For more than 55 years, Joy Ranch, a Christian Home for Children in Woodlawn, has provided a welcoming, safe and Christ-centered environment to meet the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of children of families in crisis.
And while that mission has not changed since the home was opened by the Rev. Richard and Mary McHenry more than half of a century ago, some of the conceptions about the facility from the public have changed. In particular, Joy Ranch’s new Director of Development Courtenay Houston wants people to know that referrals can be made by any guardian of a child in need of services and that a family’s income should not prohibit anyone from coming to Joy Ranch.
“I have started visiting churches and trying to reengage people and let them know that Joy Ranch is still going strong. Most of the people that I have spoken with do not realize that they can refer people to Joy Ranch,” Houston said. “We are supported by private, individual donations and churches sponsor us, and so we never, ever want to turn any child away that we can help.”
Perhaps the biggest myth about Joy Ranch is that it is a home for bad kids. Truth be told, if you’ve ever met a child from Joy Ranch, you’ve met a kid that is sweet and tender-hearted. Most kids at the home are unfortunately there due to family issues beyond their control.
“Joy Ranch kids are not bad children in the least. There are children who have come from families in crisis,” Houston said. “And so what we need from the community is for them to be a resource and to help kids who need Joy Ranch to get to us.”
Joy Ranch accepts children ages 5 to 18 and the facility has been able to operate so long thanks in large part to private donations and the support of the community. It also has wonderful friends and associates, such as one family who is now allowing a recent graduate of Joy Ranch stay in their home while the student attends Radford University.
“She had been with us for six years and she went to Radford. She could get financial aid for her tuition but she couldn’t for room and board,” Houston said. “And so a family that is affiliated with Joy Ranch is letting her live with them free of charge because their kids are already gone. So we are following these children, we want them to become good, productive citizens.”
She said anyone between those ages can come to Joy Ranch. And Joy Ranch is not just for local children and families. “Right now, we are working with a single dad who is from out of state and has three girls that need to come here. This dad is a hard-working man and he loves his girls, but he just can’t provide for them right now. He just need someone to step in and help him until he gets back on his feet. So, Joy Ranch is here for him and his little girls. Maybe they will stay here for a month… maybe 10 years, we don’t know how long, but we are here for that family as long as they need us,” said Houston. “Again, these are not bad kids, these are not bad parents, they are just people who have fallen into crisis and need someone’s help.”
Terry Smith, another employee of Joy Ranch, said the facility is unique from most children’s homes in that the majority of its children are not placed there by the Department of Social Services. Smith said anyone can refer a guardian to Joy Ranch, but ultimately the guardian has to place the child at Joy Ranch.
“Many people just need some additional help, so people are encouraged to say, ‘Hey, why don’t you look at Joy Ranch’s website? Why don’t you give them a call and see if there is anything they can do to assist you,’” Smith said. “And we even give out information about other places if we are not the appropriate place.”
Smith said guardians are welcome to set up an interview to talk to staff about a potential child to reside at the home, as well as other things, such as expectations from the guardian’s point of view.
“They’ll take them on a tour of the cottage, tell them what Joy Ranch expects, what our structure is for the child and that type of thing,” Smith said. “And then they can fill out the application, which gives more details about the child and their needs.”
Joy Ranch Home for Children is set up on what Houston calls a “house-parent model.” House parents are always Christian couples, husband and wife, that live in the facility with residents. House parents treat Joy Ranch’s kids like their own, Smith said.
“You talk to some of the house parents here and you will hear them say, ‘These are my kids,’ and that is how they treat them. ‘These are my children, I am going to protect them and make sure they get the best and make sure they do their homework and the whole works,’” Smith said. “They try to be a family and eat together as a family and do activities together as a family and give them that support and that encouragement and that love that a normal family would have.”
The house-parent model has worked well for Joy Ranch. The children are with a two-parent family and they each receive three meals and two snacks every day. They also go to church every Sunday. Houston mentioned a child in the seventh grade at the facility who recently made the AB honor roll for the first time in her life.
“Everybody can have a part in Joy Ranch. Not everybody can donate or wants to donate, but everybody can touch someone that could be affiliated with Joy Ranch. Maybe it’s a grandparent who is in a bridge club with another grandparent who is trying to raise their grandchildren and they just cannot do it,” Houston said. “One thing a lot of people don’t realize about Joy Ranch is that these kids go back home to visit their parents and have a relationship with them. We are constantly fostering that family model, we are constantly trying to get that family unit back together, let the parents get stronger, get that show back on the road, and then reunite them with the kids.”
Joy Ranch children are exposed to many new opportunities they’ve never had a chance to take part in before. For instance, they are able to go to the Barter Theater in Abingdon and see movies at Creekside Theatre every month at the movie theater in Mount Airy, N.C. In August, Joy Ranch kids get to stay a week at Myrtle Beach, S.C. at Garden City Chapel.
“It is a ministry down there that brings 15 different children’s homes from the east coast to the beach every summer for a week at a time and, as part of their ministry, they cover all expenses for the trip, except for food and transportation. And they send you to a minimum of three attractions, things like the aquarium and the water park,” Smith said. “They have a pizza party at the beach and they have swimming pools, volleyball and basketball courts and dorms. For many of our children, it is the first time that they have ever seen the beach.”
In the summer, the Joy Ranch children also get to go to day and overnight camps at Mountain View Bible Camp, camps in Roanoke, and another camp at the Wilds in Brevard, N.C. Since 1958, more than 5,500 children have lived at Joy Ranch. In just the last 10 years, 335 kids have lived at the home.
“I don’t think people realize how massive of a ministry Joy Ranch is and we really need community involvement and we need community referrals,” Houston said. “We always need money, but what we really want is community involvement and for people to know what goes on here. I want every Joy Ranch bed to be full and for the people who have placed their children with us to know that they are being taken care of.”
Joy Ranch is a residential program for children. Admissions are decided on a case-by case basis. Appropriateness of each child for the program is taken into consideration. Joy Ranch accepts private referrals of children in need as well as children in custody of the state for either long-term or emergency placement. For more information, call and ask for the admissions coordinator at (276) 236-5578 or make contact at firstname.lastname@example.org through email. Donations may be sent to Joy Ranch, P.O. Box 727, Hillsville, VA 24343.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN