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Archives for August 2014

At-Risk Youth Heals Family Relationships

To say that Rawhide takes some of the most broken young men and families from our communities and transforms them is an understatement. Dave* had a rough upbringing. His parents moved across the country to Wisconsin when he was eight, they divorced when he was 13, and he struggled to get along with his stepfather. Everyone else in his family got along with his stepfather, even his older brother. Nobody seemed to understand why the two of them had issues. As the relationship between them grew more and more strained, Dave grew more distant.

His grades started to slip; he fell in with the wrong group of friends and made poor choices. With little support, he was expelled from high school for his poor choices. Life for Dave was starting to take a very bad turn.

After being expelled from high school, he began seeing a social worker. While he was in counseling, he continued hanging around with people who had a bad influence on him and his activities. These actions did little to convince a judge that he was going to be an upstanding citizen. He was facing time at Lincoln Hills, a juvenile detention center in Northern Wisconsin, when God intervened.

In a last-minute plea made by his social worker, he was sent to Rawhide by a court order.

Dave struggled to adjust to life at Rawhide. Compared to the life he was used to, Rawhide was very structured. Each day was planned out for him—everything from meals, to his classes, to when he went to work and when he did his chores. Even his weekends were pre-planned.

The Pain Beneath the Surface

Despite Dave’s adjustment struggles, Rawhide offered him some rewarding experiences. He liked being a part of the job-training program. This program allows students to work on the ranch in various capacities. Students rotate between working on the grounds, in the kitchen, at on-ranch auto auctions, and in the stables. The job that he enjoyed the most was working in the stables with the horses. He liked getting to know each horse and their personality; and the hard work helped him pass the time. He credits these extracurricular activities for his increased diligence while attending our Starr Academy. Once his grades started to improve, he was motivated to continue improving.

However, beneath it all, Dave didn’t believe that anyone genuinely cared about him and his life. In his past experience, he learned that those who were supposed to have his back abandoned him when things got bad. His houseparents, Roger and Pat Hermsen, sensed this, and gave him some space and time to adjust to life on the ranch.

A couple of months after he came to Rawhide, his house, the Smith Home, was taking a weeklong ski trip to Whitecap Mountain, near Ironwood, MI. Little did he realize at the time, but that trip would change his life.

The Simplest of Acts

During this retreat, his houseparents took an opportunity to simply chat with him about some of his life choices. Dave opened up during the conversation, and they asked him to pray with them. Initially, Dave bowed his head only out of respect for Roger and Pat…and that’s when things really started to change for him. This seemingly small conversation and act by his houseparents had a great effect on him. It was the first time that he felt that someone really cared about him and that he had potential. He knew that Roger and Pat had his back and would be there for him in his darkest days. But something else very positive came from that conversation…he gained an unquenchable thirst for the story of the Bible and started to spend more time reading it and studying the words. God was starting to change his hardened heart.

That week at Whitecap is what Dave credits for his turnaround. He started to rise through the ranks in his house, and because of this, he got special privileges on grounds. He applied for a position in the Vehicle Donation Program and worked with staff helping prep for the auctions. Dave was also able to roam about the grounds without constant staff supervision and recalls fondly his many adventures in the marshes on the property. He liked to go and explore the wilderness that God had provided Rawhide.

Building a Stronger Family

While Dave’s personal life was starting to improve; his home life was still on shaky ground. His Rawhide therapist helped his family out in ways for which Dave is amazingly grateful.  With the help of his therapist, Dave was able to ask his family, including his stepfather, to come to the Ranch for some family therapy. To this day, he has no idea how, but his therapist was able to expose their issues and bring the puzzle pieces of his family back together again. He credits his therapist with the building blocks that have continued to make his family bonds strong to this day.

In the last few months of his year at Rawhide, Dave petitioned his high school to revoke his suspension and let him return so he could graduate with his class. Because of the improvements he made while at Rawhide, they let him back in and he was able to graduate six months early.  After graduation, his stepfather encouraged him to apply to college, and he was accepted.

Today, the restored relationship with his mom and stepfather continues. Dave visits their home often, enjoying backyard barbecues and sending quality time with his family—quality time he credits because of how his life was forever changed at Rawhide.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Dave is just one of the many at-risk youths helped by your donations to Rawhide Boys Ranch.

Meet Kelly — Trainer Prepares At-Risk Youth for Workplaces

Rawhide prepares at-risk youth for workplaces in our Work Experience Program. This program is designed to cultivate skills and good work ethics that a young man will need when entering the workforce. Qualifying students may apply for job openings in various departments around the ranch:

  • Food service
  • Facilities – maintenance and grounds care
  • Administration
  • Stables
  • Vehicle donation program

Within the Vehicle Donation Program, a student may work in two areas:

  1. the auto shop or
  2. the office.

Students in the auto shop clean donated vehicles, such as cars, boats, and motorcycles, while students in the office learn basic office skills. And that’s where Kelly comes in.

The Process

Kelly interviews, hires, and trains qualifying students who work in the office. Before a student is considered, he must be in good standing with his group home and be on track at school. If he meets those criteria, he then must apply for the position he wants and go through the interview process. “Once I hire a student, I review his completed application with him to show him his strengths in filling out the application and where he could improve.” Kelly says, “The interview process gives the students an idea of what to expect in the future, but also gives me a feel for each student’s personality.”

 Personality Dictates Duties

The student’s personality plays into which job duties and responsibilities he can handle, and is largely dependent on his aptitude and attitude. “Sometimes a student is really good with numbers and they are naturals at filing,” Kelly says. “When a student is weak in certain areas, I work with them to improve that skill.” While filing is a large part of what students do in the office, other duties may include:

  • Filling the copiers with paper
  • Prepping donor letters
  • Washing the windows in the vehicle donations building and the visitors’ center

“It is really a learning process to determine what each student is capable of and what will benefit him the most,” Kelly says.

Watching Students Grow

Kelly enjoys seeing students grow and change. She recalls one young man who was extremely high-strung, had a hard time focusing, and exhibited behavior not suitable for an office environment. Over time, Kelly helped him adjust his behavior and focus on tasks at hand. She believes that other Vehicle Donation team members made a positive impact on him as well. He saw everyone working as a team and their professionalism rubbed off on him. “He improved a lot in the couple of months he worked here. “ Kelly says. One of Kelly’s current students admits that he really likes working in the office. “I like working with Kelly and learning skills that I can apply in a job after I leave Rawhide,” he stated. “I never considered working in an office, but this experience has taught me that maybe I could in the future.”

Learning What Fits

Sometimes a student realizes that he doesn’t like working in the office and chooses to move into one of the other Work Experience areas.  Learning what fits their individual personalities is just as important as learning new skills.  Regardless, Kelly hopes that she has made a small impact on their lives when they move on.

The Big Picture

“I hope that at the end of their time working with me they gain confidence in themselves,” Kelly says, “I want them to see that they have self-worth and realize after Rawhide they can get a job because now they have the skills to succeed in the workplace.” “This personal connection to our mission, through the Work Experience Program, keeps me grounded and reminds me daily of why we are all here…to make a difference in the lives of the guys.” Amen to that, Kelly.

As a trainer, Kelly prepares at-risk youth for workplaces and works to help transform lives of troubled youth.

Modern Day Miracle Awes Students

by Ashley Ivansek

He Had Them at Hello – Well Almost

Growing up in a troubled home and making wrong choices early in life are issues to which many of our guys can relate. Rawhide’s guest speaker, Bruce Van Natta, talked of growing up in a dysfunctional home and his subsequent challenges as our students hung on every word. He spoke their language. He “knew” them.

Bruce founded Sweet Bread Ministries and wrote a book called “Saved by Angels”, which details his near-death experience and healing process after a semi-truck cab and engine fell on him, crushing his midsection. And that is a whole other, modern day miracle which sparked audience questions on his current ability to eat spicy food and such. But more on that later.

A Heavenly Hug for a Scared 5 Year Old

Bruce told how he first experienced God’s love when he was only 5 years old. One night, while his alcoholic father was arguing with his mother and threatening to harm Bruce, he prayed for safety. From under the blankets of his childhood bed, Bruce asked God to protect and comfort him with a hug. “Suddenly, the room lit up, and I felt these warm arms wrap around me,” he explained. Bruce woke up safe and sound the next morning, feeling comforted.  His father had not touched him.

As Bruce spoke about that night of so many years ago, I looked around the room at the Rawhide guys in attendance. Most of them were sitting erect, focused intently on the speaker up front. I have it on good account that this focus is not always the case with our guys. Bruce, however, had their attention.

Wrong Turn Meets a Road Block

Despite Bruce’s experience with God’s love at age 5, he struggled to survive in an abusive home and had no healthy adult role models from which to learn. Consequently, he headed down a risky path of substance abuse and wrong choices until he experienced a life-changing event.

It Only Took a Minute

Working as a semi-truck mechanic in 2006, Bruce was about to head home one particular day when his client made one more request. “It should only take a minute,” said the client. “I need the fluids checked in just one more truck.”

“Sure thing.” Bruce lay on a mechanic’s creeper and rolled underneath the semi already perched on the client’s jack. It should only take a minute, and then he’d call it a day. Or so he thought. Suddenly, that jack gave way, bringing down the 10,000-pound truck on Bruce’s midsection like a blunt guillotine. He looked down at his abdomen and saw that his waist was crushed to about an inch of thickness. In severe pain, Bruce cried out “Lord, help me!” before he passed out.

Angels by Each Shoulder

Surprisingly, his pain subsided, and he was looking down onto the scene of the accident. He watched paramedics tend to his crushed body below and noticed two 8-foot angels on each side of him.

A medical helicopter transported Bruce to the hospital. There, doctors found broken ribs, 5 severed main arteries, plus a crushed pancreas and spleen. Given his injuries, doctors doubted Bruce would live through the next few hours. It was a miracle he hadn’t bled to death moments after the accident.

The Long and the Short of It

After several surgeries, Bruce’s small intestine measured only three feet long—four feet short of what a body needs to survive. While the average human small intestine measures about 23 feet, the body needs at least seven feet to absorb vitamins and minerals; otherwise the body will slowly starve. Consequently, Bruce started to lose weight rapidly. His body was starving.

As God would have it, a man whom Bruce met on vacation visited him in the hospital. This visitor was a minister, and upon hearing of Bruce’s internal condition, he prayed for God to heal the intestine so that Bruce may live. Miraculously, Bruce recovered from his medical issues and was eventually released from the hospital. His small intestine had grown from three to nine feet. Doctors were stumped and could offer no explanation other than a modern day miracle.

Sweet Bread Ministries Is Born

Several years after his accident, Bruce and his wife formed Sweet Bread Ministries. Since then, they have traveled around the globe with their family to help heal others in need, including the guys at Rawhide.

To read more about our work with at-risk youth in our residential care program and articles like this modern day miracle, subscribe to our monthly eNews.


Dudley: Rescued Pony Warms Hearts in Equine Therapy

It’s no surprise that animals can touch our hearts with their gentle demeanor and the unconditional love they offer. That’s why it’s hard for any animal lover to imagine how someone could abandon an animal without food or water. Yet, this is exactly how one of our horses was found. Little did he know, a life filled with love and purpose awaited him at Rawhide.

Deplorable Conditions

About three years ago, a miniature pony was found tied behind the garage of an abandoned house with no food and only green water left in his tank. He struggled to reach for grass around him, as he had only five feet of chain attaching him to the garage. Gretchen, from our Equine Therapy program, was contacted as soon as the pony was found and was asked if she would take him in.

“He was in pretty poor condition. He was extremely thin and very shy. I couldn’t blame him for being skiddish,” explained Gretchen.

Dudley is Done Right By

Gretchen took this pony home and named him Dudley—as in Dudley Do-right because she wanted to do right by this little horse. She loaded him into the back of a pick-up truck and took him to her home where she nursed him back to health. Dudley suffered quite a few injuries from the abandonment and needed extensive care. His teeth and feet were in rough shape, and his neck was rubbed raw by his harness because of trying to reach the grass for food. His recovery was slow, but he was improving thankfully.

A Forever Home

One day during Dudley’s recovery, he was introduced to our Therapy Clinic Administrator, who fell head over heels for him. Dudley took to her as well, and the two instantly bonded.  Dudley was then donated to Rawhide and began his new life.

Dudley fully recovered about a year and a half after our Equestrian Center (Rawhide Equine Assisted Program) became his forever home. He fits in well at Rawhide with the other animals in the barn living a comfortable and happy life. “It’s almost like he knows he’ll never have to go back to that,” explained Gretchen.

Dudley Joins Equine Therapy Program

Our R.E.A.P Program provides therapy to at-risk youth with the help of animals. In this program, students are paired up with a horse to work together through various therapeutic activities. These activities help them work on issues such as:

  • Anger Management
  • Faulty Thinking
  • Relationship Building
  • Boundaries

Dudley works well in our R.E.A.P Program because his shy personality teaches our clients how to build trust and set boundaries. “He is really good for the guys because he needs to build trust with them, so he can see that it’s ok to go by them,” explained Gretchen. “Once that trust is made he is very attuned to who they are and eager to work with them.”

Dudley has warmed our hearts and manages to wiggle into the hearts of our equine therapy clients as well.