Ranch for at-risk boys expanding

Ranch for at-risk boys
Ranch for at-risk boys

By Shelby Reynolds
Wichita Eagle intern
Aug. 10, 2015

The Youth Horizons boys ranch near Valley Center teaches at-risk, fatherless boys things like personal hygiene, how to care for animals, how to behave in front of a woman and how to fix coffee – once they reach 16, of course.

The nonprofit’s president, Earnest Alexander, calls each of the 12 boys at the ranch “son.”

“These are my children,” he says.

And now he will have more.

When the ranch first opened about eight years ago, the goal was to have four houses on the 80-acre property. Now, Youth Horizons is completing construction of its final two houses this fall and will be able to serve up to 32 boys in its residential program.

“We get far more referrals than we can accommodate,” Alexander said. “We thought maybe it was time to build a couple more houses.”

‘No gift’s too small’

Youth Horizons started as a faith-based residential program in the late 1980s out of a small house near downtown Wichita. But Alexander’s dream was to have the boys – ages 11 to 18 – live on a ranch.

With the help of strangers and private donors, the Klinoch Price Boys Ranch opened 20 miles north of Wichita. The second house was built two years later.

“I became convinced then that God was concerned about fatherless and at-risk children, because he made it really easy to serve them financially,” Alexander said. “If these people can step up to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars the way they have, surely they can have some emotional, spiritual investment in the boys.”

Construction on the the next two houses started in April and will be completed in November. The cost for the project was $2 million.

Through donations, Alexander said, the organization has been able to collect $1.5 million. Now the group must match a $250,000 grant from the Mabee Foundation, which is dedicated to aiding Christian religious organizations.

The deadline is the end of September, and organizers have set up a Go Fund Me account to collect online donations.

“I wish we could get some grassroots effort going where everyone can just give a little bit, so nobody is overwhelmed,” Alexander said. “No gift’s too small.”

‘Desire for change’

Each family-style group home can accommodate up to seven boys. Many of them come from fatherless homes and have battled neglect and abuse or struggled after years in the foster care system. Some are runaways.

“A lot of times someone has been in the system so long that it’s bred bitterness and discontent in their heart and a longing to be loved,” house parent Joshua Furthmeyer said.

“The one thing we do not want to be is a baby-sitting facility or a holding tank for children,” he said. “We desire for change.”

A day on the boys ranch begins at 5:30 a.m. They make their beds, shower, feed and water the goats and chickens in the barn and tend to the garden. It teaches them about personal hygiene, responsibility and compassion.

They give the animals shots, care for them when they’re sick or injured and learn how to handle the animals’ deaths.

“Sometimes we get kids in who struggle with anger and violence, and when they get the opportunity to see an animal that’s friendly and has no intentions of harming them, they build bonds with the goats,” Furthmeyer said.

During the school year, the boys take online classes 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and after completing the program – which is provided by the Valley Center school district – they earn a high school diploma. When they’re not in school, they complete local service jobs, go fishing, swim, exercise, take karate and welding classes and hang out in a three-story treehouse.

It’s a busy day, Furthmeyer said.

‘Investment in our future’

Shaun, 16, said he has been at the ranch for nine months. The average stay is about a year, but Shaun said he’s going to stick around for a while longer until his family situation is figured out.

The counselors serve as father figures, he said.

“What the Youth Horizons Klinoch Boys Ranch has done for me is taught me leadership and to be a good role model and that even if you fail, don’t get too hard on yourself,” Shaun said.

He said he’s excited more boys from the two new houses will get the same “life-changing” experience.

He’s also intrigued by the construction. If he doesn’t become a singer or dancer – he grew up taking salsa and swing dancing classes with his sister – Shaun said he’s interested in contracting or construction work.

He said he wants to design buildings.

“I’m on it,” he said of the construction on the ranch. “I’m asking (the workers) what’s next and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re putting in the fire system.’ … I’m very interested in a lot of that.”

The issue of fatherless children isn’t a new one, Alexander said, and now he’s finding mothers who don’t want to be parents, either.

“I know that a lot of people are having it hard financially, but this is one of those causes that will drag on,” he said of the ranch. “It will be here to serve future generations. It’s an investment in our future.”

When the boys greet Alexander, they get a hug, and they swap coffee stories.

“You’re doing all right, son?” he asks them.

“Thank you, son.”

“I love you, son.”

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