Whether big or small, gestures of kindness always result in something good. When someone does something nice for you, something you didn’t ask for and maybe don’t deserve, it may bring a smile to your face, brighten your day . . . or change your life. After living in Texas for 27 years, Norman Atchison decided to return to his roots in rural northwest New Mexico. He and his family came back to the very place where Norman received a remarkable gift, a place where he spent almost his entire childhood – Manuelito Navajo Children’s Home.
What began as a preaching mission to the Navajo over fifty years ago quickly found its missionaries caring for children whose parents could no longer support them. When Norman was sixteen months old, his parents found themselves unable to provide for their family and took their children to the Home. At the time, in the early 1960s, the mission was relocated from its original site in Manuelito, NM to its current location 2.5 miles west of Gallup. Within the first ten years, cottages were built to accommodate children and their house-parents, and an administration building and gymnasium were also erected. In its early years, MNCH cared for as many as 70 children at a time.
Norman remembers his youth fondly. His house-parents were L.D. and Norine Atchison, who gave over 25 years of their lives to the Home, caring for and loving many children as their own. Now, Norman and his wife, Cathy, are devoted to providing the same support and affection to the children who live in their home on campus. They are one of two sets of house-parents who care for children full-time. Ranging in age from 3 to 16, the six children under the Atchisons’ care live as a family, complete with chores and the freedom to decorate their bedrooms. Having experienced first-hand what life is like for the children, Norman knows the importance of helping them to understand that they’re not alone. “We try to give them hope for a better life,” he says.
Because of more stringent state regulations, Manuelito Children’s Home can now care for up to 24 children in three residential cottages. So while the focus on supporting the children under their care remains, the Home also runs Gallup Christian School on its campus. In 1982 the Gallup Church of Christ established the school and housed it in the church building. In 1997, the school was relocated to the MNCH campus. The school offers faith-based instruction to its 55 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. The staff at the Home is equally involved with the school. Jim Christian, executive director of MNCH, also serves as the school’s principal. And, in addition to being a house-parent, Norman also coaches basketball and teaches art and P.E. at the school.
Since the beginning, MNCH has relied solely on private donations from churches, businesses and individuals to stay in operation. They also accept non-monetary donations, such as food, clothing, furniture, electronics and school supplies. The Home has maintained relationships, through the Church of Christ, with groups all over the country who have come year after year to paint, fix roofs, and do yard work. This summer about a dozen mission groups will come to help with maintenance on campus and run a vacation Bible school program.
In July, MNCH and Gallup Christian School look forward to their biggest local fundraiser, the 18th Annual Wild Thing Bull Riding event. For many years, staff, students and volunteers have handled parking and concession at the two-night event, raising thousands of dollars for the everyday operation of the Home and school throughout the rest of the year. The bull-riding event has become known as one of the greatest shows in the Southwest and has continued to grow year after year. Come to Wild Thing performances at 8pm on Friday, July 8 and Saturday, July 9 at Red Rock Park. Not only will you get to enjoy a night of music, fireworks, and non-stop action, you’ll be helping to support a great cause!
For over fifty years, the people at Manuelito Navajo Children’s Home have been making a difference in the lives of the children who are left in their care. Norman Atchison is proof that the love and generosity shown at MNCH are the gifts that keep giving. “I just want to give back what was given to me,” he says gratefully.