker Victory High School, OLV Parish's high school closed. It was then repurposed to serve as a specialized school at which Baker Hall residents could grow educationally while still having their individual behavioral issues addressed. At about this same time, pre-school programs for children with learning disabilities debuted at the agency and New York State's call for the creation of a program that combined mental health and education specialization resulted in the opening of the Day Treatment Program.
A proactive approach to emotional and behavioral issues resulted in the opening of the Preventive Services Program in 1983. Given the goal of keeping families together via out-patient, group and family therapies, the initiative was the first of its kind in Erie County at the time of its development.
In 1988, the Day Treatment Program moved into a newly remodeled building located at 650 Ridge Road. Doing so allowed it to expand to include care of community children with mental health needs. Two years later, the Dorothy Miller home, a sanctuary for parenting teens at which they could receive educational and vocational training, was completed.
As the two organizations - the Infant Home and Baker Hall - continued to evolve, the need to consolidate them grew. In 1995, that process was formally completed when the two merged and Baker Victory Services (BVS) was born. BVS immediately became one of the region's largest human services agencies.
MEETING CHANGING NEEDS
In the years following the merger, the organization adhered to Father Baker's belief in adapting to fit the ever-changing needs of society. The Baker Victory Dental Center was opened in 1997 for agency residents, later expanding its services to care for the community-at-large. That same year, at the request of the Buffalo Public Schools, Baker Academy opened its doors to students requiring Special Education programming.
A new century, the organization's third, has featured a number of exciting changes including the Child Pro and Monarch child-care centers becoming part of BVS in 2008, the opening of the Maple Road Memory Care House (residential care for individuals with developmental disabilities as well as Alzheimer's or Dementia) in 2014 and the beginning of the Residential Treatment Facility replacement project in 2015.
Society has changed much over time, and as it has evolved, so, too, have the needs of children, adults and families. By striving to meet those ever-changing needs, Baker Victory Services continues Father Baker's legacy of caring.