‘I never thought I’d be back’

Saxton with Corey ConnellHERSEY – Everyone has a calling to serve the community in which they live. Sometimes they’re called to come back and serve again.

That goes for Chad Saxton as well.

After working 10 years at Eagle Village from 1989 to 1999, Saxton has accepted a new position at Eagle Village as director of camps.

He returns from Camp Living Water in Luther, where he served as camp director. During his five-year tenure at Camp Living Water, Saxton increased camp attendance by 59 percent. The camp that was in operation since 1967, was on the verge of closing since it did not have a camp director in the five months before Saxton’s arrival.

“It was based on serving and loving the people,” Saxton said. “I knew 90 percent of the people who were at the camp by name and people were blown away by that.”

Eagle Village President and CEO Cathey Prudhomme said Saxton possesses a quality that is irreplaceable.

“Chad has a passion for building up children and working with families that need help — a quality that is invaluable to the Eagle Village team,” Prudhomme said. “With the addition of Chad to the Eagle Village leadership team, we will continue to set the bar high for intervention and camp excellence.”

Many of Saxton’s biggest life highlights began at Eagle Village. Starting as a summer camp intern in 1988, he took a full-time position as a living house staff member after graduating from Ferris State University in 1989.

“I loved the place,” Saxton said. “I worked with kids who have been through a lot and I came from a pretty sheltered background.”

Saxton noticed a difference immediately when he took the full-time position compared to his summers as an intern.

“It was really eye-opening,” Saxton said. “I was 21 years old, just getting out of college and was assigned to be a house parent working with 12 juvenile delinquent teenagers.”

Saxton’s ultimate goal was to become an activity specialist at Eagle Village.

Already a father figure to the teenagers, Saxton had no idea his new family would come from Eagle Village as well.

“I met my wife here, Saxton said. “We worked the summer of 1989 and then worked together for several years.”

During their first few months working together, Chad and Michella, his wife had no interest in each other. Thanks to a few of his colleagues, his opinion about Michella was about to change. So did his life.

Friends at camp attempted to pair them. After a few “blind dates,” Saxton and Michella started dating.

“They just thought that we needed to be together,” Saxton said. “Friends would invite us both to dinner without telling us that the other person was coming.”

The effort worked out in the long run; the two got married in 1992.

Years later, the couple adopted three kids; two girls, Krystal, now 23, and Cara, now 15, who were both clients at Eagle Village, and their son, Brayden, 6, came to the family. Saxton said that God put it in his heart to adopt kids who needed a home.

“We saw kids here who didn’t have a place to go,” Saxton said. “We originally just got our foster parent’s license so we could serve some of the kids at Eagle Village.”

Cara was the first to be welcomed into the Saxton family, but she did not stay for long.

“We fostered her as an infant,” Saxton said. “But then a judge mandated that she returns to her biological mother.”

The Saxtons didn’t see Cara again for 14 years.

Her biological mother eventually abandoned Cara and she ended up back in foster care, 19 different foster care group homes across the country to be exact. She even went through a broken adoption.

Thinking they would never see her again, Chad and Michella received a phone call from Prudhomme with miraculous news last year.

“Cathey called me one day and said, ‘Cara is coming home and you get to adopt her,’” Chad said. “We had been praying for that girl for 14 years, never thinking that we would ever see her again, then she comes back.”

Eagle Village has played a role in the children’s lives as well. Saxton said that Krystal is following in his footsteps.

She worked for Eagle Village as kitchen staff and eventually got married at the chapel on campus. Krystal now works for Grace Adventures in Silver Lake where Saxton once held a position as a program administrator. She serves as an assistant cook.

Looking back on his choice to adopt kids, Saxton says it taught him that every kid deserves to have a home.

“My wife and I were always thinking, ‘Why do people look at adopting children from overseas when we have the need right here?’” Saxton said. “There are kids in Mecosta County who need a mom and dad.”

The Saxtons knew that Eagle Village was a special place for them in their hearts, but only looked back at the place as a memory after leaving the first time.

“When I left, I never thought that I would be back,” Saxton said. “But it has always been a special place for us.”

Upon Saxton’s return, some of the old faces at Eagle Village, such as activity director Drue Nelson, traveled back in time to recall when Saxton had hired them onto his staff.

“I was so glad he returned because he was the one who trained me,” Nelson said. “I can recall when he gave me clipboard and I was following him around.”

Nelson was excited to learn from the experience of his old boss. He was hired by Saxton in 1996 immediately after graduating from Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation.

“I was kind of pumped up,” Nelson said. “I know he’s grown from where he’s worked and I’ve grown from my position since 1996.”

Fifteen years after departing from Eagle Village and serving at different camps around the state, Saxton said it feels good to be home again.

“I love my job here,” Saxton said. “With God’s love, we can serve the kids and their families.”

Saxton looks to continue serving the youth and do whatever it takes to make sure Eagle Village is meeting the needs of the kids.

“My priority is to support Eagle Village to the best of my ability so we may further our goal on ensuring at-risk children in Michigan receive the hope and direction they need,” Saxton said.

 

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