Deputy Wood celebrated before moving on to new position

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, August 22, 2023

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VALLEY — From 2 to 5 p.m. EDT on Sunday, The Exchange on River Road played host to a reception for Major T.J. Wood, who is leaving the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office to become the new director of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Girls Ranch in Tallapoosa County. Lots of people came by to thank him of the job he has done in local law enforcement and to wish him well in his new position.

Wood has had some role in local law enforcement since he was 14 years old.

“I started out in the Explorer program at Valley Police Department,” he said. “Terry Sanders was the chief at the time. I got to ride with an officer to see everything they do when they are on patrol.”

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Through that experience, he caught the bug of wanting to be a police officer. He has been involved in almost every phase of it since then.

“I was an animal control officer for several months before becoming a reserve officer with the City of LaFayette Police Department.”

That led to being deputy with the sheriff’s office, where he has moved up through the ranks to being a major and the head of the department’s public relations effort.

“I just can’t thank enough the people who have helped me along the way,” he said. “I love the county and its people. It has meant so much to me to be able to serve here.”

He had been with the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office for the past 20 years.

One of his many service areas included doing all kinds of volunteer work for the girls ranch. Their first time there he and wife Jetta fell in love with the place and what it does to turn around the lives of girls in need of a proper upbringing due to no fault of their own.

The current sheriff, Jeff Nelson, greeted visitors at the door and encouraged them to sign a registry. His wife, Kristin, served them pieces of a large cake decorated especially for the occasion.

The former sheriff, Sid Lockhart, stood in a long line of well-wishers to shake Wood’s hand. Wood became emotional when he presented him a large framed clipping of the front page news story in The Valley Times-News about his leaving the department for the girls ranch. Some tears were shed as he hugged Lockhart, thanking him for the opportunity to work for Chambers County. He does have some sadness out leaving but lots of joy and excitement about the opportunity to be the director of the girls ranch.

“In the volunteer work I have been doing for the ranch. I have seen a constantly outpouring of love for the ranch from a multi-county region including Tallapoosa, Chambers, Lee and Randolph counties and other parts of the state,” he said. “In this new position, I will be able to be part of pouring back that love on behalf of the ranch.”

At present, there are 17 girls living with four sets of house parents in four homes on the ranch. The director’s home is right in the middle of that.

The ranch will soon have a fifth home. An existing house on the ranch is being renovated for that purpose. When some new house parents can be hired, up to eight more girls could be coming there, bringing the total number up to 25.

Most of the girls on the ranch range in age from 14 to 18. There are a couple of pre-teens living there as well.

Jetta works in community corrections with the sheriff’s office. She’s been doing this for the past four years and will remain with the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office. The only change is that she will be driving to LaFayette every day from Camp Hill.

Wood’s final day with the sheriff’s office was last Friday. Bright and early on Monday morning he was in Montgomery going through two weeks of training with the Sheriff’s Ranch program.

“Jetta and I will be moving in at the ranch after that,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”

The former director, Candace Gulley, has moved up within the ranch program. She will have a role in working with all four ranches. The sheriff ranch program has four sites, two for boys and two for girls. The girls ranches are located in Tallapoosa and Colbert counties, and the boys ranches are in Baldwin and St. Clair counties. Wood said the ranch program is fortunate to have a chief executive officer like Michael Smith.

“His heart is definitely in the right place when it comes to caring for kids,” Wood said.

The mission of the youth ranch program is to provide Christian, family-style residential homes for Alabama’s at-risk children and youth in an atmosphere where they can grow spiritually and physically into productive, responsible and happy adults.