Monday, October 14, 2013

Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails...

Supposedly, these are the things of which little boys are made. Having been an only child and a mom to two little girls, I could never speak from experience on this. In my short time as a house mom to a bunch of boys, I'd have to say this is true, but limiting. Endlessly amused by bodily functions (namely flatulence) needs to be added to the list somehow. There is a lot I'm learning about guys right now. It's fun and interesting to see what interests them, how they process things, how they resolve conflict, how they relate...and how different all of that is from girls! No doubt about it, God made males and females differently. Not wrong, just different...
As I mentioned before, we have 6 boys. Two are in middle school and 4 in high school. Most of them have been here awhile - long enough to know the rules and how things work here. Our newest one has been here for almost 6 weeks and our "oldest" one has been here for 4 years. Overall, things are pretty mellow in our home because they have been here for awhile.
Our first weekend on duty by ourselves was September 28 and 29. It wasn't a home visit weekend, so we had all 6 boys. We saw an ad for the Shockley Old Timey Days, a display of farming in the "old days." We got to see blacksmithing demonstrations, horse-drawn plowing, and other old time displays. It was a pretty uneventful trip, which was good considering it was our first time taking them out anywhere.
The next weekend (October 5-6) was a home visit weekend, so 2 of our kids went home for the whole weekend and one went for a day visit on Saturday. When it comes to planning activities/outings for the boys, it's usually up to us as the house parents. But sometimes, events come up that the whole ministry attends. It may be a fundraiser, a church visit, or a community event but we are encouraged to go so people can put faces with the Joy Ranch name. This past weekend was one of those events: the Pulaski Tractor Parade. This is country. Our neck of the woods is definitely out in the country - and I mean *country.* Pretty much the only radio stations that come in around here are Christian, country or bluegrass. This area has a section known as The Crooked Road which is, I think, a long stretch of road that you can travel to find numerous bluegrass festivals and concerts. (The jury's still out on how I feel about bluegrass. I'll save that for another blog post, perhaps.) And I think Jason and I might be some of the only ones in our house without a pair of cowboy boots. (I wonder if I could ever convince Jason to wear a pair...I can't see it, but you never know, right?) So, I hope you get what I mean when I say we're in the country. And the local culture around here reflects that, for sure. Hence, the Tractor Parade.
It's just like it sounds - a parade of tractors. And the Joy Ranch kids ride a wagon in it. It's about a 2 hour ride and they get to snack on donuts and visit with each other. This particular Saturday, however, was a 'chilly' 85 degrees and it made for a long ride. (Jason is now, quite literally, a redneck.) After the parade, everyone comes back to Thornspring Pastures for their Farm Fest. Despite the heat (hey, I'm a Yankee - gimme a break!) it was a fun day. We had lunch there, walked through the corn maze, listened to bluegrass music, bounced on the pillow trampoline and just had fun together. It was a good way to spend a sunny Saturday!
That evening was spent playing video games. If you can believe it, Jason bought a Batman game for the PlayStation. The guys stayed up late playing that - and Jason *may or may not* have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning playing after they went to bed. Video games are just another thing I don't think I understand...Oh, well.
This past weekend with the boys was jam packed! We got up first thing on Saturday and all but 2 of them played in the 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament fundraiser for the Ranch. I took the other two birthday shopping, as one of them turned 16 on Friday and the other was turning 16 on Sunday. We had fun picking out what they wanted to buy with their birthday money. When we got home, we met up with the others, ate a quick lunch and then they headed to a car show in North Carolina. I was hoping to go, but one of our boys had to stay back and I had 2 sick kiddos, so that settled that. That evening, Jason took the boys out for Mexican food while I took care of our sick little girls. Sunday was just as busy. The ministry went on a church visit to a little church in Mouth of Wilson, Va, followed by lunch. Since that took up most of the day, we let our birthday boy pick the rest of the day's activities. He is a huge super hero/fantasy fan - so much to Jason's delight, he wanted to watch the Batman trilogy. That was interrupted long enough for a pizza party at dinner and then they were back at it. We topped the day off with homemade ice cream cake (our second in 2 days, since both birthday boys requested it!) And then they went to bed, but not without several of them telling us they love us and would miss us on our day off. Melt my heart...
One interesting thing that our director pointed out this weekend was that these two birthday boys represent our "newest" and "oldest." Friday's birthday boy is our newest resident, who came here just a few days before we did. Our other birthday boy has been here for just over 4 years. That's 4 birthdays he has celebrated here, with probably 4 more to go and he ages out of the program (more if he does the transitional living program.) One thing I want to do in our home is make the days special - birthdays, holidays and even just random ordinary days. While so many other people get to celebrate these days with family and friends, our boys are in a children's home. And while they are, I want to make it as enjoyable for them as I can. I want them to have fond memories. We don't get into extravagant decorations or parties or things, but we do want to send the message loud and clear that they are special, they are loved. Not only by us, but by the God who made them and knows every little detail about them. Based on comments the birthday boys made this weekend, I think they are getting that message.
So, there you have our first three weekends with the boys. I wish I didn't have to cover so much time in one blog entry. They do so many funny or crazy things and I think "I need to put that in the blog!" In fact, one of them will ask every time he does something funny "Is that going in your blog?" But by the time I sit down to type, there's so much to cover. They keep us laughing - and sometimes crying or pulling our hair out. But we sure do love them more than we can even explain. And we wouldn't want to be anywhere else than here with these guys!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Welcome to Joy Ranch!

Let me take a moment to explain a little bit about Joy Ranch here, before we jump into the day-to-day life. You already know we're working at a children's home and you may have an idea about what that means, but I want to share with you about Joy Ranch in more detail.

First, their website is: and I would encourage you to spend some time checking it out and watching the videos. Most of what you’ll find here is taken from the website. Joy Ranch exists “to provide a welcoming, safe, caring and Christ-centered environment to meet the spiritual, physical, emotional and social needs of children and their families in crisis.”

The vision for Joy Ranch began over 50 years ago with Reverend Richard McHenry and his wife, Mary. They received a letter regarding a troubled young boy without a permanent home. They were asked to take this boy to their Bible camp. They immediately agreed and saw the boy thrive. Soon, they saw a more urgent need to find the boy a home. Thus, Joy Ranch was born. The McHenry’s stepped out in faith and trusted the Lord to provide the means for a children’s home. And provide He did! Today, we have 5 cottages on 62 acres of land and have served over 5000 children in need. Our director today has a deep desire to create a culture of excellence, a concentration on ministry and a commitment to team work. And that is exactly what you’ll find here!

We provide short-term and long-term housing to children in crisis. Some are privately placed and others are placed by the department of social services. Some have parents who are incarcerated, hospitalized or have passed away. Some have parents who are involved but can’t take care of them. Others have family members who have stepped in the gap. We have a boys’ home and a girls’ home as well as a transitional living program. We take children ages 5-17, though currently the majority of our kids are in their teens. Each home can house up to 8 children and a set of house parents.

Miller cottage is our home. We have 6 boys right now, ages 12-16. As their house parents, we are in the home all the time with them. We fix their meals, do shopping for the home, take them to appointments, take them on outings, etc…We are “on duty” 5 days (24 hours) and “off” for 2. During our off days, the relief house parents come in and do the things we typically do the rest of the week. They have their own bedroom in the house for when they are on duty. We have our own apartment…technically two – we sleep in a small upstairs apartment during our “on duty” days so that we can be close by and hear if someone is sick or playing PlayStation in the middle of the night or things like that. When we’re off, we stay in our downstairs apartment, which is much more like your average apartment. We’re pretty content with both spaces. Regardless of whether we’re upstairs or down, we have plenty of room and nice comfy beds on which to sleep. And the girls have special “upstairs toys” and “downstairs toys” to help them with transitions. Now, to work on getting me some special “upstairs toys” and “downstairs toys” … :-)

A typical day means waking up at 6am to get the guys breakfast. They get up between 6:15 and 6:30, get ready, eat and head off to school. During their school day, we have some down time, but each day is different. Provided no one is sick, suspended from school or having to be run to an appointment, we can use that downtime how we choose. We do have paperwork and meal prep to be done as well as the weekly grocery shopping. There are always things that pop up, so we’ve learned already not to count on having “free time” every day while the kids are at school. And that’s ok with us – part of the territory. When the day is free, however, we take the girls to the library or the playground or the pool at the wellness center (where the ministry has a membership.) The first round of boys get home at 2:50 and they have free time until the second round gets off the bus at 4/4:15. They all have an afternoon snack and some free time before jumping into chores and study hall. Then it’s dinner, evening chores and an evening activity. Usually that’s something like going to the wellness center to play ball, playing video games, watching a movie, going out, special events, etc…Then it’s time for showers and bed. After they go to bed, it’s time for Jason and me to wrap up the day’s paperwork and get prepped for the morning before going to bed ourselves. It is a full day – and no two days look the same. You never know what’s going to pop up! Nonetheless, we love it. And we are eager to get to know our boys better and just experience life with them. So there you have it - this is what Joy Ranch is all about. Next up, meeting the boys and seeing the wonderful chaos that is life with them.