Annual Open House
When: 2-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Eagle Ranch, 5500 Union Church Road in Flowery Branch
How much: Free
Contact: 770-967-8500, eagleranch.org
Angela and Jordan Crossland are full-time parents. In fact, it’s basically their job description.
For the last year and a half, they’ve worked as houseparents at Eagle Ranch near Chestnut Mountain.
The Crosslands said they felt called to work in the mission field but never expected to find an opportunity so close to home.
"We wanted to get outside of ourselves, outside of the 9-to-5. We felt like God was calling us ... stretching us out to extend our borders and open our hearts to needy families and children. It was just really awesome that God led us here, and we can still be close to family," Angela Crossland said.
In addition to their own two small children, the Crosslands take care of as many as six girls in their home at the ranch.
Children come to live on the ranch when circumstances make it difficult for them to stay at home. Those difficulties might include changes in the family, problems at school, behavioral or emotional issues or judicial requirements.
Houseparents fill in for the children’s parents during their stay on the ranch by providing meals, transportation to and from school, support, guidance, structure and homework help. They hold regular family meetings with the children and their parents, giving them an opportunity to address their issues and practice solutions.
Some of the children come from families with "generational curses" or family patterns of dysfunction. Families have to agree to work on overcoming issues and must participate in counseling programs. The ultimate goal of the program is to reunite and restore families.
"We take a grandparent role; we’re kind of parenting the parent to teach them how to parent their children ... the goal is the families become more healthy and are able to function," said Angela.
But houseparents have a more subtle role in the children’s lives that could go on to influence generations.
They are modeling a healthy family with Christian values for children who often come from broken homes. Eagle Ranch staff noted that many of the ranch’s graduates say they learned they could provide a stable, consistent home for their own children by just observing how the houseparents interact with each other and the children.
"They’re taking those things and they’re changing what their family looks like. They don’t have to model what they learned growing up. They can say ‘I’m going to start with a new beginning for myself and my family,’" said Stefanie Long, director of communications at Eagle Ranch.
The houseparents at the ranch typically stay for three to four years. The national average for similar programs is less than 18 months, Long said.
Houseparents and their families live in one of the large homes built on the 270-acre property. They are trained and work alongside a licensed counselor and an assistant counselor. Houseparents are paid a monthly salary and given free room and board.
Jordan Crossland said the best part of life on the ranch is the sense of community and purpose. The benefits, he said, are difficult to summarize.
"There are challenging moments, but there are moments of extreme joy working with the kids," Jordan said.
He said watching the children grow and change during their stay at the ranch is a little like watching grass grow.
"Some days you think ‘Am I even making a difference in the kids? Do they even care that I’m here?’ And then the next day, weeks, month or a year down the road you look out and the grass is tall," said Jordan.
He said it’s important to celebrate the small victories, like when a child or a parent makes the right decision.
The Crosslands both agree the job is extremely rewarding, but they are quick to admit it isn’t an easy task.
"I think the hardest thing is just seeing your own humanity come out," Angela said.
"You come to the ranch and you think ‘I’m going to help all of the children who have all of these problems’ and you realize ‘I’m not any better off than they are.’ You realize you need the Lord so much to do this job."
The ranch is holding its annual open house from 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Neighbors, families and those interested in becoming houseparents are encouraged to visit the ranch and learn more about the program.
The ranch, located at 5500 Union Church Road in Flowery Branch, also will be accepting applications from recent college graduates who would like to apply for assistant counselor positions. For more information, call the ranch at 770-967-8500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.