Family Trees

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Photography courtesy of Bethesda Academy

Bethesda Academy helps young men realize their potential

Not far from Wormsloe Historic Site sits an equally historic spot, with similar visual cues: an arched gate, and ancient, mossy oak trees flanking either side of the road. Behind the gate sits Bethesda Academy, a private boarding and day school for sixth through 12th grade boys founded in 1740. Nearly three centuries later, Bethesda continues to honor its founding commitment to educate and inspire young men.

The school’s founder, George Whitefield, was a famous Great Awakening-era minister who came to Georgia on a mission to set up a school for Native Americans. However, when he arrived in Savannah, those plans changed. He was shocked to find children running the streets, many of whom had lost their parents to disease. Because he’d also lost his parents at a young age, Whitefield understood what life was like for them. In 1740, he opened the Bethesda Orphan House and Academy. From that point on, Whitefield lived, preached and fundraised for Bethesda, hoping to one day add a college to the campus.

Bethesda students in front of The Whitefield Chapel in 1941

Bethesda began operating strictly as a school in 1992, and though it no longer houses orphans, the Academy still puts Savannah’s children first. Its mission — to prepare tomorrow’s leaders and entrepreneurs by inspiring young men to discover their academic, social and spiritual potential — echoes Whitefield’s rousing sermons.

“What we’re doing here is changing family trees,” says John Reddan, Bethesda’s director of institutional advancement. “Seventy-five percent of our kids have one adult in their lives, and often that’s a non-parent.”

Without advantages that others take for granted, these kids are at greater risk of falling through the cracks in traditional schools. But Bethesda’s family-like atmosphere provides the support network that its students need to succeed. Eighty-five percent of Bethesda graduates go to college, 10 percent into the workforce and five percent to the military, Reddan says. Many continue to give back to the school long after they’ve graduated.

Two great examples of this are Kevin and Kim Iocovozzi, twin brothers who were adopted in 1956 at six months old from the Bethesda-Savannah Children’s Center.

“Our parents never kept our adoption a secret,” Kim says. “They always made sure we knew where we came from.” To wit, long after they were adopted, the brothers rode their bicycles to Bethesda to play with the other boys as children. The brothers raised their own families in Savannah, and both still maintain close ties to the school. Kevin is a member of the Oglethorpe Driving Club, which hosts its annual Cars on the Burn event to benefit  Bethesda Academy, while Kim contributes more directly: he’s on the Academy’s Board of Governors and fundraises year-round.

Nurturing children who ultimately go on to give back is a tradition that’s endured for nearly three centuries. As the school enters its 280th year, each generation, it seems, has happily inherited a sense of allegiance to the school that shaped them.