It was 20 years ago when a young college student named Trey Oakley needed a part-time job to impress his future father-in-law. He applied to work as a part-time librarian at the Methodist Children’s Home in Waco, a child care ministry founded in 1890.
On July 1, Oakley will become the 11th president and CEO of the home and the social services it represents in Texas and New Mexico. He will take over from Tim Brown, who announced his retirement in January after 10 years as president and 36 years with the organization. Generations of Waco residents know of the Methodist Home, and its influence spreads beyond the campus on Herring Avenue, near Cameron Park.
It operates a Boys Ranch, a charter school and a new family outreach center at Fifth Street and Waco Drive. A $26 million capital improvements campaign includes 11 new cottages being built on the grounds. Almost 30 young people who have spent their formative years as Methodist Home residents will graduate high school Friday. They will receive $400,000 in scholarships and tuition assistance to pursue college degrees or vocational training.
“The Methodist Home started as an orphanage,” Oakley said. “There were no families or parents. We have evolved to serving kids of all different backgrounds, from all walks of life. We know it’s a challenging time to be growing up, and it’s not getting easier. We try to apply a spiritual component to finding ways to meet the needs of children, youth and families.”
Oakley, 45, lives in China Spring with his wife, Karen, and their two children, Abby and Brady.
Methodist Children’s Home has an endowment of more than $450 million and relies heavily on individual donations.
“Our long-term success is a credit to the donors,” Oakley said. “Less than 5% of our overall budget, which is $27 million annually, comes from state or federal funds, and less than 1% comes from the families we serve. We provide the highest level of care regardless of a family’s ability to pay or not to pay. One thing we take very seriously is good stewardship. The gifts we receive from individuals, we put them back into our programs to ensure our ministry for years to come. The permanent endowment gives us stability.”
Oakley transitions to the presidency after being directly involved in fundraising since 2001, when he joined the organization’s development department. He became vice president for development in 2006.
“I’ve had the opportunity to serve under three great presidents: Jack Kyle Daniels, Bobby Gilliam and now Tim Brown,” Oakley said. “What I find is that the mission of the Methodist Children’s Home these 129-plus years makes it something people want to support. Many times my role here has been matching up opportunities with resources. I don’t want to make it sound easy, but the mission here inspires donors to be extremely generous.”
He said congregations often designate money for Methodist Children’s Home, and it is not unusual to receive gifts from estates. He said the home recently received a $5 million gift from an individual whom he did not name.
Daniels is the only former resident of Methodist Home to become president, having moved there as a 2-year-old in 1937 with six siblings.
“In our national search we encountered many talented candidates seeking the position of president/CEO at MCH,” board Chairman Hank Coleman wrote in the press release. “Trey was our choice because of his experiences, passion for the mission at MCH and relationships with supporters, churches, staff and those we serve.
“We are excited about his vision for continuing the great work of our ministry and are ready to partner with him in fulfilling our mission to the children, youth and families in communities throughout Texas and New Mexico.”
Oakley’s educational background includes receiving a bachelor’s degree in Christian studies from Howard Payne University, a master’s degree in philanthropy and development from Saint Mary’s University and a master’s degree in Christian ministry from Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary.
Oakley said he will continue to carry out the home’s strategic plan when he takes over as president. A major component of the plan is new cottages, which replace houses built in the 1940s and 1950s. The homes will accommodate up to 10 young people, each with a separate bedroom and bathroom, and provide space for live-in house parents.
Features include LED lighting and large porches for gatherings. Oakley said the home partners with the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University to learn about best practices in creating a nurturing, secure atmosphere. This can include little things such as having healthy snacks or warm baked goods available to youngsters after school.
“We’re sending a message that this is home,” Oakley said.
The ministry typically has 100 residents living at the home at any time, though it provides outreach services to thousands. It receives voluntary referrals from agencies and individuals statewide, Oakley said.