Crown Valley Youth Ranch to hold first Fall Festival on Saturday, Nov. 11
ELDERWOOD – Scott Johnson has had a good life cattle ranching in Fresno and Tulare County. A fifth generation horseman, Johnson has spent his life learning about himself, life and lots of other things from his horses. But after 33 years in the saddle, he wondered if he could be handing down those lessons to today’s youth who might need it more than past generations.
“With the suicide rates and number of abused and neglected children, as a Christian I needed to do something to address these issues,” he said. “I can’t sit back and raise cattle and watch this happen. Doing nothing wouldn’t be right because just watching the news breaks my heart.”
At the beginning of this year, Scott opened up Crown Valley Youth Ranch in the rolling hills of Elderwood northwest of Woodlake. Johnson said the ranch works with three types of children – children suffering from mental diseases and conditions, at-risk youth including gang members, and children dealing with social issues such as bullying or come from broken homes or those “whose parents just aren’t making sense to them right now.”
Crown Valley programs offer these disadvantaged children a one-on-one relationship with an adult mentor who reflects Christian values. “In this faith-based ministry they aren’t forced to believe in anything, they’re just exposed to it,” said Aaron Ernst, executive director who has been working with youth for 30 years.
Activity sessions at the ranch are offered after school at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Participants may choose from a number of activities that include working with horses or smaller animals such as sheep and goats; arts and crafts, fishing, gardening, woodworking, survival skills and music, particularly stringed instruments. Scott said most of the horses are rescued, a time consuming and costly rehabilitation process, but one that has huge healing potential for the youth.
“Great value in pairing a wounded, neglected, abused horse with a wounded, neglected, abused kid,” Johnson said. “They both kind of understand each other and can go places where a therapist can’t go.”
While all these services are free to parents, there is a cost to the kids. They are required to do chores – learning to give something to get something.
But not all youth require equine therapy to come around. Johnson personally mentored a 12 year old boy who was angry and disrespectful of his parents. He said it took several months for him to build a rapport with the boy and eventually his sessions came down to a single discussion. Johnson explained that his parents aren’t mean when they disciplined him they were protecting him and that one day he would want to protect his own children from a dangerous world.
“He just needed a different perspective from someone other than his parents,” Johnson said. “After that moment, he never hesitated to do his chores or follow directions.”
Those wanting to get a closer look at the ranch can do so this Saturday, Nov. 11 as the non-profit, non-denominational organization holds its first Fall Festival at 19880 Avenue 376. Beginning at 11 a.m., ranch volunteers and staff will provide all comers with live music, hay rides, horse shoes, corn hole toss, horseback rides, petting zoo, photobooth and face painting, along with free hot dogs and chili.
The ranch currently works with children ages 6 to 18 either privately or through referral from local school districts, such as Dinuba Unified and Woodlake Unified. Scott said Crown Valley Youth Ranch has enough volunteers to accept 14 kids each day and there are still spots available.
“God was in the middle of it all,” Scott said. “Working with horses teaches you patience, respect, grace and mercy.”
Scott’s journey to open the ranch began five years ago when he attended a four-day workshop in Bend, Ore. on operating an equine therapy ranch for at-risk youth. Then he started working on finding a location that was suitable for the operation. He found in January 2016 in the former home of Christian camp and international missionary group in on 10 acres in Elderwood. He was approved for a conditional use permit by the Tulare County Planning Commission last December.
The site was formerly operated by Hume Lake Christian Camps, Inc. as a summer youth camp and weekend retreat since at least 1970. In 1972, Christians in Action (CinA), an international missionary group with more than 300 people in 20 counties, expanded the summer camp and in 1988 split the facility as a youth camp and missionary training center. CinA relocated to Elderwood from Long Beach in 1970 because of the land’s picturesque beauty and affordability. In 2008, CinA decided to relocate to Fresno to be closer to a population center promote its ministries.
Scott and his family have spent the last eight months renovating the ranch, building a program, hiring staff with a heart for their mission and gathering materials and supplies. They are always in need of arts and crafts supplies, one of the most popular activities for small children, as well as hay and feed for the horses and animals in their petting zoo, such as chickens, goats, and llamas.
For more information, or to donate via PayPal, visit the ranch’s web site at www.crownvalleyyouthranch.org.