Youth Horizons about to start on second home at boys ranch

Nearly two years after Youth Horizons completed its first house at the Kinloch Price Boys Ranch, construction on the second is about to start.

When the plan is to have four houses, it may slow progress, but Earnest Alexander, the president of Youth Horizons, has a simple explanation.

"One commitment we've made is to never borrow," Alexander said. "If we don't have the money, we don't do it."

Youth Horizons is a nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youth in mentoring programs and residential care.

The boys ranch at 11313 N. Woodlawn was possible because the land was donated by Richard and Harriet Kinloch Price. The first house was built and paid for by another donor, Hutton Construction.

There has been enough money raised now to build the second home, but that does not include the cost to furnish or staff it. The house is expected to be done by this summer.

Teaching boys, parents

Alexander and his staff have additional goals for their more than 70 acres of land.

There's a barn that a church donated to them, which is on its foundation and has electricity, but it needs new siding and running water. Alexander said it will be used for cows and chickens in the future.

He wants the property to be a full working farm where the boys can learn to raise and care for livestock.

"We want to do 4-H," Alexander said. "We think that animals are very therapeutic."

The boys who live at the ranch are there for various reasons and come from various places. Referrals come in from Youthville, Salvation Army, Wichita Children's Home, schools and churches.

Many of these boys don't have a father in their lives. Paul Comegys, the residential director, said sometimes the mother has just reached a point where she is overwhelmed and doesn't know how to reach her son.

"That's where we come in," he said, "to try to help that happen."

The Youth Horizons program and staff does that by working with the boys and their parents. They said they don't want to focus solely on the child and then send him back into the same situation he came from.

Alexander said some of these kids have never heard their parents tell them they love them.

"There's something worse than going to bed hungry," he said. "Going to bed without love and safety and assurance that you are a person of value."

All parents who have a child living at the ranch are required to attend parenting classes to give them fresh tools and ideas on how to connect with their sons. Comegys said this serves the boys, too.

"It's like driving," he said. "If you learn from a bad driver, you're going to be a bad driver."

While the parents are learning from the classes, the boys are learning by example.

Structure is not only used to keep the house organized and working efficiently, it's also used to teach the boys skills they might have not learned before. The boys are required to make their beds, do assigned chores, attend school, go to bed on time and do their laundry.

Future is motivation

The people who oversee this structured activity are the house parents, Stephanie and William Regier. They are specially trained for the job and live in the home with the boys.

Stephanie said it takes each boy some time to get used to the new rules and routines, but they come around eventually, and she can see the good it does.

She said there are still times when a boy will have a "meltdown" or forget to do his laundry, but she said forgiveness is something she and her husband stress when working with the kids.

She said when the boys understand their mistake hasn't permanently marred them or even ruined the evening, it makes them feel differently about themselves.

"It's really powerful seeing the change that makes in them," she said.

And even though there are immediate changes in the boys' behavior, that isn't what Youth Horizons is all about. There's a bigger picture.

"Our motivation is not to see fruit right now," Comegys said. "Our motivation is five or 10 years from now; that they're walking in a successful life."

As with many companies, organizations and nonprofit groups, Youth Horizons has been affected by the downturn in the economy. This year four employees were laid off and one cut back to part-time.

Alexander said many of the donations come from people who don't have a lot of money to give, and the average donation is about $30. But he doesn't spend too much time worrying about the money. He knows that the other two houses will get built, the barn will get siding and the chickens and cows will come, eventually.

"If we do the work," he said. "The money will be there."