In the last 18 months, 14 of the boys who live at the Goshen Valley Boys Ranch in Waleska have been adopted. That alone is a remarkable statistic.
What may be more noteworthy, however, is the fact that two of the young men who found adoptive homes were 17 and 20 years old.
The Waleska nonprofit currently serves 34 young men ages 9-20 in Georgia’s foster care system. The 300-acre cattle ranch has six residences that each accommodate six boys and house parents.
One home, the Hope House, is occupied by boys in their late teens and early 20s who are pursuing a college education and work experience while a part of the foster care system with a home environment.
Being a part of a permanent home is important at any age, but especially so for the older youth who eventually leave Goshen Valley and need a place to go to celebrate holidays and special occasions.
“No matter a child’s age, when the right family reveals themselves, the opportunity for adoption exists,” said Zach Blend, residential life director at the ranch. “Obviously the older the child, the more miraculous the process seems.”
The boys at Goshen Valley come through the Department of Family and Children Services in Cherokee as well as Cobb, Gwinnett, Pickens, Fannin and Gilmer counties.
They generally have behavior or psychological issues that require more attention than a typical foster family can offer. The ranch provides the stability of a family environment, where they have responsibilities and expectations, along with weekly counseling and tutoring to meet their needs.
“We believe those children deserve a family, a place where they feel safe, learn character, discipline, and get the counseling they need,” said Blend. “The Christ-centric nature of this ranch adds to the healing process through the modeling of the family. If it wasn’t for this ranch, most of the boys who are here wouldn’t be in a family environment. They would be in an institution.”
Blend stressed the importance of partnerships with the Cherokee County School District, where the boys attend school, the Department of Family and Children Services, and members of the county’s faith-based community, where the boys worship and often find forever homes.
House parents attend local churches with their boys, where they become involved in Bible studies and youth groups—and in some cases, meet adoptive families.
Mission groups often visit the ranch, spending days helping with larger chores and projects. That’s how a Michigan family met the 17-year-old they adopted last year.
The 20-year-old, a student at Reinhardt University, was adopted by the family of a good friend he made in college. During his five years at the ranch, he graduated high school and earned his Eagle Scout rank.
The high adoption rate got the attention of the Casey Foundation, which named Goshen Valley the 2011 Permanency Partner of the Year. Blend said the ranch’s application to become a core provider for the state of Georgia is being reviewed by the Council on Accreditation. The COA is a global organization with more than 1,400 active agencies involved in serving youth.
The next step after accreditation, which Blend hopes will happen in the next six months, is to open Goshen Community Health Center, an initiative that will provide necessary counseling for the boys and will be open to the community. The property has been purchased and plans are underway.
Blend and wife Rachel, who serves as director of communications for the ranch, work along with Jenny and Mark Harris to provide day-to-day leadership at the ranch. Jenny is clinical director and Mark is safety and facilities director.
Aside from adoptions, there also are opportunities for adults to mentor the boys.
“When people come in contact with our boys, life changes occur,” Blend said. “We see it happen in adoptions, partnerships with churches, with the people becoming mentors. We believe there’s a plan in place that God has for every one of these children. You can read about it in Jeremiah 29. It talks about his commitment to them and we just work with Him on their behalf.”
Editor's note: A version of this story previously appeared in the May edition of The Cherokee Vine, a monthly newsletter that highlights news and events from churches, ministries and charitable organizations in Cherokee County.