You know how I love stories with happy endings. There's nothing more inspiring than seeing people turning their lives around. They start out with having problems and face troubled lives and then they find people who are willing to show them how to turn their lives around.
I'm talking about "Lives Under Construction," a boys ranch in Lampe, Mo. I learned about them from a couple from our church, the Kimbles, who went into the mission field, and went to this ranch. I've supported them for years and I'll tell you why. I just received their newsletter and it's so inspiring, I want to share it with you.
The people at the ranch have done marvelous things with boys who have been labeled "hopeless" by public schools, but they brought those boys around. Here's how they do it. They have 18 students and three full time teachers and three part time teachers. These teachers are committed to making sure the boys reach their daily expectations.
Sometimes, by the time the ranch gets the boys, they are behind five grades relative to their ages. They bring them up to the right grade. The second key to their success is they don't view the boys as having disabilities. They figure out the boys' abilities and don't make their disabilities their focus. Part of their rehabilitation is teaching the boys good work habits. This carries over to good study habits. Well-balanced meals and plenty of exercise create a healthy body and brain. The boys are ready for physical and mental challenges. The fourth key is to create a learning environment that utilizes all key senses. If we see, hear, and write the same things, chances are we'll remember them better. The fifth key to success in academics is to provide consistency and accountability. For example, if one of the guys doesn't want to study, he is offered an opportunity (tongue in cheek) to cut up logs outside of school with a bow saw. After twenty minutes the boy is offered an opportunity to come back into the school. If he says "No," he gets another 40 minutes to cut up logs. They teach the boys reality. For every action there is a reaction.
All of these principles teach people how to be good parents, too. You have rules and expectations. You can be rewarded or punished. Show your children you mean business. These teachers care enough to work (tutor) beyond normal hours. Their dedication pays off. It's not just lip service and it pays.
When the boys ranch started 30 years ago, the neighbors were afraid the staff would just "babysit" the boys and not teach them how to work and be responsible. The staff proved their intentions by being good, helpful neighbors. Now they respect each other.
Do you believe that some of the public has criticized the camp for making the boys work off their consequences to atone for their mistakes? I feel the people who criticize are parents and teachers who are not doing their jobs and are rationalizing their shortcomings. They are devaluating our old virtues and teaching that these values are wrong.
Parents, are you doing the same thing? Are you taking the easy way out or are you teaching accountability and responsibility? I'm so grateful for a ranch like this! These boys will be good citizens, good neighbors, good fathers, and good husbands. They will add to our society! Would you rather send these kids to jail where it costs $45 thousand and up to keep them there? And what do they learn there? They don't get better, they get bitter. Our judicial system and our penal system need to be changed. There should be punishment, but also rehabilitation. The punishment should be losing their freedom, but that time should be used to teach them how to be productive and responsible. They need to learn to be givers. Giving is so rewarding, and we need to give these boys a chance. You'll like yourself if you do, too. Being vindictive just prolongs the problem. No, I'm not soft. I'm realistic. By punishing them I'd be hurting myself. If I stay mean and vindictive it's just going to cost me big tax dollars.
Here's a great quotation from Lives Under Construction Boys Ranch: "Cream rises to the top and the rest is pretty much cheap common water."
I think giving to this camp is an investment, not a cost or a giveaway. If you agree, you can send a donation to: Lives Under Construction Boys Ranch, 296 Boys Ranch Road, Lampe, MO 65681.
Margaret Valone is a Fredonia resident. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org