Fifteen-year-old Jess is still adjusting to life on the Marshall Ranch Campus. Her mom, Danielle, is in Phase II at STCH Ministries Homes for Families. Sharing a room with her mom and six-year-old sister can create a need for some alone time. Jess says the vast outdoor space of the ten-acre property gives her plenty of room to find peace when sharing a home with others makes her feel frustrated. Jess recognizes Homes for Families works well for her mom. Jess describes the relationship with her mom as better than before. Danielle has more patience now and Jess finds this a nice change allowing Jess to open up and talk more with her mom. Jess has big plans for her future and looks forward to living them out with her mom as a healthy role model.
JESS IS NOT THE ONLY CHILD at STCH Ministries Homes for Families that recognizes that the ministry impacts not only the mothers, but their children as well. The children leave the life they know and move to a place where they know no one. This often presents a challenge for the older kids as they adjust to another change and process how that affects them personally. The situation which brings a family to the Marshall Ranch Campus differs for everyone, but the same motivation drives each family. They want to keep their family together while seeking resolution.
One way to determine how well the ministry meets the goal of ministering to the children is to ask them upfront. Talking with the older children reveals the longer they live on Marshall Ranch, the more they value the opportunity. Most families enter in Phase I where the strict schedule and firm rules provide a structure many are not used to. Phase II continues with both schedule and structure, however the moms have more personal responsibility to begin to practice the skills they have learned from parenting courses. They take this opportunity to build intentional relationships with their children.
Johnson Cottage, where the Phase III families live, houses most of the older children right now. Elijah (9) and his younger sister have been in the Homes for Families ministry for two years now. He says Phase III is by far the best because his mom, Ashley, has a car and they can go off campus to do things as a family. Residents in Phase III enjoy the safety and stability of life on Marshall Ranch, while they manage their lives through either working or going to school full-time.
Elijah loves living on the ranch. He enjoys the playground and basketball court but the best part involves, “having friends in all the houses to play with.” Elijah remembers life before Homes for Families but prefers not to talk about it. He recognizes growth in himself, “I’ve learned self-control and about being mature – although sometimes I don’t act like it.” He explains, “It’s not a problem to be angry or agitated, it’s what you do when you feel that way that’s the problem.” His eyes light up and his smile widens when he talks about his mom. “She has changed a lot lately. She’s been kind and careful.” Above all, he credits his mom for taking him to church and teaching him about Jesus’s love for him.
James (10) and Cameron (9) live in Johnson Cottage with their mom, Felissia and two younger siblings. James started the conversation by saying how happy he feels with the changes in his mom. “She does not do drugs or drink anymore and she treats us better. I’m proud of her. She got a driver’s license and a car; she goes to school and to work. She is getting back on her feet.” Little brother, Cameron echoes James’s feelings and adds having friends to play with every day makes life on Marshall Ranch fun. He sits up straighter and holds a steady gaze to emphasize his next words, “The best part of all is that Mom is good with God, that’s the most important thing.”
Debbie’s children Michael (15), Gabriel (13), Delilah (12), Khloe (10) and two younger siblings all agree that Homes for Families changed their family for the better. Delilah says before living here they did not have enough to eat and she did not feel safe. Khloe remembers long nights worrying about her mom when she left them with another adult. Now, living on Marshall Ranch, they enjoy the change in their mom. “She never leaves us alone anymore, I like that,” Khloe states.
Each of Debbie’s children can see growth in their mom. Delilah believes their mom’s success has to do with finding friends in the other moms. “They help Mom make good decisions. Before we came here, she had trouble with the choices she made. She’s stronger and more confident now,” Michael says. Gabriel adds, “She’s more fun and nicer now that she desires Jesus. I like Him too, everyone should!” He likes the fact that she has started her own house cleaning and organizing business. “I’m proud of her, it takes guts and good ideas to start and maintain your own business. She’s a hard worker,” he explains.
As the family looks toward moving on to Phase IV, getting a home of their own off-campus, they have mixed emotions. The idea of having more space to call their own brings excitement but they worry they will miss the close friendships they have. Khloe describes, “All the families here sort of combine to make one big family and that is fun.”
Michael knows those friendships will remain. He still views former residents Valerie and Brooke as sisters. Their mom, Maria, graduated from the ministry earlier this year. Michael’s favorite part about moving to Marshall Ranch is the youth group leaders and friends he has at church in town.
The first Sunday Valerie and Brooke lived on Marshall Ranch, Michael was baptized there. Later, Michael celebrated with the sisters at their baptisms. Each one credits Homes for Families as the place they learned to trust in Jesus as their Savior and learned the habits necessary to develop a relationship with Him.
“Ministering to children is different than ministry to adults. The children need to feel recognized and important,” explains Ricky Martinez, Homes for Families Activities Coordinator. The staff takes this into consideration and the children who live at Marshall Ranch receive individual counseling. Younger children also appreciate specialized attention from Ricky’s wife, Kimberly Martinez, Child Care Provider.
The staff recognizes when families move into the ministry they feel vulnerable from repeated rejections. As one staff member states, “I want them to know there is someone there, no matter what. They’ve been turned down so many times before – when they come to the ranch, they do not find that. No matter how difficult a child is every family that comes onto the ranch receives grace. We have so much grace to give them. When they fight us, we just love them more. They want us to get mad and give up on them. We tell them, ‘you can fight back all you want, we’re still going to love you and be here for you’.”
Women come to Home for Families with their children looking for the opportunity to try again. That courageous choice often leads to positive changes in thought patterns, parenting habits and spiritual understanding. Witnessing the transformation in their moms combines with the dedication of the staff to create a special place of healing for the children. “God sees the hurt in these kids. He calls us to pour into all of the family every day and we rejoice at the change in the faces of the children,” Ricky affirms.