Grillin’ for girls: Fundraiser for Girls Ranch to be less restrictive this year

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 14, 2022

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VALLEY — On Monday evening, Major T.J. Wood of the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office talked about two upcoming benefits for the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch. He was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Valley Lions Club held at San Marcos Restaurant.

A Grillin’ for Girls event will be taking place on Saturday, March 19 at Valley Community Center. On the following Saturday, the second annual Captain Jason Fuller Memorial Motorcycle Ride will be taking place.

This will be the fourth year for a Grillin’ for Girls benefit. This past year it was done with COVID restrictions. Plans are for it to be less restrictive this year.

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“We’d like to do it the old way,” Wood said. “We can space out people for a sit-down meal in the big gym. If they’d prefer, people can get to-go plates as well.”

For those who stay there will be a live auction and a silent auction. All proceeds will benefit the Girls Ranch.

“We will have a flyer out in the next couple of weeks and start selling tickets,” Wood said. “They will still be $25 each.”

The ticket prices are being kept at the same price despite rising food prices. Some sponsors have agreed to purchase the food to help keep the ticket prices the same.

Grillin’ for Girls has grown in participation each year. “The first year we did it at the ALFA Building in LaFayette,” Wood said. “We were back there the next year and filled up the place.”

Over 400 tickets were sold for last year’s event at the Community Center. Facebook Live carried the auction live. “I enjoyed that,” Wood said. “You could keep up with who called and how high the bids were getting. Girls from the Ranch were there serving people.”

Some t-shirts have already been made for this year’s Captain Jason Fuller Memorial Motorcycle Ride. “They look really good,” Wood said. “Proceeds from both events will be going to the Girls Ranch. I appreciate everyone taking part in it.”

Wood loves talking about the Girls Ranch. “Everyone should call for an appointment and take a visit there,” he said. “You will be glad you did. You can’t be there without feeling the love that comes from the Christian environment there. You can’t help but see that God is at the center of everything that’s taking place there.”

“It’s just like one big family over there,” said club member Ray Fuller, Captain Fuller’s dad.

Wood said he had visited all four youth ranches in the state and had been impressed by what he saw. There are boys ranches in Baldwin and St. Clair counties and girls ranches in Tallapoosa and Colbert counties.

The Tallapoosa Girls Ranch is the one that means the most to him because he’s been there so much and has gotten close to everyone there. It’s a family experience for the Woods. “My wife and my daughter love the Ranch and seeing what goes on there,” he said.

Club President Phillip Sparks said that he had made four trips with the Carpenters for Christ to make some improvements to a beach house that had been donated to the youth ranch program. “The house needed some work, and we added a new deck,” he said. “We had a great time there. We also had the opportunity to make a side trip to the boys ranch in Baldwin County. (Youth Ranches CEO) Michael Smith gave us a tour of the place. The youth ranches are so worthwhile. In this area we should be supporting the Tallapoosa Girls Ranch. You can do that by buying a steak plate when they have Grillin’ for Girls.”

Wood said there’s a common misperception about the youth ranches that needs to go away. “They are not bad kids,” he said. “They are not there due to any fault of their own. In most cases, they are there because of what their parents failed to do for them.”

Many of the girls have been placed there through the state’s Department of Human Resources (DHR) program or by private placement. In some cases, parents did not want the responsibility of raising their child.

“I didn’t know some of them got there that way until I started working with the Girls Ranch,” Wood said. “I recommend a visit to the Girls Ranch by anyone. I will do you good to see how they love on one another. If you make an appointment, Ranch Director Candace Gulley will take you on a tour of the Ranch and introduce you to everyone. You will never meet better people than house parents Candace and Tom and Eric and Stephanie.”

Wood has a video of the girls opening Christmas presents. “They can get so excited by the smallest things,” he said. “It’s so much fun to watch them having a fun day.”

Wood commends CEO Michael Smith on having done great work on behalf of the youth ranches. “Someone had to step up and lead the program,” he said. “He has done a great job.”

Wood said it’s such a rewarding experience to be a supporter of the Girls Ranch. When word gets out that you are coming for a visit, they will greet you in a special way. They will run across a field to hug your neck when you drive up,” he said.

The youth ranch program is a proven way to turn something bad into something good. Youth who might be heading for a dead-end life have a chance to turn things around in a new setting. “Some of the girls have graduated high school and college and gone on to professional careers,” Wood said.

One of the biggest supporters of the ranch is a girl who grew up there and now is a successful attorney in Montgomery. There’s also a number of teachers and counselors.

“They still consider the Ranch their home,” Wood said. “It’s a testament to what is taking place there and the kind of raising they got. The Tallapoosa Girls Ranch is something I am passionate about. I can talk about it all day long.”