Peppers Ranch awarded grant for its work with foster youth, parents 

click to enlarge Kirk Hall, President of the Fred Jones Family Foundation presents Tonya Ratcliff, Executive Director of Pepper Ranch, with a check for $75,000 for the 2016 Mary Eddy Jones Signature Gift.
  • Kirk Hall, President of the Fred Jones Family Foundation presents Tonya Ratcliff, Executive Director of Pepper Ranch, with a check for $75,000 for the 2016 Mary Eddy Jones Signature Gift.

Each year, Fred Jones Family Foundation awards a grant named for family matriarch Mary Eddy Jones. In October, the $75,000 grant was awarded to nonprofit foster child and family support organization Peppers Ranch.

“This is our signature gift, named for my grandmother,” said Kirk Hall, Fred Jones Family Foundation president.

Hall said he is certain that the mission of Peppers Ranch would have spoken to his grandmother.

“My grandmother came from Guthrie and was raised in a single-parent home,” Hall said. “She was a teenager during the Depression and had memories of canning fruits and putting up vegetables for winter. She also loved gardens and beautification. We are going to name a canning kitchen and orchard for her at Peppers Ranch, and we think she would have loved that.”

Earned grant

It’s not an easy award to receive, Hall explained.

“There is a separate application process for the Mary Eddy Jones Signature Gift,” Hall explained. “Peppers Ranch had applied for the gift before but did not receive it. .... The staff at Peppers Ranch did more research, applied again, and their extra effort was rewarded. It is a marvelous organization, and as an organization, it is very sustainable.”

Peppers Ranch is a 280-acre Logan County community and nonprofit organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect faced by children in Oklahoma’s foster care system.

“We want to change the face of foster care,” said Peppers Ranch executive director Tonya Ratcliff. “Peppers Ranch is a community of like-minded foster parents. There are 13 houses at Peppers Ranch, and each one is rented by a foster family who must have a minimum of five foster children.”

Foster parents must have at least two years of experience before they can be considered for approval, Ratcliff said.

The organization is certified by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, though it is not a state agency, nor does it accept state or federal funding. Instead, it operates with private-sector donations from individuals and foundations like Fred Jones Family Foundation.

“This way, there are no strings attached to the money,” Ratcliff said. “We feel we can better equip ourselves to care for children this way. We want to house as many foster children as we can, who, through no fault of their own, have been neglected and often abused by the people who were supposed to care for them.”

Ratcliff said Peppers Ranch operates completely debt-free and only builds homes as fast as they are able to complete them without incurring debt. About three homes are built every 15 to 28 months.

She and her husband live the mission of the ranch and care for 10 children, two of them biological.

About half of the youths at Peppers Ranch are adopted by their foster families, Ratcliff said. Since 2002, the organization has housed more than 600 children.

Today, Ratcliff said about 110 children stay at the ranch, and foster families there have access to many forms of support.

Unique program

It’s a unique arrangement that is essentially like a very small town.

“It’s a landlord-tenant arrangement between Peppers Ranch and the foster parents,” Ratcliff explained. “Each family pays $100 per month for rent, and each family chooses whether the children will go to public school, private school or be home schooled. Our goal, of course, is to return our foster children to their biological families, but that is not always possible.”

Peppers Ranch provides a wide variety of educational and recreational services for its community, such as academic support, art and pet therapies, an equestrian center, a ballet school, culinary classes, sports, a two-acre pond and playgrounds. Ratcliff said it does everything with an annual operating budget of $832,000 and $1.2 million for home construction.

Activities and classes focused on nature sustainability were the catalyst for the recent Fred Jones Family Foundation grant, Ratcliff said.

“We are using the gift to plant an orchard of fruit trees, to build a pavilion for nature education, organic gardening and canning classes for our kids, and we are installing three honey bee hives,” Ratcliff said.

She and her staff sought the guidance of Oklahoma State University Extension Center experts as they planned the orchard.

“There were a lot of factors to take into consideration. Oklahoma weather fluctuates greatly, as we know. Our trees needed to be drought-resistant. We tested our soil,” she said. “In the end, we chose five varieties: two types of apple, a peach, pear and plum.”

Giving Tree Orchard will house berry bushes and 100 fruit trees. Ratcliff said the honeybees will produce honey, cross-pollinate the trees and even venture to neighboring canola fields to do important pollination work. The first trees will be planted during a groundbreaking celebration in March or April.

“The trees we are buying aren’t small, and we hope to begin harvesting within 15 months of planting,” Ratcliff said. “Our bees will come in the spring, and there is a multi-step protocol for establishing hives that we will follow. One of our community’s grandparents has gone to beekeeping meetings and will help us create our hives.”

print headline: Farm hand, Peppers Ranch was recently awarded a $75,000 Fred Jones Family Foundation grant for its important work with foster youth and parents.
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