Kiwanis Club of Valley makes a donation to the Girls Ranch

Published 8:00 am Friday, November 19, 2021

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VALLEY — If there’s one thing Candice Gulley likes best about being the director of the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, it’s the transformation she gets to see.

“I get to see these young girls grow into young women,” she said at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley.

Before becoming director, Gulley and her husband were house parents for 10 years.

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“We had 78 girls call us mom and dad,” she said. “We raised them while raising our own children.”

The Girls Ranch began in 1973 as a place for girls who had been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents.

“Times have changed over the years,” Gulley said. “The girls coming to the ranch are coming from different circumstances. It’s not so much that they are being physically abused as it is, they are being raised by grandparents or a single parent and they are having a very difficult time with it.”

The ranch is now in the process of changing its original mission statement to reflect this.

Something that will remain the same is the ranch motto: “It is better to build young people than it is to repair broken adults.”

Many of the boys and girls at the state’s youth ranches are coming from the state’s foster program. It’s often the case, said Gulley, that a grandmother who is struggling with raising her granddaughter looks to them for help. “They often call us when the girl is getting close to her teenage years,” Gulley said. “Some struggling families can’t afford to help them through private care.”

The ranch has three large homes, each headed by house parents who are devoted Christians.

“We can have up to 10 kids per home,” Gulley said.

This number includes both the girls who are staying there and the house parents’ children.

In her years of working with girls, Gulley has learned that every child is unique and every situation is different. There’s just no cookie cutter solution to raising kids.

At present, the youngest girl at the ranch is nine years old and the oldest girls are of high school age. One girl raised at the ranch recently graduated from Auburn and another one from Troy.

When driving past the ranch, there doesn’t appear to be much activity, but looks can be deceiving.

“We have a 200-acre ranch and a five-acre lake that was donated by the Samford family,” Gulley said. “We have 45 cows, 37 chickens and six horses to take care of.”

Each school day, the girls rise early and take care of some daily chores before boarding the bus to school in Reeltown. There’s a morning devotional, and they all recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s in their job description for house parents to take the girls to church, pray regularly with them and to recite the Pledge.

“We teach life skills,” Gulley said. “We want each girl to be a responsible adult one day, knowing how to take care of daily routines. They are gaining a perspective on this while doing their daily chores.”

Those chores include gathering eggs and seeing that all the animals are being properly fed.

After school activities include more chores around the ranch, supper and homework.

“Each home is on the same schedule,” Gulley said. “We want to keep our kids engaged in doing things. We want to keep them busy.”

The girls are also busy with school activities. Some are into cheerleading and others are into sports. Playing volleyball has been especially popular with the girls over the years.

“The longer you work with these girls you see them transition into young women,” Gulley said, “and that is so satisfying.”

One thing that’s truly exceptional about the Tallapoosa Girls Ranch is its graduation rate — 100 percent.

“We want all our girls to graduate from high school,” Gulley said. “If they are struggling with some of their courses, we will get them tutors. We want them to be well rounded, to do well in the classroom and to participate in extracurricular activities.”

A luncheon will be taking place at the ranch next Monday. People can come out and see what’s going on there on a daily basis.

“Everyone’s welcome,” Gulley said. “We will be serving spaghetti and pasta.”

For more than 20 years now, the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office has hosted a Christmas party at the ranch. The goal is to raise enough money to meet the girls’ wish lists. Before coming to the ranch, some of the girls had never celebrated Christmas the way most families do.

“It’s good for our kids to see goodwill and support after coming from the backgrounds they had experienced,” Gulley said. “Our girls are out there working, volunteering and helping people,” she said. “We would love for you to visit us and see how the girls are living.”

A common misconception about the Alabama Sheriff’s Youth Ranches is that it’s a reform school for kids with troubled pasts. This is simply not true. The girls are there through no fault of their own. The ranch provides them homes with married couples acting as moms and dads. Responsibility and a good work ethic is taught through the ranch’s farm programs. The children are taught from an early age to value education and to be the best person they can be.