Fundraiser for girls ranch set for March 16

Published 6:44 pm Thursday, March 7, 2019

LaFAYETTE — Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart has his sights set on cooking several ribeye steaks on March 16 to help out the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch in Camp Hill on March 16.

“Grillin’ For Girls” is the name of the benefit at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, at the Alfa Building in LaFayette, and all the proceeds will benefit the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch. Tickets are $25.

Lockhart said he has a special connection to the girls at the ranch, which was started in 1973 when James Samford donated 200 acres of land. Three homes were built for girls who had nowhere else to go because their parents died, went to jail or were no longer able to care for them.

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Lockhart said the girls who live at the ranch aren’t there because they did something to get in trouble.

“It’s for girls who are there through no fault of their own,” he said.

The Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch is one of four throughout the state, but it’s the only girl’s ranch. There are boys’ ranches in Baldwin, St. Clair and Colbert Counties. 

In 1966, the Alabama Sheriff’s Association purchased about 100 acres in Dallas County and built a double-wide trailer. At the time, two kids moved in, and the first ranch was started.

According to the Tallapoosa Ranch Director Jimmy Harmon, the ranch then expanded to 2,500 acres in five years, building six homes. He said the expansion proved there was a need for the program, so they began building ranches from Colbert County to Baldwin County, but there wasn’t a place for girls.

So, in 1973, James Samford donated 200 acres, which built three homes. Two of those homes are residential homes, and one is for seniors in high school and college students.

The girls at the ranch are all ages and the ranch employs a married couple to act as mom and dad for the children. They can serve six to eight girls each, but they are licensed for 10. Harmon said the ranch currently has 18 kids, but it can hold up to 28.

He said the girls at the ranch aren’t bad children, and usually have no place else to go.

“People see the sheriff’s name, and they automatically assume the worst,” Harmon said. “We have abused, neglected or abandoned girls here. We really don’t deal with kid problems — we deal with parent problems.”

Harmon said most of the girls living there are victims of physical and sexual abuse. He made special mention of a girl who was abandoned shortly after birth in a Rubbermaid container on her grandparent’s doorstep.

The grandparents raised the girl until she was 12, but they were 85 years old and couldn’t do it. So, that girl was taken in by the girl’s ranch, and now she has graduated high school with honors and is attending Troy University.

Harmon said the ranch teaches work ethic and responsibility. There is a full-functioning farm on the site with cattle, chickens, and horses as well as a garden, a lake and swimming pools for recreation. Additionally, Harmon said the students have a collective 3.47 grade-point-average in school.

The parents who care for the children are real-life married couples, who fight and work out their problems in a constructive way.

“A lot of our kids have come from single-parent homes or no parents, so it is really important for those kids to see what a real married couple looks like,” Harmon said. “We have to be models for these kids, so they see when there is an argument, they resolve it in a civilized way.”

Lockhart said he spends a lot of time with the children, saying he’s watched many of them graduate high school, helping with fundraisers and he’ll even drive to Georgia on occasions to get onions and help them sell the vegetables to raise more funds.

“They get close to your heart when you get around these girls and when you get to know them,” Lockhart said. “I’d love to adopt every one of them if I could.”

Chambers County Major T.J. Wood said the ranch gives the girls a second chance after something happened to them through no fault of their own.

“It is almost a foster home for the girls, and it is giving them a chance for success that they probably wouldn’t have had,” Wood said.

Harmon said the ranch get $60 a month per child in federal funds, which breaks down to feeding a child on about $2 a day.

He said the ranch is responsible for raising the rest of the funds. The ranch also works with the East Alabama Food Fund and tries to be as self-sustainable as possible, but it’s essential to provide the girls with as typical of a life as possible outside of just feeding them, Harmon said.

Harmon said the majority of the kids in the program come from Chambers, Lee and Tallapoosa County, where there are about 2,800 new cases of child abuse and neglect every year.

“The need is there. In order to meet the need, we really have to grow,” he said. “We need to build more houses and service more of these kids.”

To purchase tickets to the fundraiser or to donate, call (256) 896-4113.