An interview with Jason
“What is the best thing about the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches?”
One of our children at the Ranch (whom we lovingly refer to as Ranchers) sits calmly across from me. He doesn’t miss a beat.
“My parents,” he smiles.
“Do you mean your houseparents?” I clarify, not knowing that his biological parents are deceased.
“Um yeah,” he stares back at me, as if I should have known that for Ranchers, houseparents are never simply staff members. “Of course. The best thing here is having a home and a family.”
For foster children who call the Ranch home, houseparents become much more than care providers. Because many Ranchers reside at the Ranch for years, their houseparents hold a special place in their hearts and lives. They feel like family.
*Jason’s experience is exactly what the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches offer to all Ranchers: a loving, supportive, safe, and healthy place to call home.
A troubled past
When Jason arrived at the Ranch a few years ago after bouncing from home to home in foster care, he was not the same young man he is today. He wept through his entire intake interview during the admissions process at the Ranch, overcome with fear. This now 4.0 high achiever, involved in FBLA, theatre, and choir at school, had been severely abused or neglected by his biological family.
Prior to Ranch placement, Jason’s life was in constant flux.
“When I was seven, my parents split up. I stayed with my dad because my mom wanted to be with her boyfriend. Everything was fine,” Jason reminisces.
However, one morning Jason woke up to a house full of people crying and mourning. His father was killed in a vehicular accident.
“I was hurt and sad. I didn’t know what was really going on at that age. But I knew my dad was gone, and I knew life wasn’t going to be the same,” he recants.
He was right. After moving in with his biological mother and boyfriend, Jason began witnessing the boyfriend beating his mother, often belittling her—and her children, including Jason. In addition, Jason’s mother and boyfriend began manufacturing methamphetamine.
“Once drugs took over, we didn’t have food. Roaches crawled everywhere. We couldn’t wash clothes and didn’t have a car,” Jason remembers.
The beauty of Ranch life
After several years of living in these conditions, the Department of Human Services gained custody of Jason and his siblings. Jason’s mother died from unknown causes a few years later.
Jason’s story represents the gut-wrenching reality—and beauty—of Ranch life. Many Ranchers arrive full of fear, anger, and unprocessed trauma. Like Jason, they’ve witnessed addiction. They’ve lived in the throes of domestic violence, inhabitable housing conditions, and even homelessness. They have acquired survival skills but have never learned to set boundaries, expect reasonable treatment from others, or process emotions fully or healthfully. Many have never slept soundly in secure, clean homes.
But the beauty of becoming a Rancher is the becoming: healing from the past and transforming into a healthy, happy individual. Ranchers receive therapy and emotional support from staff. They live in the same family-style foster care home as their siblings. Tutors provide academic assistance each afternoon, and during the summers, Ranchers participate in engaging, educational programs when they’re not enjoying the nearly 600-acre Ranch. Ranchers learn to embrace the moment, no longer afraid of constant chaos or continually haunted by the traumatic past. Ranchers discover true personal fulfillment as they find serenity and hope.
Jason isn’t finished growing or transforming. He plans to attend college after high school graduation.
“I want to be a teacher. 10 years from now, I think I’ll be a teacher at a school like Batesville and have a house,” Jason asserts confidently.
I have no doubt he will accomplish all these things while becoming the best version of himself.
Help Ranchers, including Jason, to become healthy, happy, and whole by supporting the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches as a Hope Builder.
*Jason’s name and details of his personal story have been changed for privacy purposes.