Grillin’ for Girls fundraiser set to return

Published 9:00 am Friday, February 18, 2022

VALLEY — On Wednesday, Major T.J. Wood of the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office gave an update on the upcoming Grillin’ for Girls fundraiser. He was the guest speaker at the noon-hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley.

This will be the fourth consecutive year for a Grillin’ for Girls event. The last two have been heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic. Even so, they were successful fundraisers providing support for the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch.

This year’s Grillin’ for Girls will be taking place between 6 and 8 p.m. EDT (5 to 7 Central) on Saturday, March 19 at Valley Community Center. It’s $25 per plate for a ribeye steak, all the trimmings and a drink.

There will be to-go plates for those who wish to leave. There will be sit-down meals for those who wish to stay for live entertainment, a silent auction and a conventional auction.

Tickets are available at the Girls Ranch or can be gotten at the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office. Wood has posted a number of flyers throughout the county advertising the event. On it is a QR Code providing a quick way to get tickets with your mobile device. 

“It will take you to a website where you can get tickets,” Wood said.

Some coveted items have already been donated as auction items.

“We have a jersey autographed by Tim Hudson,” Wood said of the former Auburn Tiger and Atlanta Brave. “The Hudson Family Foundation has been very supportive of the sheriff’s ranch program. For the past two years, we have had basketballs autographed by Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl, and we’re hoping to have another one this year. We would love to have an Alabama football autographed by Nick Saban, but they are hard to come by.”

There’s a chance to have something signed by former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa. He and Coach Saban did much to help the victims of the 2019 tornado in Beauregard.

Chambley’s in Valley and Newman’s Farm Supply in LaFayette have donated some items for the auction. Grills & Frills and Terri’s Mill Village Cafe in Valley have donated some grills to be auctioned off and Sheriff Mark Lamb has donated an autographed cowboy hat.

Lamb was elected sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona in 2017. The county is as large as the state of Connecticut, and his department has approximately 500 employees. He has made appearances on Fox News to discuss his views of border patrol.

Last year’s Grillin’ for Girls was a complete sellout.

“We sold 400 tickets for two locations, one in LaFayette and one in Valley,” Wood said.

Wood said that he didn’t know much about the Girls Ranch early in his law enforcement career.

“Sheriff (Sid) Lockhart invited me to go over with him one day,” he said. “My heart has been with the ranch every day since then.”

Wood has visited the ranch many times since that first trip. He’s well known by Ranch Director Candace Gulley, CEO Michael Smith, the ranch house parents and the girls.

“There’s nothing else in the world like driving up to the ranch, they know who you are and 12 to 14 teenage girls come running up to welcome you,” he said. “The hardest part is leaving.”

He’s learned over the years not to make promises you can’t keep. If you tell them you are coming back on a certain date, for example, make absolutely certain you do.

“They have heard so many false promises from their parents,” he said. “They don’t need to go through being let down again.”

The girls are there through no fault of their own. They have had difficult upbringings and have found stability in a home at the ranch.

Wood said that he admires the jobs being done by the house parents.

“They have the task of raising seven to nine girls ranging in age from nine to eighteen in one home. They have to cook for them, help them wth homework and see them off to school every day. It’s a working ranch, and the girls take care of seven horses, 18 to 20 cows, chickens and goats. There is a flagpole ceremony early in the morning before they leave for school. They say the Pledge of Allegiance and have prayer before leaving.”

There are four houses on the ranch, each with house parents who are committed Christians.

“They are great people,” Wood said. “Two of them, Eric and Stephanie, are from River View. They have been at the ranch for a long time. They raised two daughters who are now grown and on their own and have two younger children. I could talk for hours about the ranch and what it means to me,” Wood said.

On a visit to the Baldwin County Boys Ranch, it was bought home to Wood that the state’s four youth ranches touch people all over Alabama.

“A young, teenage boy approached me and asked me if I was T.J. Wood,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting anything like that, but I told him I was.”

“You arrested my dad,” the boy told him.

Wood didn’t know if the young boy had a grudge against him or not, and surprisingly he thanked him.

The boy knew his dad was going down the wrong road, and it would only get worse unless he spent some time in jail.

Wood would like to everyone to schedule a visit to a youth ranch.

“Call in advance and set up a visit,” he said. “They will show you around and give you an idea of what goes on there. They have some kind of event once every quarter. That’s the best time to go. They will go over all that has taken place at the ranch.”