/PRNewswire/ -- What began as the vision of a young man with a heart to help hurting children has become Georgia's largest single-campus home for children in crisis and a global model for children's homes. April marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the first home at Eagle Ranch, which now is able to house and serve 66 children (42 boys and 24 girls).
Many North Georgians remember the compelling story of Eagle Ranch's start. Founder Eddie Staub, a newcomer from Alabama, faced a bank's deadline to raise enough money to purchase 180 acres in southern Hall County. The last dollar for the land purchase came just three days before the deadline, inspiring a CNN television report about "the miracle on Chestnut Mountain."
Twenty-five years later, the miracles at Eagle Ranch continue. The old barn that once served as Staub's makeshift office is still standing but is now surrounded by six boys' homes, four girls' homes, an on-campus school, an administration and counseling center, a chapel, athletic center and a recently completed lodge. All of it is sheltered amid a rural pasture setting that has expanded to 270 acres. The program remains firmly centered in its focus on Christian principles and teachings.
"The theme for our 25th anniversary celebration has focused on Eagle Ranch as a 'home for new beginnings,'" Staub said. "We're thankful to have had the opportunity to sow seeds for a fresh start in the lives of hundreds of children since our inception."
The famous deadline that forced Staub to make full payment on the land set the tone for a no-debt philosophy that Eagle Ranch has maintained to this day.
"No construction or development has ever taken place at the Ranch until all funds have been secured," Staub said. "This philosophy has been a hallmark of our fiscal policy that has allowed us to avoid paying interest on debt - and invest even more in the children entrusted to our care."
The Ranch's current $3.2 million budget is supported fully by private donations and funds.
"Today's economy has challenged all charitable organizations, and we are no exception," Staub noted. "But we are continually grateful for the faithful giving of so many people. The community continues to recognize the great need of children in this region and wants to support their care and healing to create stronger future generations."
Like the growth of its facilities and campus, the Eagle Ranch mission has evolved well beyond its original focus. The Ranch initially housed and counseled boys, then opened the doors to girls in 2001. In addition, an on-campus SACS-accredited school was also established in 2001 to provide extra help to Ranch children in grades 6-9.
Along with home life and education, professional counseling remains central to the Ranch's therapeutic approach. But even this key aspect of the overall program has grown from the early years. Though the child is still the primary focus, his or her entire family is now brought into counseling sessions. Family reunification in some shape or form - whether it includes one or both of the child's natural parents, grandparents, or other legal guardians - is the end goal. The programmatic innovation of Eagle Ranch is well-recognized by childcare professionals.
"Eagle Ranch is a family of sacrificial, compassionate caregivers who model what each provider of out-of-home care for children and youth should be about - family-centered practice built on a belief that every child deserves a safe and loving home where they can thrive," said Mark Washington, Assistant Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services. "Clearly, this is a place that has the hand of God on it."
While the Ranch looks back on its history during an anniversary celebration planned later this spring, the original vision is still moving forward. Under its Wings Initiative, Eagle Ranch is now reaching out far beyond its borders to help children across the country - and even overseas.
The Wings Initiative provides guidance and training to new or existing children's homes. Wings helps start or retool existing children's homes and has given flight to dozens of programs from Oak Ranch in Sanford, North Carolina, to My Father's House in San Salvador, El Salvador.
As part of its anniversary celebration, Eagle Ranch recently published an updated commemorative edition of "On Eagle's Wings," a history of the Ranch's founding that was written in 1995 to mark the 10th anniversary. Since then, the popular book has been reprinted numerous times along with another book, "Seasons," which includes an inspiring collection of "chicken-soup" style short stories about the Ranch children.
Additional information about the Ranch, its program and an historical scrapbook can be viewed on its website, recently updated for the 25th anniversary, at EagleRanch.org.
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