Eagle Ranch started more than three decades ago as a boys’ home, but the latest step in its development is focused on girls.
The Christian-based residential program for struggling school-age youth opened its newest building, The Joan Whitcomb Girls Center, earlier this spring to give a physical fitness outlet for the 24 girls living at the South Hall complex.
“Adolescent girls tend to really struggle with confidence and self-esteem,” said Eddie Staub, Eagle Ranch’s founder and executive director, during a tour of the new facility last week.
“The research has shown there is a direct correlation between physical well-being and emotional well-being, so this is addressing that.”
When the complex at 5500 Union Church Road opened in 1985, “everything was designed for boys,” including a gymnasium, Staub said. “We have heavy weights and such. So, when the girls go (to the gym), they just sit on the floor.”
The two-story center, named after a long-time supporter, features exercise equipment that’s more user-friendly for girls, such as lighter weights.
It also has a group fitness room “where they can do video workouts,” said Eagle Ranch spokeswoman Stefanie Long.
“We’ve got hand weights that can be used as dumbbells and they also connect to bars. It’s super easy to use, and we have girls as young as 8 (years old) here.”
The room can be used for a sleepover, with bean bag chairs and a movie projector.
“It just gives them another place where all the girls can get together and be comfortable, and have an activity night,” Long said.
“This is their space,” Staub said. “It’s about a fourth the size of the gym. It’s much smaller, but it does everything we need. It’s sort of their place.”
The 5,500-square-foot center, within walking or biking distance of girls’ homes, also features exercise equipment such as treadmills and stationary bicycles. Also in the building is arts and crafts room.
Long also serves a yoga teacher at the center, where she is joined by a CrossFit instructor.
“We’re really passionate about the girls’ activities and want to see them have opportunities to explore all types of things,” she said.
Eagle Ranch began as a place where boys could get help through programs, counseling and education. The complex, now on 300-plus acres of rolling hills, open grassy lands and lakes, started accepting girls in 2001.
“What we try to do is create a sanctuary,” Staub has said.
Over the years, it became increasingly clear that girls coming Eagle Ranch’s way had issues with confidence and “body image.”
Those challenges were just “getting in the way of some of the other emotional issues they’re dealing with in their lives,” Eagle Ranch spokeswoman Stefanie Long said in a September 2018 interview.
“You just want to give kids the tools to help them be successful,” Staub said.
More than 85 percent of girls coming to Eagle Ranch “are experiencing issues with self-worth, confidence and/or body image,” states a newsletter published last fall.
“These issues can significantly impact current and future relationships and life choices.”