A great program but more needs done

Published 10:18 pm Friday, June 15, 2018

We often hear the term “worthy cause” applied to a lot of activities, some of them very good and some not nearly as good as they sound. One that does check all the boxes on being a worthy cause in the truest sense of the word is the Alabama Sheriffs’ Girls Ranch located right here in east central Alabama in neighboring Tallapoosa County.

Director Jimmy Harmon can site heartwarming stories of young girls who came from terrible situations due to no fault of their own and turning their lives around to be healthy, happy and productive citizens with bright futures ahead of them. It’s something the people of Alabama, especially this part of the state, should rally around and be proud of.

The Ranch opened in 1973 on 200 acres of land donated by James D. “Duck” Samford, the same guy the high school football stadium in Auburn is named after. The campus consists of five ranch houses, two staff houses, an office, chapel, gym, pool, pond and various support buildings.

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The girls at the ranch have one thing in common. Each one came from a situation where they had been abandoned by their parents, physically or sexually abused or neglected. Jimmy Harmon says the Ranch gives them a first chance at having a productive life. In contrast to a poor and unsafe quality of life the girls once had, at the Ranch they bond together like a family and are active in youth programs and attend local churches.

In a Christian atmosphere, the girls learn personal responsibility. They’re up very early in the day and take care of assigned chores before going to school. The structure they have in their lives serve sthem well. According to Harmon, their cumulative grade point average this past school year was 3.47.

The Girls Ranch is an impressive success story, and there are some significant boosters in Chambers County like Sheriff Sid Lockhart and the folks at the Fredonia Community Garden, where fresh fruits and vegetables are grown for the girls.

What’s been going on at the Girls Ranch for more than 40 years now is great, but there is a downside. There’s so much work left to be done to help a growing number of abandoned, abused and neglected children. For each child that’s rescued from this, there’s more than need to be.

At a recent meeting of the West Point Rotary Club, Harmon said the number of abused children in Tallapoosa, Chambers and Randolph counties was roughly equal to the number of high school graduates those three counties produce each year. It’s not that the area is a particularly difficult place to live. It’s about average for the nation.

We must do better than this as a society, both at home and nationwide.

The Girls Ranch program should be hailed for its success and should serve as a model of doing something the right way but we must remember that there’s so much more work to be done.