After nearly 35 years helping countless children overcome their personal struggles, Eagle Ranch has its sights set on helping even more.
The community, settled on 315 acres in Flowery Branch, has always modeled a healthy home life by emphasizing faith, education and counseling. It has provided residential services to youth and currently can house 66 on its sprawling Union Church Road campus, which includes homes with “house parents” and plenty of greenspace.
The mission hasn’t changed, but it is expanding with the new James W. Webb Wings Center, which was announced Tuesday, Oct. 15.
“I think we're going to be able to help thousands of families through this,” said Eddie Staub, founder and executive director of Eagle Ranch.
They’re planning to break ground on the Wings Center in early summer of 2020 with it opening in the fall of the next year.
“The last 25 acres we bought three years ago with an eye toward doing something that was synergistic with what we're doing now,” Staub said of the land.
Along with the help of his team at Eagle Ranch, Staub began brainstorming what would serve their northeast Georgia community best, and the James W. Webb Wings Center was born.
The new 10,000-square-foot Wings Center will have three main purposes — counseling, nonprofit support and retreat space — and Staub said it’s best to think of the new facility as a sort of “outpatient complement to Eagle Ranch.”
The center is named after Eagle Ranch’s longest-serving board member of 30-plus years, Jim Webb, who died Sept. 26. Webb’s daughter recently told Staub that Webb always said he hoped they’d be able to do “more and more and more at Eagle Ranch.” The Wings Center is another step in that direction.
“We just always want to get better,” Staub said.
“This is big news for us, big news for the community,” said Stefanie Long, director of communications at Eagle Ranch. “And we feel it dovetails into a significant milestone for the ranch.”
One of the main focuses of the Wings Center will be its counseling services. It will have a team of therapists to lead community counseling efforts for children and families who don’t currently need Eagle Ranch’s residential services.
“At the Wings Center, we're in the family reunification business,” said Wade Pearce, senior director of programs at Eagle Ranch. “So, if a child is acting out or if there are issues in the family, we'll offer family counseling … And our hope is that they would not need the residential program.”
The counseling at the Wings Center will be more family-focused when compared to what is offered at Eagle Ranch.
It will also serve as a place for children who have returned to their families to receive more counseling as they ease back into life at home.
“It's a recognition that there has been a shortage of resources in the community and the United States in general, especially in the youth space,” Long said. “There's a lot of shortage in help for kids, so this is going to be a good resource.”
“We're looking at the family as a unit,” Pearce said. “There's no one acting individually. The child's behavior is a result of the family system, so we need to get everybody involved.”
The new facility will have six counseling offices with therapists, which will be hired as independent contractors, in each one. Staub said he expects a total of 12 therapists.
The Wings Center will also have four rooms dedicated as a family retreat area to support parents, marriages and ministry leaders. It will be modeled after a retreat center run by the WinShape Foundation, a charity of the Chick-fil-A founding Cathy family, but on a much smaller scale.
Families would be able to stay for the weekend, going through counseling services and activities with other families staying at the center.
“We just want to focus on the community and people that are struggling and people that just need something more than an hour at a counseling office,” Staub said.
The Wings Initiative will also be housed at the Wings Center. The initiative has been in place since 1996, but with the building of the new center, it will have a new dedicated area for work space, support services and resources.
The Wings Initiative has long been “a point of influence, where people come to us and replicate what we're doing in their own community,” Staub said.
“This Wings Initiative is sort of our outreach into the community and beyond,” he added. “To kind of help other people … And that's a big deal, because you don't just want things to begin and end with me.”
Through the Wings Center, Staub plans to run Eagle Ranch’s continuing education units as well as other seminars. He’s also looking into developing training curriculum for foster parents.
Staub plans to lead in helping to get things off the ground with the Wings Center while still having “macro oversight” of Eagle Ranch.
The services offered at the Wings Center, like at Eagle Ranch, won’t be free. Staub plans for them to be available to anyone, though, so they’re raising endowment funds to create a “sliding scale” for payment.
“We’ll continue to leverage this center into the future, too, for future things beyond what we've got planned even,” Long said.
Staub said he never imagined Eagle Ranch would be what it is today, 35 years after he first dreamed it up. It’s grown from a place just for boys to a place for girls, too. It’s added a school and more room for children in its homes.
And now with the Wings Center, it will have room for much more.
“Hopefully we're just getting better and better for the kids and families,” Staub said.
Kelsey Podo contributed to this report.