New plans for old Bethel School

Jessica Harris plans to convert the old Bethel School property in Midland into an orphanage and emergency placement center for foster children.
Jessica Harris plans to convert the old Bethel School property in Midland into an orphanage and emergency placement center for foster children. MARCIA MORRIS

Most people look at the old Bethel School property in Midland and see the toll that years of abandonment and neglect have taken.

Jessica Harris looks at those old buildings and sees a rich history, a hopeful future and lots of promise. She has a vision of a thriving campus devoted to helping children and young adults.

Harris is the founder of Fair Havens Ministry Inc., and her goal is to turn Bethel School into an orphanage, children’s home, crisis pregnancy center, young adult transitional facility, community gathering place, fine arts and sports center and organic farm.

That’s a big challenge for a young woman who is 21 years old. But Harris says she is called to this undertaking and is in it for the long haul.

Harris came up with the idea about a year ago, and was led to Deuteronomy 30:11 in the Bible, which reads, “For what I am commanding of you today is not too difficult for you, or beyond your reach.” With that confirmation, Harris was ready to get to work.

She shared her vision with the owners of the Bethel property and worked out an arrangement to buy the old school. Harris reached out to Midland’s Mayor Kathy Kitts and sought the support of local churches, civic groups and businesses.

She talked with the Department of Social Services about the facilities needed and found that those needs aligned with the services she wants to provide.

Harris and her team of volunteers have been busy with the beginnings of the ministry’s fundraising campaign, and have sponsored a workday that drew more than 500 people who helped clean up the property. There’s been an “overpouring of support,” Harris said.

Harris signed a contract to buy the property for $200,000 and has a Buy a Brick fundraising campaign underway – donors can buy a brick in one of three walkways on the campus – that she says could net as much as $9.5 million.

Her business plan says start-up funding will come from “financial partners, lump sum donations, corporate sponsors, individual donors, religious organization, various means of fundraising activities.”

Still, some naysayers have told her that what she wants to do is impossible. Harris can tell you the exact number because she keeps a list; there are five names on it.

The two questions Harris fields the most about the feasibility of her project involve the building’s structural integrity and asbestos.

She answers with confidence, backed up by professional surveys, that the building is structurally sound, that the asbestos is contained, and that it can be removed at a reasonable cost.

Still, renovating the old buildings will be a massive and expensive undertaking. “It’s a big number,” Harris says of the more than $6 million price tag for making her vision a reality. But she’s got a plan, and it’s as detailed and thorough as that vision.

Marcia Morris is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marcia? Email her at

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For more information on Fair Havens Ministry, including upcoming events, or to learn how to help, go to its website: or visit its Facebook page.