Ranch supports boys as they grow up to be responsible men
Morning Star Boys Ranch opened in 1957 as a place for boys who are experiencing trauma and struggles to grow up to become responsible men.
Now it also includes foster care, wraparound and case aide services, plus a community services office for outpatient counseling.
Morning Star seeks to meet the mental, educational, emotional and physical needs of the boys, aged six to 12 years, who attend Spokane District #81 schools. The ranch teaches boys life skills, such as emotional and behavioral self-regulation, lessons to follow them throughout their lives.
In the residential care and treatment program at Murphy House, staff help boys set goals for behavioral improvement, and develop social skills and emotional control. The goal is for them either to be reunified with their parents/families or be placed in a foster home where they continue to have services.
“Our mission is to answer God’s call to love and serve those in need to build responsible adults by loving and caring for them,” said Audrea, whose faith and spirituality helped her find a purpose and calling beyond her own childhood traumas.
Her mother’s grandparents, Baptist missionaries, ran a camp for troubled boys, where her mother met her father.
“I do not come to this work simply as a calling. Having had a drug addicted father until I was in sixth grade, I know many of the emotions these boys have—feeling unwanted from physical and emotional abuse. After my mother left him, she married a pastor in Moses Lake, who cared for and prayed for me. I removed my biological father from my life.
“I want the boys to know they matter, are important and cared for. They can make the future what they want. They are not a product of what they are from, any more than I’m a product of what I came from, except for the resilience I gained which is a blessing,” she said.
While earning a bachelor’s in psychology at Eastern Washington University, where she graduated in 2002, Audrea interned as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) guardian ad litem. She then worked with YFA Connections (Youth Family Adult Connections) for a year doing youth outreach at the STA bus plaza, transitioned to be a home counselor and then worked in crisis management at the residential center.
After Audrea and her husband—who served 10 years in the Air Force at Fairchild and then worked in juvenile probation—had their first child, they moved closer to his family in Grass Valley, Calif. For 12 years, Audrea managed a residential center treatment facility there for 24 emotionally disturbed teens—12 boys and 12 girls.
When they visited her family last fall in Moses Lake, Audrea and her husband decided to come back to the area. She saw an opening at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch for an executive director, which fit her goal of working with at-risk youth in a family setting.
Audrea, who has been director of Morning Star Boys Ranch since January, now says she has 25 boys, 23 at work and two at home. This year, her husband is helping their eight- and 12-year-old sons adjust to the move by being a stay-at-home dad.
Since accepting the position, she has been rebuilding the program. Last year, Morning Star was certified for 18 boys. This year it increased to 23 boys, and the ranch gained national accreditation from the Council on Accreditation in July.
Morning Star Boys Ranch employs 90 staff for all its programs and administration. Currently there are four case managers to support the residents. Two of the 23 beds are reserved for youth who have graduated from the residential program. Those beda are respite beds to provide some breathing room for families and boys.
The 64-acre ranch includes both rolling hills and swaths of forest where the boys can hike and explore.
In 1956, Antonia Heckett of Davenport gave her estate to the Spokane Diocese to build a home for boys under 18. In 1957, Flannery House was built and opened on Glenrose Prairie.
Murphy house opened in 1976 with rooms for boys, a gym, an art room and administrative offices.
The Pete Dix Memorial Barn, built in 1982, added the opportunity to branch out into equine programs. The agricultural program invites residents to work in a community garden and be involved with 4-H, including the chance to care for horses, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. About half of the boys work with animals.
“We try to teach the boys skills to relate with the animals they care for, so they transfer those skills to have successful relationships with people,” Audrea said. “Some are scared, but they learn to build trust with the animals, just as they need to do with people.”
About 15 years ago, Morning Star Boys’ Ranch separated from the Catholic Diocese of Spokane to become a secular, state-funded nonprofit.
Foster care services and in-home wraparound care were added in 2015 to help boys who have transitioned from Murphy House into foster care or their families. Those services help stabilize the boys and their families with parent training, case management, family therapy, life-skills mentoring, overnight respite and 24-hour on-call intervention.
Case Aide Services, which began in 2016 for infants through 18-year-olds, provide up to 500 hours a month of services in the community, such as parent training, in-home case aides and life-skills mentoring.
The Morning Star Boys Ranch Board envisions a future training center, prevention services, a residential program for girls and building capacity to meet clients’ needs.
“It’s unfortunate that people do not always treat other people right. So children need a safe place to come and heal,” Audrea said. “We seek to help the boys find their passion to help raise their self-esteem.”
Several boys have come back as successful men, bringing their children to see the ranch. Some give back with donations.
“Many ripples go out from the seeds we plant here,” she said. “The program evolves every week. There is no finish line in this work.”
Audrea said she follows the education principles of Nicolas Long, who has published on education and psychology. His philosophy includes several basic needs children require to be met. They include the need for a child to have one adult who believes in him/her, the need to experience joy every day, the need to live in the present and the need to believe he/she can make a difference.
“I hear the boys’ horrific stories and want to turn them into their strengths, not stories they repeat for pity,” she said. “God takes bad things and makes them better. They are not limited to who their parents are or what they have to work through.
“We are constantly assessing our program and now envision a $10 million expansion of facilities,” she said.
Construction is currently underway to add eight more beds so the program can grow to serve 32 boys.
For information, call 448-1202, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit morningstarboysranch.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree,October, 2019