The Voice: Winter 2001
Groens' Ranch opens its doors to young teen boys
by Sonya Jongsma Knauss
When Del and Gwen Groen (' 69,'72) were first married, they had six foster boys living with them and also worked as house parents at a home for delinquent boys. Now that their four children have grown up and moved out of the house, they've come full circle. They recently purchased and refinished Redeemer Ranch, a boarding school/home away from home for boys aged ten to fifteen.
We talked about doing something like this quite a bit in the last few years, but we didn't think we'd do it right away, Gwen says. When the opportunity came up, we felt the Lord just put it in front of us. We couldn't stop thinking about it.
The Groens sold their home and the rental property they owned to purchase the ranch, which consists of two large log ranch houses, each with the capacity for fifteen beds. It is located in Colorado, in a high alpine valley between the ranges of the Rocky Mountains, eight miles from the nearest town. It includes a large gym and a great-room with space for learning and fellowship.
They purchased the property in March 1999 and moved on-site in October 1999. They currently are operating one home and plan to remodel the other before they use it. Since opening, they have had five to eight students, and currently the two of them are the only staff.
Running the ranch is a big job, but they both have backgrounds that prepared them well for the work. To start the ranch, they quit their professional careers Gwen worked as a nurse and Del was a regional director for the Association of Christian Schools International, after holding previous jobs as a teacher and principal.
The mentoring aspect of the work is what drew Del and Gwen to starting a ranch for boys.
We want to promote a change of heart through an environment which is rich in biblical truth, Del says. The curriculum includes daily Bible study, and they pray before and after each meal, following each meal with a devotional. They attend Alamosa Christian Reformed Church, a forty-five minute drive away.
The daily schedule at the ranch starts with physical fitness from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they speed- walk or run four miles, and on Tuesday and Thursday they do wind sprints.
After physical education, the boys shower, clean their rooms, eat breakfast, and do daily housekeeping chores. Chores are followed by school. They use computers for most things in the classrooms, since typing helps keep hyperactive hands busy. Motivated students also have the option of advancing more quickly in their lessons, rather than getting into mischief while they wait for the others to catch up. As teacher, Del spends much of his instructional time doing focused tutoring. Much of Gwen's time is consumed with preparing meals and keep things clean.
After the school day they go to the gym/shop where they do physical work for two hours. This includes auto repair, woodworking, electrical wiring, plumbing, landscaping, painting, and whatever else is productive.
We're serious about inculcating a work ethic and helping students find areas of interest and ability, Del says. After work, they go back to the house, have supper, and relax for the evening. They're allowed to watch some TV, as long as it doesn't undermine the objectives of Redeemer Ranch.
Our goal here is that the Lord would get a hold of these boys, Del says. We really would like to see their thinking changed by the renewing of their minds, he says, referring to the ranch's theme verse of Romans 12:2.
We spend a lot of time examining ideas and worldviews, and one of the things that's interesting is that the boys quite accurately reflect the culture promoted by advertising, Del observes. If you look at the ads, they tell you: you're the center of the universe, the world revolves around you, and if you want it, you should get it you owe it to yourself.
As they have outlined on their website at www.redeemerranch.org, the Groens want to build on the boys' strengths and wholesome interests; provide spiritual and social counseling, discipline, and nurturing; challenge unwholesome focus or behavior; identify academic needs; and provide individualized instruction using a combination of classroom instruction, computerized instruction, and personal tutoring.
We've struggled with what approach to take with new students. Should we start students with all the privileges, then lose privileges if they demonstrate that they lack the responsibility? Or should we start with no privileges and have the students demonstrate ability to handle privileges before extending them? asked Del.
They started with the first approach, but had to rethink it after one of their students took off with their car, not returning until the next day. Now they use a level system, granting the boys more responsibility and freedom as they prove worthy of it.
It's difficult to maintain a balance, avoiding behaviorism on the one hand and providing an orderly and constructive environment for growth on the other, Del says. The boys aren't all bad, but a lot of the standard inhibitions many people have about wrongdoing a lot of those are absent.
He says it's an art form to determine how much trust is productive and how much is naïve.
While on-site education has many advantages the boys are always under their watchful eyes, and they provide a consistent environment the Groens have a constant demand on their time and energy. They live at the ranch and are basically on the job every hour of every day. They have been thankful for volunteer groups that have come out to help them with renovation projects, and they are planning to add staff in the coming year either house parents or educational staff.
Gwen says volunteers are always welcome, and they have lodging available.
Some of the challenges they have faced as a new boarding school include where they should recruit students and how to effectively screen applicants so they enroll those who would benefit from their services.
They set goals with the boys and their parents, arranging reconciliation and restitution with local businesses if a boy steals something while with them in town, helping the boys get along, reconciling them with their parents, cooperating with probation officers, supervising community service, and trying to lead a balanced life.
The most rewarding aspect of the work is changed lives, Gwen says. Sometimes we have to settle for evidence of growth an appreciative call from a parent during a home visit or someone remarking on progress which seemed slow when we observed it from week-to-week, but cumulatively was significant.
The Groens say they have been humbled by their dependence on support from the larger Christian community, and that they have learned much about faith and prayer. They are thankful for groups and individuals who have helped them with things like delivering materials, designing and building an attractive sign, preparing casseroles, painting, installing a security system, helping with mailings, providing a tractor, equipping the kitchen, and providing a new chest freezer and other gifts.
Future projects for the ranch include repairing the solar heating system, installing a new driveway, re-roofing three buildings, pouring concrete at the shop vehicle door, remodeling the bath house for RV visitors, repainting and re-carpeting the second ranch house, dismantling, moving, and reassembling the walk-in cooler/freezer.
To find out more information about the ranch or volunteer opportunities, you can reach Del and Gwen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (719) 754-0559.