It’s not easy to step out in faith, especially when it not only forces a career change but affects a regular salary and medical and many other benefits. If I was the only one involved it would have been a different story, but I had my wife, Bonnie, and two children to think about.
But out of just such a step was born Project PATCH (Planned Assistance for Troubled Children). I felt reluctant for the task ahead, but I had four loyal supporters in God, Bonnie and our children. God knew the need, and Bonnie saw it, too. Kelly and Craig were always ready for an adventure, and I—well I got the message loud and clear from all of them.
My superiors assured me once I got all this “foolishness out of my system” I could return to pastoring. They were convinced that even if there were enough young people needing help, there would not be enough people and donations to support the program. That was 20 years ago, and I have never looked back.
In 1984 Project PATCH started out as a resource and referral service to assist families whose children needed an environment that would revitalize their perspective on life. We had some very wonderful foster homes. Some were just short-term stays when many single parents or grandparents wanted some help with a “high energy” child for just the summer, and others lived with their surrogate families until adulthood.
To be creative with the needs and interests of these young people was no small task. Young people were placed on ranches and homes in city or urban areas. Some were sent to academies, others to work at summer camps and job corps. One youth who was interested in being a fire-lookout ranger was sent to the heart of British Columbia to get a feel for his career goal.
There were times it seemed important to put a particular group of young people together. One summer we recruited a family to take six young people to Montana to learn rock climbing and wilderness survival. Another summer Bonnie and I took four citified young men to Alaska to spend the summer with a family on an island.
The biggest boost to Project PATCH in helping at-risk youth was the gift and purchase of land in 1989 from Dan and Margie Rotthoff of Garden Valley, Idaho. It was almost as if God had young people all lined up to come. The summer of 1990 kids showed up from all over the Northwest. Even though buildings were under construction, summer programs took place in 1991 and 1992.
A total of 285 young people have come and gone from the PATCH Ranch since 1993, each with their own story to tell, most of them having arrived there reluctantly. Some came with a story of a lost childhood, a tragedy too sad to tell. Others were rebellious and out of control. Many had no focus or purpose in life and, therefore, no reason to live. Some came feeling abandoned and forsaken because their parents sold them out for busy careers. Those young people had migrated to negative peers and influences.
Divorce affected the lives of many children. For some, it wasn’t the divorce that was so bad as it was the step-parent who either wanted nothing to do with the child and sent them away to make a life on their own or abused them. Those survived as best they could until they came to PATCH. Others got jobs and apartments but, because they were too young to be alone, got into trouble. All were hurting and vulnerable. Some young people were rescued by caring friends until they could get to PATCH.
Then there were those young people whose parents died or were sent to prison. Some had absolutely no family to turn to. Now, there’s a feeling of abandonment to the 10th degree! Some, while at PATCH, lost their only parent. Can you even begin to imagine what it’s like to have the entire hope of home come to a screeching halt?
Scores of young people came with abuse issues. To be sure, the most obvious are the physical and sexual, but how about the one who not only suffered from those two but endured horrible psychological torture as well? That kid could do nothing more to protect himself than wet his bed by night and mess his pants by day just to protect himself from an offender who was no longer in his life.
Project PATCH is about restoring children. It’s about giving hope and direction to a troubled life. It’s about turning negative behavior into healthy behavior. It’s about staff members who care so much about a child that they are willing to suffer the hardships of a wilderness trek along with the child to help them focus and believe in themselves and others again.
Project PATCH Ranch is an accredited alternative school and has provisional accreditation through JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations). The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare licenses both the facility and the wilderness program.
PATCH isn’t finished yet and it won’t be until the Lord comes. For that reason PATCH is taking on other challenges and opportunities to help more troubled children and families in crises.
Last year, PATCH received a gift of 320 acres and purchased an additional 160 acres from Clarence and Elsie Tupper and Margie Wentland of Goldendale, Washington. Plans are still being formalized to make this a facility to help at-risk families.
Twenty years ago, no one could imagine the need and the scope of heartache and tragedy children were and are experiencing. This year, the 20th anniversary of Project PATCH, a special thanks must go to you who have supported PATCH through your gifts, prayers, time and energy. You, along with the staff and the board of trustees, have made a wonderful difference in the lives of all these children—many of whom were reluctant miracles.