Hillsdale College’s Blake Center for Faith and Freedom in Somers, Connecticut, has begun its academic programming that includes seminars, lectures, training sessions for K-12 teachers, and community events, according to information sent to The Connecticut Star.
Hillsdale spokeswoman Emily Stack Davis sent information about the start of the Blake Center’s spring offerings, noting that its programs “will focus on Christianity, Western Civilization, and America.”
In addition to the “seminars, luncheons, and dinners” that have already been held at the Blake Center, two seminars are planned for April 29-30 and May 20-21, and “Hillsdale professors Dr. Matthew Spalding and Dr. Khalil Habib will address the topic of ‘Religious Liberty and the American Founding,’” read the information sent by Davis.
Additionally, the Blake Center will “host community events for the towns of Somers, Connecticut, and East Longmeadow, Massachusetts,” an example being the anticipated “50th annual Somers Rotary Club Fishing Derby,” to be held at the Center later in May.
“Families will be able to enjoy the scenic grounds and fish for trout from one of the many ponds on the property,” the notice said.
The “current special use permit restrictions” require that most events held at the Blake Center are planned for less than 50 attendees, Davis’ statement reads, and adds:
And the demographics of the attendees will vary depending on the nature of the event. For example, our seminars predominantly consist of adult students. For our admissions workshops, we have had high school-age students, and our plans for student retreats will have college-age students.
So, in line with our mission statement, we endeavor to provide sound learning and improve the hearts of our students — no matter their race, sex, or national origin.
The Blake Center opened in 2020 following a gift of the centerpiece of the campus – a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello – from Prestley and Helen Blake, residents of Somers who built the estate.
Prestley Blake is a co-founder of Friendly’s restaurants, and the Blake family “has generously used its wealth to advance the causes of religious philanthropy and cultural preservation,” a Hillsdale press statement noted.
A stone barn on the property is slated to be refurbished into a chapel to be used for religious ceremonies or services in connection with Hillsdale events.
As The Connecticut Star reported in March, the Somers Zoning Commission ultimately agreed Hillsdale College is a religious institution, and that its plans for the Blake property represent religious uses by an institution that are protected by the U.S. Constitution, as well as federal and state law.
In August 2020, a piece at Connecticut Magazine wrote of a contentious debate regarding the Center’s approval and opening within the small New England town that borders Massachusetts. The article noted:
Some residents, however, applaud the approval. Resident Ryan Horn, who spoke in favor of the project at one public hearing, says he was happy Hillsdale is preserving a large piece of open space and predicted the facility would be an asset to the town. Opponents, he says, are a small but vocal minority and suggests that the school’s religious aspect may have contributed to opposition. “I feel a lot of people have come and just tried to attribute some nefarious motive,” Horn says. “To what end? What good does it do them? They are not coming here to be a bad neighbor. I think they hold Christian values as part of their makeup. That’s not necessarily a popular thing to be in the United States.”
“The Blake Center shares the mission of Hillsdale College, founded in 1844 by Free Will Baptists to provide sound learning, improve the hearts of its students, uphold the essentials of the Christian faith and religion, and perpetuate ‘the inestimable blessings resulting from the prevalence of civil and religious liberty,’” Davis told The Connecticut Star.
Labin Duke is the Blake Center’s first executive director. With his prior experience leading nonprofit, Christian organizations, Duke is guiding Hillsdale’s “religious, education, and outreach efforts,” a press statement announced.
“What attracted me to Hillsdale College was the seriousness of its commitment to the Christian faith,” Duke said in the statement. “That is rare these days. I’m excited to continue that commitment at the Blake Center.”
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]